Why Losing Fat Seems More Difficult When You Are Already Fit

The Pink Dumbbells MEGA Challenge is wrapping up week 2 this weekend, and already I am seeing some formerly gung-ho ladies drop off the radar completely or admit to flagging motivation due to their lack of instant results after just one week. Some have lost only a little bit of scale weight. Some have just maintained. Some, myself included, have even gone up a pound or two. And a few others have decided (perhaps wisely) to avoid the scale completely until week 4. We haven’t even reached week 4 yet (the famous milestone marker for the “OMG! I’ve been SO perfect! Why haven’t I lost any weight?!?!” freak out), but women who should know better are starting to lose steam based on just a few digits on the scale.

Now understand that the majority of the challenge participants are not new to healthy eating or exercise. If you read through the sign up posts, you’ll see that the common theme among this diverse group is that almost all of us have been lifting weights, performing cardio, and eating relatively clean for a year or more. We aren’t newbies starting their first Body-for-Life challenges after ten years of being one with our couches and regulars at Mickey D’s.

And therein lies the reason for our lackluster weigh-ins at this early stage.

Our bodies are EFFICIENT.

Efficient is defined as “performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; economical to use.”

Think about that for a moment in the context of our bodies. When you train hard regularly to constantly improve your strength and speed while keeping your clean food intake about the same, you are essentially wiring your body to handle an increasing amount of hard physical work in a more economical fashion when it comes to energy expenditure. A 5k run might have burned off over 450 calories when you were just starting out, but once you are fit that number could drop down to 320 calories just because you are more efficient at it due to lower overall body weight, improved cardiovascular endurance, and better running mechanics.

I believe that those of us who have been working out for a few years just have greater buffer zones when it comes to physique changes compared to men and women who are complete beginners. What I mean by this is that our tolerance for exercise and clean nutrition is higher because we’ve conditioned our bodies to handle much more activity than the average person and to furthermore do so on “premium” fuel/mostly clean eats. We are stronger and have more endurance than we did before we started working out one, two, three, or more years ago. That’s good, of course, but it also means that we are able to lug around any extra poundage we have put on when we slack off for a while with less effort than we would have before.

Here’s what I imagine happens when we sign up for these challenges, boost our workouts (which we were probably doing with 50-80% compliance already) to 80-100% compliance and tidy up our (again 50-80% clean) diets:

Our bodies just shrug and say, “Ah, more of the same old thing. Hmm…can I perform these new workouts on this slightly reduced amount of very high quality food without burning up any of my (needed for 9 months of baby production) stored fat? Yup! Cool beans! No need to shed any of this extra weight until we know this is long-term change. La la la…. Ack! Geez, do I really have to lift THAT much weight again? I think I need to get some work crews and supplies over to the muscle department for an upgrade.”

Don’t underestimate the importance of that “very high quality food” component. If a relatively fit gal has been eating 2000 calories of 50% healthy and 50% junk food, cleaning up her diet to 90% healthy may actually give the body MORE usable quality nutrients and calories for muscle growth even if she reduces her total caloric intake to 1500 per day. At 50% dietary compliance a maintenance intake level of 2000 calories per day yields only 1000 calories of quality fuel. At 90% dietary compliance and 1500 calories per day, that is 1350 calories of quality fuel (very likely quite high in protein) that her body would just LOVE to use to rebuild muscles that have grown a bit soft from a few weeks or months of scaled-back workouts. If you add in the effect of muscle memory which theoretically makes it easier for someone who once achieved a certain level of muscle size and strength to return to that same level with less effort, what you may actually have for the first few weeks of clean eats and consistent workouts is such a favorable environment for muscle hypertrophy that fat loss gets pushed to second place on the body’s list of priorities.

After all, we are now subjecting our muscles to heavy loads on a regular basis again. The natural response of our bodies is to restore our muscles to their previous glory ASAP in order to handle the new physical demands, and what do you know? There’s suddenly lots of good, clean building blocks coming in, ready to make this happen!

We can still make our bodies drop the fat, but it takes either a MAJOR shock to the system exercise/food-wise (think crazy Velocity Diet or a completely different workout plan that we are NOT efficient at performing) or simply MORE time performing a program consistently and with stricter compliance to get the results that we once achieved by simply cutting out regular Cokes and adding chicken breast, weight training, and a few 20 minute HIIT sessions to our week.

Perhaps challengers like us shouldn’t even be allowed to have the classic 4-Week Freak Out; our realistic time-frame would be more in line with a 6- or 8-Week Freak Out.

My advice is to stick to your workouts and nutrition plan and let your body do its thing to get your muscles back up to spec if you’ve been sloppy with exercise and food for a while and know you’ve lost some strength and muscle size. Once it’s finished rebuilding that underlying uber-buff chica structure under the hood in a few weeks, your body will be more than happy to turn its attention to burning off the extra fluff sitting on top.

Oh, and picking out some new exercises that you have never done before or are particularly tough for you to do might be a good idea, too.

Now take that self pity-motivated Hershey bar out of your mouth, hit those planned workouts and meals religiously, and don’t let me hear any more whining until Week 6 at the earliest!

9/29/07 Log

Well, last night was probably a cheat meal for me even though I ended the day within my 1600 calorie target. Chris and I decided to go out for dinner using one of the rapidly expiring Entertainment 2007 coupons we had on hand instead of wasting $25 or more on an evening at the movies, especially since I have zero interest in anything out right now. We wound up at High Tide Harry’s, a great seafood place a few miles from our house. I ordered blackened scallops with a side salad (drizzled with yummy roasted garlic balsamic vinaigrette dressing) and garlic mashed potatoes, and DH had the crab-stuffed flounder with salad and a baked potato. And we both had three of the (sigh…) deep-fried hush puppies with cinnamon butter.

I cannot tell a lie. It was deeeeeeeeeelicious.

I think I would have been in the 141-142 range this morning had it not been for that meal, but overall the damage wasn’t bad. I was down 0.3 lbs from Friday to an even 143.0 this morning.

Eats are right on plan so far, and water consumption is good. I had an early hair cut appointment this morning, so Forza will be happening after meal 3. I’m going to take full measurements–including skinfolds–as well as photos tomorrow to see where I’m at progress-wise, but despite the lack of scale movement, I can see and feel results already. I’m pretty sure my tricep and suprailiac skinfolds will be down, and the muscles are all firming up nicely. I’m estimating that it will be week 6 or so (or the end of the eDiets Ultimate Challenge 96) before the internal fluff melts away completely and the subcutaneous stuff starts to shift.

Hope you are all having a great Saturday! Don’t let the weekend reverse all of your hard work during the week. PLAN your meals AND water NOW if you haven’t already, and STICK TO THE PLAN.

Only 8 more weeks until Turkey Day! Who wants to impress the heck out of all of their relatives with how much fat they’ve burned off by then?

I know I do!

– YF Core (30 min)
– Forza (60 min)
– Dancing with the Stars Cardio Dance (30 min)

My Mini Personality Profile!

I found this little personality profile widget from eHarmony pretty amusing, particularly since the full-length eHarmony profile was responsible for matching me up with my husband three years ago.

I thought my Extroversion score was unusually high since I’ve always considered myself an introvert, but check out my Emotional Stability score…. That’s right — no crazy PMS mood swings here! Mad cereal cravings, yes, but no random bouts of high drama. 😉

So how do you stack up against this mildly OCD, number-crunching, boy-brained fitness geek?

For more widgets please visit www.yourminis.com

Review: Naturally More Peanut Butter

Naturally More Peanut Butter

Naturally More is an all-natural peanut butter (ANPB) that recently began to show up on the shelves of my local Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market grocery store. In my store, the price is around $2.50 for a 16 oz. tub, which is pretty comparable to, if not lower than, other ANPB brands like Smuckers. I’ve seen store brand ANPB as low as $1.97 per pound, however.

What makes Naturally More intriguing is that it is fortified with ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, which changes the nutritional stats of this peanut butter slightly for the better.

For a 2 tablespoon serving, the stats are:

Calories: 169 (About 31 less than a regular ANPB)
Fat Cal: 98

Total Fat: 11g
– Sat. Fat: 2g
– Omega-3: 4.1g
– Omega-6: 1.2g

Cholesterol: 0mg
Sodium: 130mg

Total Carb: 8g
– Dietary Fiber: 4g
– Sugars: 2g

Protein: 10g

Ingredients: Roasted peanuts, wheat germ, flax seed, cane sugar, egg whites, honey, flaxseed oil

Regular ANPB averages (per 2 tablespoon serving) 200 calories, 6g carbs, 9g protein, 2g fiber, 16g fat (mostly monounsaturated), and 3g saturated fat, so Naturally More is lower in calories, about the same in “net carbs” (4g), higher in fiber, higher in protein, lower in total fat, and much higher in polyunsaturated Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats.

Compared to another Omega-3/Omega-6 fortified peanut butter product currently out on the market–Smart Balance–Naturally More also tastes a hundred times better. Smart Balance frankly smells like a tube of rancid oil paint and tastes like it, too. Naturally More, on the other hand, tastes like a slightly sweet, unsalted peanut butter with some random crunchy bits (the ground flax seeds) to add interest. It must be stored in the fridge once opened due to the flaxseed oil content and lack of chemical preservatives, but even when cold it is at least somewhat spreadable on my apples and rice cakes. Let your serving reach room temp after a few minutes and it will slide over even the most delicate and soft sandwich bread without tearing it up into the usual dough noogies.

I’m not sure how widely distributed Naturally More is at this time, but if you see it in your local Ghetto-Mart, consider giving it a try. It’s a fairly painless way to get more polyunsaturated fats and fiber into your diet, and the price is right.

9/28/07 Log

I did a 45 minute YF cardio/flexibility session last night to make up for the missed recumbent bike cardio from Wednesday and to keep my hamstrings from tightening up after Thursday morning’s incline run. I could feel them beginning to stiffen by 8 PM, so I figured some pre-emptive yoga was in order.

This morning I was a bit late getting up, so I only did chest and arms at home and will have to squeeze in elliptical time tomorrow at the gym. I may do Forza there using the MP3 audio I recorded from the DVD workout now that I am more familiar with the moves. I’m not sure how the gym attendants will deal with a patron performing samurai sword drills in the middle of the lifting floor, but maybe I can find a quiet corner with enough space.

Weight is down 2+ pounds today after a day of clean eats and all of the water I chugged yesterday, and I am going to be 100% compliant to my nutrition plan for the rest of the weekend to make sure my measurements and weigh-in are accurate. I don’t have any cheats left for the week, so the next 2 days will consist of:

– 1400-1600 calories/day
– 3 fruits/3 veggies daily
– NO processed foods of any kind, including microwave popcorn, desserts, boxed cereal or any of the many borderline “cleanish” foods like granola bars and rice cakes that tempt me on the weekends.
– 1 gallon of water daily

Weekend Menu:
M1: 3 egg whites, 1/2 c. cooked spinach, 60 g oats and raisins
M2: Banana oatmeal protein pancakes
M3: Chicken vegetable curry with quinoa
M4: Pineapple protein smoothie
M5: 4 egg white/2 whole egg omelette with 1 c. vegetables
M6: 1 c. light soy milk, 1/2 scoop protein, 0.5 oz. walnuts, 1 T. cocoa

Chris did not do his Core Synergistics workout this morning either…this may be the beginning of the end of his P90X adventure. 😛 I do remember not liking the program’s “recovery week” when I was doing it myself, though, so perhaps he will be back on the wagon on Monday when the workouts switch back to strength / cardio / flexibility again.

In sewing/DIY news, I finally finished the slate blue/black herringbone weave Burda 8513 pants I cut out around 2 months ago using only stuff I had in my stash. So yay! New, “free” pants!

– Chest/Arms
– Walk (15 min)

9/27/07 Log

Yesterday, I got home with the full intention of slamming down my soy milk/protein powder cocoa shake and nuts and going to bed, but I had two servings of cereal (Raisin Bran and Honey Bunches of Oats) with a dash of soy milk instead! I’m estimating around 400 calories, or 200 more than what I’d planned for meal 6.

Someone give me a well-deserved kick in the butt for that, please. I am counting that as my cheat item of the week, but I should have had just one serving, not two in order to stay under my 1600 calorie cap for the day.

Weight was up to 145.0 this morning from the carb load, but BF% remained the same, so whooptiedoo, I guess. I’ll get rid of the water weight today by chugging water and tea like crazy and staying away from salt and cereal. An extra lap around the office complex during my walk (or another round of the stair interval challenge from Pink Dumbbells) and 30-45 minutes of YF tonight should take care of the rest.

Shoulders and abs went very well today, and not surprisingly after all those late night carbs, so did my 20 minute training run. I jogged at an easy 5.8-6.2 mph at 1.0% incline for the entire run without ever really breathing hard. Seriously, I was almost chilling. If I can get up to 6.8 mph at a flat 0% incline and still feel like this, that 2 miler will be a breeze.

Chris bailed out on his scheduled X-Stretch workout this morning because (ahem) he says he is going to martial arts tonight and will do some stretching there. Pshaw. No blue foil star for him today!

Finally, those of you who are interested in joining us on the 2008 Pink Dumbbells/John Stone Fitness cruise should take a look at the JSF cruise thread (or the Pink Dumbbells one if you are a member of that forum) when you have a chance. It looks like the JSF folks are mostly on board with the cruise idea, and I’ve posted some possible sailings and price info today.

Oh yeah… didn’t I mention it before?

There are plans afoot to organize a short 4 day/3 night cruise to the Bahamas or Western Caribbean (Friday afternoon – Monday morning) from Tampa or Port Canaveral, Florida in 2008 for all of the fitness-minded members of the Pink Dumbbells and John Stone Fitness forums who’d like to finally meet in person, eat a bunch of unauthorized foods and drinks together, participate in some fitness/nutrition round table discussions, go on some active excursions, take over the on-board gym, and generally have a great time with like-minded people who won’t make fun of them for wanting all of their sauces and dressings on the side. Yes, I know there is a Body for Life cruise every year, but let’s face it, not everyone who works out and lists chicken breast as its own food group is a BFLer, so this is a stress-free mini-vacation for the rest of us.

Check your calendars, start saving up some money, and take a look at the cruise discussions at JSF or PDB if you are interested! We are looking at May-August 2008 dates at the moment with price ranges from $269-$369 per person.

+ Shoulders and abs
+ Run (20 minutes / 5.8-6.2 mph / 1.0% incline)
+ Walk (25 minutes)
– YF Cardio (30 minutes – make up session)

30% Off Footlocker B&M and Online Stores (9/27-9/30)

Footlocker has a 30% off coupon (in-store and online) valid from 9/27 (today) through 9/30.

Using coupons like this, I can usually find top of the line, $100+ shoes for under $50 if I look in the men’s clearance section for my preferred shoes in size 6-7. I wear a women’s 8-8.5 in running shoes, but men’s 6.5 usually works out just fine for me and comes in WAY more badass colors, too.

30% off Friends and Family printable coupon

Or shop online at Footlocker.com using code: FF79N924

9/26/07 Log

I took my big cheat meal last night when I went over to my parents’ house for dinner. I had to drop off a copy of my U.S. passport and some new (bad, no make-up, tired after 8 hours at the office) passport pics so they could renew my Taiwanese passport. I didn’t even realize I had one, but apparently I am still a dual citizen of Taiwan and the U.S. since my parents have kept my Taiwanese passport current since we moved to the States in 1976. Go figure.

Anyhow, Dad had cooked up some delicious spaghetti and meatballs, and let’s just say that I didn’t say no. Seriously, Daddy Wang’s cooking is not to be turned down. DH was aggrieved at me because I didn’t bring any back for him. 😉

Doing squats with a tummy full of meatballs, pasta, and half a Chinese moon cake just didn’t seem like a good idea, so I opted to hang out with my parents for a bit, then headed home for some Rune Factory before bed.

I had a great lower body workout followed by 30 minutes of bike sprints this morning as a result of that meal, though. It’s amazing how much better my system performs athletically on carbs. I swapped out more exercises from Kim’s original set to focus more on posterior chain work and large, compound movements more in line with Turbulence Training. Objectively speaking, at this point I don’t need to bulk up my quadriceps or calves anymore, but I’ve always felt that my hamstrings and glutes needed some work, so I’ll be doing the following leg workouts for the next 4 weeks at least:

1A) Leg press (3 x 20 @ 270 lbs) or BB Squat (3 x 20 @ 95 lbs)
1B) Hyperextensions w/1 second hold (3 x 20)
1C) Tricep/Military Push-Ups (3 x 15; final set to failure)
2A) Stiff-leg Deadlift (3 x 15 @ 95 lbs)
2B) Seated Leg Curl (3 x 15 @ 90 lbs) or Stability Ball Leg Curl (3 x 15)
2C) Wide Push-Ups (3 x 20; final set to failure)

(Today’s weights were included above for reference, but those will increase over time.)

I still need to do the remaining 30 minutes of planned recumbent bike tonight or sub some other form of cardio for it. I’ve been missing the Yourself Fitness workouts these past few weeks, so I may do YF Cardio instead of the bike if the living room is free when I get home. Puttering around on a recumbent bike never seems to burn many calories anyway.

It’s probably just as well that I got my weekly cheat meal in early. That will give me four full days of clean eating before my 2 week weigh-in.

Weight is temporarily up to 144.4 this morning with a Tanita BF% of 26.1% and an Omron of 20.1%. One of the good male trainers at the gym (the one that has clients that actually look fit and work hard) told me I was making good progress, however, so *SNAP* to the scale. As long as I can see two vertical ab lines, faint deltoids, and emerging triceps again, the scale can display whatever it wants in the morning.

Chris’s P90X schedule called for Kenpo X or his own martial arts workout this morning. He opted to do his own MA training for 45 minutes, which, when combined with last night’s MA lesson he taught at the school, brings his effective practice time up to double his normal weekly amount.

– Lower Body
– Upright stationary bike sprint intervals (30 min)
– Outdoor Walk (15 min)
– Recumbent bike or YF Cardio (30 min – Planned)