Common weight loss systems actually prevent you getting successI really hate to say it, but it’s true. I have personally wasted a lot of time and energy following generally accepted advice about diet and exercise. If you ask your doctor about losing weight, you'll probably hear something like this, “You need to burn more calories than you are taking in! Eat less and get more activity, especially cardio.”  And it sounds like the right thing to do. We know that fat is stored energy, so if we take in less energy (diet), and use more energy (exercise) our bodies will have to use body fat to make up the difference. Makes sense, and it might even work for some people.

The problem with this advice is that it is much too vague. How much do you need to reduce your caloric intake? How much activity do you need to get? What is the best type of cardio? Our bodies are sooooo much more complex than this simple equation would lead you to believe. All of these variables matter when it comes to getting the absolute best results. The fact of the matter is, you can be dieting and exercising regularly and still not making any progress. I see it in the gym, every single time I go in there. The same people, doing the same things, week after week, and their body never changes. The truth is the most common weight loss strategies are obscure, outdated, and just plain ineffective.

Here’s why:

Most diets revolve around restricting caloric intake. This approach makes sense at first glance. As we have already learned, in order to lose fat you need to be burning more calories than you are taking in. So cutting calories seems like a very simple way to tilt that ratio in your favor. However, caloric restriction is not the best approach to long term fat loss. In fact, restricting calories actually sets you up for a very long and difficult struggle with your weight. Let’s look at an example:

Teresa is a 35 year old woman who is about 30 pounds overweight. She decides that she is going to lose that weight by modifying her diet. She calculates that she typically eats about 2500 calories per day and sets a goal of reducing her caloric intake to only 1200 calories a day. The first week, she loses 2 pounds and is totally stoked. The next week another 2 pounds. The next week she only loses 1.5 pounds. The next week, only 1. She hasn’t changed anything, so why isn’t she losing 2 pounds a week anymore? The human body is an amazing thing, so amazing that is has adapted to Teresa’s decreased caloric consumption by decreasing the amount of calories that it is burning on a day to day basis. Where Teresa used to burn 2500 calories a day, she is now burning closer to 1200 calories a day. Teresa has just decreased her basal metabolic rate, the main driving factor in our body’s ability to burn calories. Teresa still has 23 pounds to lose but isn’t seeing progress anymore. She cannot cut calories any further because she already feels like she is starving, and she is. What is she going to do?

Cardio! Do some cardio! I’m sure you are all screaming. “Cardio” exercise is without a doubt a key part of long term fitness both from a physique perspective and a health perspective. But, it alone is not going to save Teresa. Let’s look at some typical cardio strategies and see how they affect the body.

Teresa decides to start riding a stationary bike for 30 minutes a day while her favorite show is on. She rides 5 days a week at an easy-moderate pace because she hates exercising and doesn’t want to work very hard. Not to mention she is starving and doesn’t have much energy to begin with. 2 weeks of consistent riding and no additional weight loss. What gives? Looking at an activity-calorie chart we can see that cycling at low-moderate intensity burns roughly 330 calories per hour in a 150 pound person. Teresa cycled for 5 hours in those 2 weeks. Some quick math and we have 1650 additional calories burned. In order to lose 1 pound of fat you need to burn 3500 additional calories. Teresa exercised for 2 weeks and burned less than half of that! No wonder she did not lose any additional weight.

Go joggingDiscouraged, Teresa decides to bite the bullet and start running for an hour a day. She is certain that her new approach will yield good results. In her first week she logs 5 hours of running. Looking back at the activity-calorie chart we see that running at 5mph burns roughly 650 calories per hour in a 160 pound person. Teresa burned 3250 calories in her first week of running, almost the amount of calories required to lose 1 pound of body fat. Despite her efforts, Teresa finds that she lost only ½ a pound that week. The next week is the same. Teresa has also noticed that her joints have started hurting since she began running. Her hips, knees, ankles and shins are killing her and she does not know how much longer she can keep it up.

In this scenario Teresa is doing too much cardio for her fitness level. Exercise is a form of stress. When the body is stressed, especially for long periods of time, it produces the stress hormone cortisol. Chronically high levels of cortisol cause the body to hold on to fat stores, making it very difficult to burn fat, despite being in a caloric deficit. In addition to raising her cortisol levels, long duration cardio can cause the body to start using muscle tissue as a fuel source. Muscle tissue is one of the main driving factors in our basal metabolic rate.

2 months into her quest to lose weight Teresa has lost only 8 pounds, decreased her metabolic rate to a point that she is no longer seeing progress, burned up valuable muscle tissue, decreased her body’s efficiency at burning fat (increased cortisol levels), and is now suffering joint pain. Not exactly a successful approach.

Maybe you have been here. Putting in the effort, thinking you are doing everything right, and just not seeing the results you were hoping for. It is not your fault! Fitness is a relatively new field and is completely clouded by all types of pseudo-science, scams, and bad advice. Like most people, you just don’t know what is actually effective at burning fat and building a body that is fit, tone, and healthy.