THE FAT LOSS PLATEAU AND BEYOND

Long post alert!

Many of you may not have realised (as I have not) that this blog has become one of the most Googled sources of fat loss info in the web.

Oh, sorry! I had initially set for this intro to the post to appear in 2025, so let us not move that far ahead. Restart (not you, moron)!

I am writing on fat loss because of the insistent demands of many of my wild-eyed fans like her. “Rambodoc”, they say in different accents, “When will you shine the light on my fat? When will I lose that handle around my waste waist so that I can start looking as young as you, you delishius hunk of meat, you..” And many, many words to that effect. No, Rads did not say any of this, but we can all expect her, as a mark of her eternal gratitude for this post, to send me one of her used 7-series BMWs or, if she feels cheap, the keys to a property in Manhattan (such low prices these days!) or somewhere. Anywhere, actually.

Okay, let us now get serious here. Restart.

Fat loss stops after the initial effort in a program of diet and/or exercise. This is common knowledge. Let us first see what are the reasons for the fat loss plateau:
1. You are not working out the right way.
2. You are working out the right way (maybe you even have a great coach) but you are not eating right.
3. You are eating less calories, working out long, but your metabolism is too slow, i.e., your body burns calories slowly. A common ‘note to self’ by women, men, older men and women, hypothyroid men and women, post-menopausal women, and some other groups we may have forgotten about.
In the next few thousand words (kidding!) I will give you the juice from the research of around 935 (again!) research articles without boring you to death with the sources.
img_0042
(Fat people are easily seen everywhere even in India)

Let us simplify issues: if your body needs 2000 calories as its basic metabolic demand (known as BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate), and if you spend another, say, 400 calories in your activities, then you would need to eat less than 2400 calories a day consistently to run a calorie deficit. Right? Many of us know that you will lose a kilogram of fat if you run up a calorie deficit of around 7000 calories. So, a 500 calorie deficit a day should result in the loss of one kilo of fat in two weeks. A pound a week. Clear?
There are lots of compounding issues to this simple equation, but you still have to keep touching base with this simple reality to achieve fat loss:
Calories burnt must be greater than calories eaten.
The most important way to accelerate fat loss is to eat less calories. Not in working out. Trainers are fond of saying that “you can’t out-train a bad diet”. Very true. Unless you are Michael Phelps who, at last Census, was not known to have met a fat loss plateau.
“Oh, no! He is going to talk of diets? Not again?!” Was that you saying that? Can you see me nodding my head sympathetically, like a politician at election time?
Some more basic truisms:

All diets work. But only for some time.
Diets don’t work by themselves in the long run.

What do we do then? Studies show that only 5 percent of people on a supervised diet manage to sustain weight loss. The rest fail. That includes you and me. Let us, therefore, rephrase this:

Diets don’t work; lifestyles do.
If you do lifestyle, you never feel that you are doing something special or stressful. It comes naturally.
What is this stupid, airy, hair-splitting, you ask?
img_0026
(a typical dinner of mine, and ALL mine!)

Many people (author included) follow a lifestyle where you mimic the lifestyle of primitive man (an animal who probably did not have obesity). Which means:
* Eat whole foods that are available in nature.
* Don’t eat processed foods (meaning colas, diet colas, bread, cake, pasta, noodles, biscuits, etcetera).
* Avoid grains (rice, wheat, corn, etc.) and artificial sugars.
* Don’t eat meals at a religious rhythm (like 3 meals a day or 6 meals a day).
* Mimic the movements of primitive man (imagine Caveman Rambo with a pointed object hunting a bore boar): sprinting, waiting, sprinting again, crawling, pulling, pushing (imagine wrestling the boar before killing it finally), lifting heavy weights (taking the hunt back to the cave) and then eating it. If he fails to kill it or find some other source, he starves till the next time.
How will you do this in your 9 to 5 life in the US, UK or India?
Easy. Try these:
1. Don’t jog or walk. Sprint (as if chased by a wild dog in heat) for a few short seconds (take 20-30). Rest for a while (as many seconds as you ran or even a minute). Repeat ten times, or six, depending on your ability. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or the Tabata workout (Tabata kept a work:rest ratio of 2:1).
In other words, stop wasting time on those cardio machines in your gym or at home. Four to twenty minutes of hard effort (including the rest periods) is enough cardio for you. A month into this, watch yourself improve your stamina and reduce the inches gradually (remember, you have to give your body time- think of one or two years, in many cases).

2. Push or pull your body weight in major, compound exercises like pull-ups (most women I see are unable to do this unless they are well advanced in fitness), push-ups (keep doing ten more than yesterday), squats, and burpees (the best of them all, I think).

3. Stop doing machine-bound training. In other words, don’t waste time in isolation exercises like biceps curls, preacher curls, pectoral decks, ab trainers, etc. You are not going into a bodybuilding competition, are you? If you want maximum bang for your buck, do the bodyweight exercises above, and also do weight training (squats, deadlifts, or anything that involves pulling or pushing a free weight against gravity).

4. Don’t waste time on ab exercises. Do a couple of planks, holding on till you die. You will have done more than enough for your abs and core stability.

5. Didn’t I say ‘crawl‘?! Yes, I did.
You can do mountain climbers, which is not really crawling, or you can actually go on your hands and feet and climb the stairs, first straight up (head first) or reverse (feet first). This would double as a great cardio workout as well.

Anything else about these exercises? Lots, but suffice it to say that you should train harder than you think possible, and not merely go through the motions. Only then can you see results! Each workout should have a decent volume, which means you could do, for instance, three sets of ten reps for each exercise, with 30-60 seconds rest in between sets. Be strict with the rest periods, avoiding chatting and vacantly meditating.

Let us now move on to nutrition, the cornerstone of fat loss management.

Most people are eating way too much to see results. They are also not eating enough proteins, which reduces their muscle building abilities.
One way to address a fat-loss diet is to cut down on carbs (carbohydrates). This is one of the most tried and tested ways of achieving fat loss. Most of the benefits of a low-carb diet accrue from a total caloric deficit. If you are given the liberty of eating loads of fats and proteins (as in the Atkins diet), you won’t be able to eat all that much for too long. Result: lack of variety in foods leading to weight loss. Someone even lost weight on one month’s continual fast food (McDonald’s, etc.) diet!

Low carb diets are often difficult for many people to follow, for cultural and habit reasons. In such a scenario, losing weight is more difficult, but a caloric deficit needs to be created.

Eating six meals a day (a popular advice for most people) is largely impractical in the long term, not least because designing a diet with such low calories is difficult. Imagine a meal with only 300 calories, for example (if you need to eat six meals within a caloric budget of 1800)! In this regard, a more doable lifestyle is IF: Intermittent Fasting.
In IF, you fast through the day, and then eat within a four hour window. You can choose to fast once a week, or every day, for 15 hours, or 24 hours. Your choice. One of the big things going for IF is that celebrities (like myself) endorse it. I fast for 24 hours once a week, and 15 to 18 hours one or two more days in the week. IF is a lot of posts on its own merit, and check my resources at the end of this chapter post, if you want to learn more. Suffice it to say that it reduces blood insulin levels, is a great way to eat ‘normally’ and yet maintain a caloric deficit. I have found that on the days I fast and then eat in the four hour window, I can’t exceed 1400 calories (I don’t pig out with junk food)!

Does when you eat matter in your fat loss plateau?

Is fasted cardio better than cardio in fed state?

Is breakfast the best meal?!

Dinner is the best meal, and you should avoid breakfast like the plague!

Controversies, controversies! Forget all this, and stick to the basics:
eat clean, work out hard, and be happy. Get enough sleep. Drink less. Be active physically. Read fitness articles and blogs. Enough!

So, if we can sum up, how does one overcome the fat loss plateau?
Reassess your diet (definitely keep an online food journal like FitDay), start IF, train harder than you ever have, change the way you are training, avoid long duration aerobic cardio in lieu of High Intensity Interval Training. Take adequate rest and get enough sleep.

Blogs on Fitness/ Primal Living I silently follow (in no particular order at all):
1. Turbulence Training
2. Fitness Black Book
3. Brian Devlin
4. Health Habits
5. Tom Venuto
6. Caleb Lee
7. Straight To The Bar
8. Mark Sisson’s The Daily Apple
9. Muscle Hack
10. Go Healthy Go Fit
11. Alwyn Cosgrove
12. Son Of Grok
13. Robertson Training Systems
14. The Nate Green Experience
15. Gym Junkies

IF Resources:
1. Brad Pilon
2. The IF Life
3. Leangains

Science-based Nutrition/Fitness sites (heavier stuff):
1. Lyle Macdonald’s Bodyrecomposition
2. Alan Aragon
3. Dr. Michael Eades

I heartily recommend any and all of the above, and I think they contribute hugely to the needs of the public seeking help over the internet. I am also very grateful to them for their advice and availability for people like me and you. I am quite sure I am missing out on some of the others I read, but I hope I can include them later.

Disclaimer: I am not a Fitness or Nutrition guru. I use my medical knowledge and apply it to my personal quest for health and fitness. If you feel the need to heed my advice, you are welcome to, at your own discretion and risk. If you suffer from any physical or mental disease or infirmity, please consult your doctor and get properly (mis)guided!

45 responses to “THE FAT LOSS PLATEAU AND BEYOND

  1. Awesome Doc. I agree, I have been doing pretty mcuh what you’ve listed out and it seems to be working, thhoughit’s too early to tell. I did lose 2 points off the fat since I got the monitor.
    HIIT’s magic alright πŸ™‚

    Thank you so much for indulging me. You nice after all :p

    ..and that’s all you want? Manhattan apt? Done! πŸ™‚

  2. gah@all typos 😐

    am blaming the ridiculous machine am using.

  3. Rads:
    A Net Book or are your two carat solitaires getting in the way? Actually, that could be another reason for the plateau: unable to hold dumbbells or barbels because the diamond rings get in the way. The problems you rich Americans face, I tell you!

  4. Rambodoc, when one is on the market, s/he is determined to stay fit. Once ‘taken’, there is little motivation to stay in shape… πŸ˜‰
    But still, I am determined not to be on the market again! Thanks for the helpful post.

  5. Now this is a really well researched article! Lifestyle change as you said is the key, but then that is far more difficult than just a one-off thing. But well, it’s the only way. I never had to eat less until I was about 35, and since then am steadily reducing my calories but how much less I eat my body seems to adjust to it and I am not becoming the thin thing that I once was! Never mind I have told myself, be fit at least!
    I think yoga is very important, which I do everyday. My walking etc is more sporadic but it doesn’t make me lose weight, controlling my diet does! My hubby is an exercise freak though, and gives me a complex! He works out really hard, lifts weights etc.
    But hey, you actually eat that every day or are you joking? We love that kind of food actually, but not more than thrice a week!

  6. wah!wah!doc!wah!wah! my style of fitness-eat how much ever i want and exercise till i loose them πŸ™‚ of course i become lazy and put on weight but then once it touches a bit too much,get going again πŸ˜› and i don’t really care about watching what i eat,i eat a lot of vegges and stuff…

  7. I’m trying to follow crossfit (www.crossfit.com), which is a TABATA kind of thing. The problem is that it is very demoralizing to find out what a wimp or weenie I am. I always thought I was the Sly Stallone of Malad West. Turns out I have the vim and vigor of Miss Daisy.

    Great article. It has renewed my determination. Though personally I am terrified of that IF routine. Seemed to have worked for Mahatma Gandhi, though.

  8. Very informative indeed. You omitted the most important part, though – how to combat inertia and actually get down to this πŸ™‚

    I think I’m ok on the food front; will give this IF thing a shot…IF only! *sigh*

    -g

  9. Glad to have you as a silent reader Rambodoc! Always feel free to break the silence any time you feel the urge πŸ˜‰

    The SoG

  10. Priyank:
    You are doing fine, young as you are!
    Nita:
    Maybe you should stop yoga and instead do jumping ropes Tabata style: skip hard 20 seconds, rest 10 secs, till a total workout time of only four minutes. Then you can do your yoga, if you feel it is important to you.
    Vishesh:
    Age is on your side, and you are likely a skinny kind of kid, aren’t you? So eat all you want, but do try to build muscle strength by doing squats, push-ups and pull-ups every other day.
    Naren:
    Crossfit is way too advanced for beginners. I would start non-Crossfit, and then go all the way if I could. No point in getting demoralised, for this is part of the Malad-y.
    Gauri:
    I expect that if someone has taken the trouble to read this whole post, there is still hope for him/her! Incidentally, IF only is probably not a great idea. You should do some resistance training (as outlined in the post) in order not to lose muscle mass, which can happen if your body fasts regularly. If you do that, you just get more in shape.
    SoG:
    Thanks for visiting, and thanks for your posts!

  11. Awesome post man! I love it.

    That meal looks pretty good too, what all is in it?

    Thanks for the Gym Junkies link as well!

    -Justin

  12. yes, lifestyle it is: on a 12hr rollercoaster sched, teaching onmyfeet in Kolkata, taking 6 classes/ day, climbing up n down stairs 2Nfro class, commuting, IF -ing naturally, no tea, no fillers – managed 48 kgs for 14 years bef bloating to 57 with 3classes/day, nothing 2do xcept movies n writing a blog, bhujiyas n milk for meals in Guj. With smart boards, u move a finger on the mouse, no more wide arm movemnts, across huge boards, classes clustered in the same plane/ level, extra classes not allowed!Gujju admin ensure women get fat bums. Thanx, post encounter with ur post mean to do somethng abt it πŸ™‚

  13. Good list you got right there. I’d say I like walking though. It may be useless for fat loss but it sure does clear my head.

  14. Justin:
    It is my jumbo salad, my sign off from IF. It has lettuce, rocket, cucumber, tomatoes, an orange, some grapes, green peas, beans/butter beans, five eggs, cottage cheese, a spoon of olive oil, balsamic and sliced roasted almonds/flaxseeds. Net worth 660 calories, with 46 grams of proteins.
    Trisha:
    Good you decided to do something about ‘it’, but do ‘it’ now! And welcome to this blog!
    Yavor:
    I am surprised at that! Thanks for commenting and reading!

  15. rangarajaniyengar

    what a great post! doc ho tho aap jaisa! wah wah!

  16. nice post ! πŸ™‚ its so true about changing your lifestyle and not dieting… πŸ™‚ and about…”Someone even lost weight on one month’s continual fast food (McDonald’s, etc.) diet!” ….i mean! is it true???how can u loose weight by eating mayo ? πŸ™‚

  17. Hey doc,
    i guess priyank is quite right , i always called it the mission accomplished syndrome and noticed that it has mostly affected women and those Pyts in general that suddenly explode post marriage.
    I have lost a heck of a lot of weight say 12 kgs at least, and loads of tummy fat, all i did was chase my tiny nephew everywhere and take real long walks with him.
    Also the diet factor, i drastically changed my diet eating lots of greens and vegis
    Europeans have such healthy lifestyles with cycling being preferred over public and vehicular transport
    Long treks in taunus in the minuses also did help. Was on the higher side of my bmi count but i figure im just right now but being back in Mumbai im a bit scared and finding it hard to maintain that lifestyle.

  18. Got me thinking….HIIT definitely/ gotto increase my intestsity…..not so sure how practical IF is.

    Food habits – yes, 90% of us think we eat right but we eat s#*@. Funny thing I find is how few people eat greens…….its carbs and grease all the way

    Well done you!

  19. Ranga:
    Glad you liked it. There will be more of this later!
    Manushi:
    Ultimately, you take in less calories than you spend= fat loss. More cals=fat gain. It is a different point that eating burgers is unhealthy from the larger perspective.
    Prax:
    Where had you disappeared to? What is ‘taunus’?
    Ari:
    You will get great results with IF/HIIT. I know it, as I know you.

  20. Rdoc. I have a question and I am too lazy to research it so I will fire away and let you do my work for me.

    There is a theory (myth?) that heavy weight training is more consistent for calorie burn than cardio, since the more exerting workouts require more time (and more energy) for your muscles to recuperate as well as slowly aiding in increasing your metabolic rate. Is there any truth to it?

    Also, a good resource is Dr. squat (not sure about the url); though I haven’t visited this site in quite a while (or the gym for that matter).

    What about the glycemic index?

  21. DD:
    When you talk of cardio, you are probably referring to aerobic cardio (jogging, cycling while reading a paper, etc.). In this kind of case, you stop burning fat shortly after you stop the activity. In weight training (which should be as heavy as you can while maintaining form and required volume*) you continue to burn fat for up to 38 hours (a phenomenon called EPOC- excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption), so you are probably looking at another two-three hundred calories of fat loss while you are at rest. Yes, this is because metabolism is given a kick in the ass by muscle breakdown during training.
    (*volume=number of repetitions X number of sets)
    If you do Tabatas and HIIT workouts, you will also benefit from EPOC. Typically, if you need to get leaner, you should incorporate some amount of high intensity cardio apart from your weight training, though this is not mandatory.
    About GI (glycemic index), it is the value given to indicate how quickly a given food raises blood glucose levels. Obviously, simple sugars, being quickly digested and absorbed, will have high GI, while complex carbs (lettuce, cauliflower, beans, etc.) will have lower GI. This is very important to know, as the real reason to avoid grains (see the post again) is to skip a major source of food with a high GI. Why should high GI foods matter, if calories are all that are important?
    Because a food that causes a rise in blood glucose levels will stimulate insulin secretion. Insulin is a hormone that causes the conversion of glucose to fats in the belly. Hence, the common finding of high insulin levels in patients with the typical pot belly.

  22. Thanks doc for all the answers.

    Perhaps the next post should be on how to increase stamina via strength training? I just hate jogging/cycling, but have been resorting to it to improve my endurance. I can do alright with heavy weights for short periods, but i fatigue far too soon (sometimes a 30 minute workout gets me out of shape).

    Another question, does GI have anything to do with the ingredients enlistment in the negative calorie column?

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  24. LOL ya I should be doing all those πŸ˜› and no I am not thin πŸ˜› I weigh 75 Kgs πŸ˜› but am 6’1 -6’2 πŸ˜›

  25. Very informative post, Rambodoc. I am hesitant to comment on this because of all your readers I seem to be the most careless of the lot as far as fitness is concerned. Hopefully I will follow your advice soon.

  26. Hmm, that is a very tough advise to follow! πŸ˜›

  27. All said and understood….. do you have any “cure” for laziness??? It will be sufficient to help most of fat people….

    Cheers

  28. Forgot to say, this is one of the great posts on health which I actually read fully, to the last word!!

  29. Great Post….I read it thrice so that I can apply it to my weight loss in best possible way….

  30. DD:
    I don’t understand the last question on negative calorie column.
    Prerna:
    Are you not the famously beautiful Dilli high-society lady we have all heard of? All you need to do is play with your dogs in the lawns and gardens of your palace.
    Amit/Vishesh/Suda:
    Thank you for your comments. Laziness is a wall of fat many of us need to climb. It just takes us the ability to turn ON a switch in our mind.
    Anu:
    Thank you. Please do come again.

  31. Negative calorie foods are those that require more energy to burn than the calories they provide.

    I am not sure if this is just a myth, but cabbage, lettuce, celery, apples etc are said to be negative calorie foods. Just to make sure I am getting my point across here is a hypothetical illustration.

    100 grams of cabbage has 24 calories. If it took 100 calories to digest that amount, then you have lost a net of 76 calories. Now, I am not sure if it is THAT easy. Hence the question. I mean maybe it is true that certain items are negative calorie foods, but they might affect the body in a way so as to nullify that effect.

  32. Doc, this is a very nice piece of article. I am going to bookmark this. What is your opinion on Yoga? I loved your caveman example, does that mean I have to buy a pretend boar? can I just use my daughter’s Teddy Bear?

  33. DD:
    Of course, in that case, a food that gives you a very low number of calories would have a low GI, too.
    Which is why they can be consumed ad libitum.
    DB:
    Thanks. I believe that yoga is largely useless for fat loss, though a great ‘feel-good’ activity. For serious people interested in fitness, it is a terrific way of attaining flexibility, core muscle strength and balance. On top of that, it teaches you to breathe consciously. Just the same as Pilates.
    Once you hunt your daughter’s teddy bear and perforate its belly with a knife, you will then really have to live in caves!

  34. I totally agree .. in order to lose weight healthy one must change his/her lifestyle .. it doesn’t happen overnight .. but it has to start somewhere ..

    Any “quick fix” … diet pills .. diet patches .. are just wrong … And I do believe you need someone to keep an eye on what you eat .. and what exercises you do .. like a professional nutritionist or a trainer ….

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  36. I believe that yoga is largely useless for fat loss, though a great β€˜feel-good’ activity.

    Doc, yoga can and does help folks to eat more consciously and may help in eating healthy, resulting in fat loss, or weight loss, or overall having a healthy weight. One issue with unhealthy eating is coupling certain emotional states with eating comfort foods (usually fat-laden) and not being aware of it. Yoga can help make this link visible as it increases one’s awareness of his/her physical and mental states.

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  38. Hey, nice post, really well written. You should post more about this.

    Steven T.

  39. Totally agree with your advice on ab exercises. Planks and possibly hanging leg raises are the only ab exercises you need.

  40. hi nice post.. thanks for the information..

    Sumarwan,

    my blog: Refurbshed laptops

  41. I love healthy food! Ronald McDonald scares me >:o

  42. LOL! Don’t like McDonalds either! Stick to the good and natural stuff!

  43. Hi there, no McDonalds for me either. It is a bit difficult to get used to eating the right kind of food the whole time, but once your mindset is sorted it becomes much easier and then you start missing the good food when you eat junk…

  44. Paragraph writing is also a fun, if you know after that you can write
    if not it is complicated to write.

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