If your goal is to slim down and you’re seemingly “doing everything right,” a lack of progress in the fat loss department can be demoralizing.
I’m going to help you troubleshoot, but please understand that fat loss is multifactorial.
In other words, there’s a ton of variables at play and everyone is different. This is a big reason why a program like Total Body Reboot is invaluable—it provides a place for us to do this work in depth, with the focus solely on you.
But there are some things we can look at and attempt to rule out straight away. I want to give you 11 places to start with troubleshooting your body fat troubles…
1) You don’t eat real food.
There’s a running joke that I’ve helped men and women in more than 25 countries around the world and still haven’t run into someone who wasn’t “eating healthy” when they came to me.
Seriously, 99.9% of emails start out like this: “I’m eating healthy and exercising, but I’m still not reaching my goals!”
That’s because the mainstream definition of “eating healthy” is completely removed from what eating healthy actually looks like.
I’ll give you a hint: If you’re counting calories or controlling portions, avoiding fat, eating “heart-healthy” vegetable oils, and eating salads with a side of boneless, skinless chicken, you’ve been misled.
To get the fat loss ramped up, stop counting calories and start nourishing your body with real food.
Take Action: Download my free Complete Guide to Real Food—it’s a one page overview of real food.
2) You consume way more sugar than you think you do.
Sugar is not evil, but one of the biggest mistakes people make when “eating healthy” is underestimating sugar consumption.
If you want to be successful, you must redefine what sugar is because most people are seeing it wrong…
Classic Definition: Table sugar, donuts, cakes, soda, candy, etc.
Redefined: Table sugar, donuts, cakes, soda, candy, starches, almost all processed foods (currently there’s about 80,000 to choose from), fruit juices, milk, and grains.
I had a female client who told me:
“Kevin, I don’t get why I’m not winning. I’m dedicated to reading labels so I can drastically cut my sugar intake. I eat Cheerios every morning because there’s only one gram of sugar per serving.”
Man, I feel for her. She’s doing everything she thinks is right and she’s relying on that official FDA food label on the package to make her calculations. The only thing missing from her life is RESULTS.
And the reason there are no results is because she’s completely underestimating her sugar consumption. A serving of Cheerios might technically have one gram of sugar, but Cheerios are pure starch. Starch gets converted to sugar in the body almost immediately.
Here’s the bottom line: you can eat a bowl of Special K with no added sugar or you can eat a bowl of sugar with no added Special K—metabolically, they’re not that far off.
I don’t care what the marketing on the front of the box says. I don’t care what the official FDA label on the back of the box says. I only care about what your body thinks.
To be successful, you must redefine what sugar means and adopt a new approach.
Take Action: If you struggle with sugar cravings or feel like you have an unhealthy relationship with sugar and processed foods, it’s time to Decode Your Cravings.
3) You don’t move your body enough.
Movement is important. The amount of sitting and stationary activity we do is off the charts. It’s to the point that sedentary behavior is becoming pathological.
We used to live in a world that required physical movement. Now, we can get through our entire day—sometimes our entire week—without much physical activity at all.
The results is that we now must be very intentional about our movement practice, lest it doesn’t happen.
Exercise, by the way, does not erase the damaging effects of otherwise sedentary life. And, in general, exercise isn’t fun so it’s hard for a lot of people to sustain.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution though. And our modern environment isn’t the only obstacle to consistency. You also may have to grapple with a poor relationship with exercise. The health and fitness industry has programmed you to believe that the only relevant movement is no-pain, no-gain type movement. If you have an oppositional relationship with exercise, there’s going to be constant friction.
Exercise and movement consistency is a big obstacle for a lot of people. It’s a multifactorial issue. But, it has to be addressed if you hope to ever be successful long-term.
Take Action: Download our free Movement Nutrition Workbook to learn how to implement a daily fitness practice that’s intrinsically motivated and infinitely sustainable.
4) You don’t sleep long enough or well enough.
If you had a lose body fat puzzle, sleep would be a single piece that makes up close to 30% of that puzzle!
Yeah, it’s a big freakin’ piece.
Poor sleep manipulates your hormones and makes you hungrier (especially for carbs and sugar) by up-regulating a hormone called ghrelin, makes you less able to feel full by down-regulating a hormone called leptin, makes you metabolically similar to a type II diabetic by disordering your insulin response, suppresses your thyroid, and drives up your stress levels and the hormone cortisol.
In simple terms: You can eat healthy & exercise all you want, but if your sleep isn’t dialed in you are wasting your time.
Here’s another way to think about it: You can follow the exact same real-food and exercise plan as someone else and reach your goals in half the time if you start prioritizing sleep and making adjustments to improve the quality of your sleep.
5) You’re unaware of how much you actually eat.
This one is a double for you.
While calories matter, I’ve made it clear that counting them is useless.
But that doesn’t mean you aren’t overeating. The question is, why are you overeating when your body is designed to automatically regulate your caloric intake based on your body’s needs?
There’s a myriad of reasons. Here are a few:
- You’re out of tune with your body and either can’t identify or tune out your body’s hunger and satiety signaling.
- The food you eat isn’t real, therefore the signaling mechanisms (hormonal) are disordered (if so, try this).
- You’ve spent years abusing your body with junk food which has made your hunger and satiety signaling unreliable.
- The food you eat is nutritionally poor, so while your stomach gets full, you’re left starving at the cellular level.
- You’re using food as a symbolic substitute for meeting unmet needs and feeding emotional hunger (if that’s the case, check this out).
You could also be experiencing issues on the other end of the spectrum. When you chronically under-eat, your body holds onto body fat. It also down-regulates your metabolism and makes your body seem more “sensitive” to calories and carbohydrates while limiting the desire and motivation to move (this feeds into point #3—the epidemic of too little movement).
When faced with a “more sensitive” body, people double down on the calorie or carb restriction and further slow their metabolism until both progress and maintenance become untenable.
If you want to be successful, you must get your diet on point, tune in to what your body is telling you, learn to identify the signaling, and heal your relationship with food.
6) You’re leptin resistant.
Leptin is an appetite-suppressant hormone that plays a key role in the body’s metabolism.
Too often, discussions about fat loss center around insulin and insulin resistance, but leptin may be the more important factor. Leptin resistance makes you satiety-resistant. Your brain never says, “hey, you can stop now.”
If you’re overweight and growing more-so each month, you need to take a hard look at leptin. I’ve already written a solid piece about leptin and how you can begin to fix it, so I’m just going to link you to that.
Take Action: Reboot Your Leptin: Conquering the Fat Hormone
7) You do too much cardio.
It’s not often that you hear about under-eating being a problem. The same is true when it comes to over-exercising.
It’s kind of assumed that you should just exercise for 45 minutes to an hour a day. But it’s not the amount of exercise that matters, it’s the type of exercise.
For example, running for an hour a day, every day, is a highly inflammatory exercise protocol. The amount of stress this places on the body increases demand for micronutrients, sleep, and otherwise low stress levels, all three of which are in short supply for most people.
But you’re still better off choosing more productive forms of exercise in reduced amounts.
Take Action: Get more movement variety and stop trying to exercise your way out of the problems you face. Walking and DWYLT go a long way. If you want to exercise more, prioritize intensity over duration. If you like to run, CrossFit, etc. just set a rule for yourself that if you don’t get at least 8 hours of sleep the previous night, you’re not allowed to workout.
8) You have an undiagnosed thyroid issue.
Part of the function of the thyroid is to control metabolism. If the thyroid is under-performing (hypothyroid), your metabolic rate can decline. Of course, other problems occur alongside that as well.
If you’re eating real food, getting plenty of daily movement or functional exercise, and reducing stress and excess weight isn’t coming off, getting your thyroid checked is a good next move.
Thyroid testing isn’t without problems though. Plenty of people with thyroid problems will show up “green” (no issues) on a standard panel. This is why many people suffer from undiagnosed thyroid issues—they’ve had tests that say there’s no problem even though there certainly is.
Chris Kresser has a great article about thyroid issues that won’t show up on a standard lab test here.
The bottom line is that you shouldn’t rule out thyroid simply because your standard lab test said you’re well and good. There’s an underlying reason for why you’re not dropping excess fat. Keep searching to get to the bottom of it.
Take Action: If you still suspect a thyroid issue, get a more advanced thyroid panel. I recommend the Advanced Thyroid Panel from WellnessFX. You can use their doctor consults after you order their panel or simply take your results to your doctor (though you’ll probably want a specialist to really help you sort this out).
9) You’re under way too much stress.
There’s a huge issue with stress in the United States. I have a feeling this problem is slowly taking over the rest of the world as well. Thanks to all of this stress, many people finding themselves living in a state of sympathetic nervous system dominance. That means your sympathetic nervous system, your fight or flight system, is constantly activated.
Chronic stress is probably the number one destroyer of health. And in terms of losing body fat, disordered cortisol (a stress hormone) levels are a huge barrier to that.
Cortisol drives up blood sugar and tends to make fat loss more difficult. While it’s a hugely helpful hormone, it’s detrimental when it’s constantly elevated. Today’s society, combined with the pressure you place on yourself, can easily leave you bathing in cortisol from morning until night.
If you fail to find relief from the stressors in life, you can eventually exhaust your adrenal system, resulting in adrenal fatigue. The worse this gets, the harder it becomes to repair.
Take action: Stress reduction has to happen and there are a myriad of ways to go about that. This isn’t an article on how to reduce stress, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you want to go about that. Some of my favorites are meditation, DWYLT, sleep!, and taking a few days off from hyper-work-mode.
10) Your gut isn’t healthy.
Research on the gut biome is fairly new, but all of the data suggests that if you want to transform your health—and your body—then you need to pay attention to the health of your gut.
The gut works to protect the body from foreign invaders, it houses your immune system, it impacts metabolism, and it’s intricately linked with mental health. Little do most people know, the vast majority of your serotonin is produced in the gut and the gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve. This means that your gut also controls your mood and behavior. Check this out…
“More and more studies are showing that mice or other model organisms with changes in their gut microbes exhibit altered behaviors,” explains Elaine Hsiao, research assistant professor of biology and biological engineering and senior author of the study. “We are interested in how microbes communicate with the nervous system. To start, we explored the idea that normal gut microbes could influence levels of neurotransmitters in their hosts.”
Peripheral serotonin is produced in the digestive tract by enterochromaffin (EC) cells and also by particular types of immune cells and neurons. Hsiao and her colleagues first wanted to know if gut microbes have any effect on serotonin production in the gut and, if so, in which types of cells. They began by measuring peripheral serotonin levels in mice with normal populations of gut bacteria and also in germ-free mice that lack these resident microbes.
The researchers found that the EC cells from germ-free mice produced approximately 60 percent less serotonin than did their peers with conventional bacterial colonies. When these germ-free mice were recolonized with normal gut microbes, the serotonin levels went back up—showing that the deficit in serotonin can be reversed. [source]
Your microbiome can manipulate your behavior in other ways as well, such as changing taste receptors and triggering the release of certain chemicals to make you feel worse or feel better…
“Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” said Carlo Maley, PhD, director of the UCSF Center for Evolution and Cancer and corresponding author on the paper. “There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not.” … “Microbes have the capacity to manipulate behavior and mood through altering the neural signals in the vagus nerve, changing taste receptors, producing toxins to make us feel bad, and releasing chemical rewards to make us feel good,” said Aktipis, who is currently in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology. [source]
Because modern gut biome research is so young, most people—including doctors—are still naive to its importance. It’s an area that we all need to pay very, very close attention to going forward.
11) You’re Way Too Inconsistent.
It’s possible that you know what you need to do, but you just don’t do it consistently. Now, I say that with caution because a lot of people think they know what to do, but really they’re just following old, washed up advice that will never work.
I wanted to make this point though, because having the right information doesn’t mean anything. There are a ton of people who have the right information and still fail. In fact, inconsistency is the #1 challenge that men and women around the world are facing.
The question is, what’s driving the inconsistency? Based on our research and work with men and women in over 35 countries around the world, it boils down to three factors:
- You’re implementing the wrong information (take our free Dieting Dogma Evaluation if you want to test yourself).
- You don’t have enough physical, mental, and emotional resources (lack of margin — and see point #9).
- You have a dysfunctional relationship with food, body, and Self (take our free Emotional Eating Evaluation if you want to find out).
This topic is actually our specialty at Rebooted Body. The vast majority of our time is spent studying human behavior and figuring out why people can’t seem to align their actions with their good intentions. I talk about this stuff ad nauseam.
The bottom line is that psychology is ultimately what unlocks the keys to the infamous “healthy lifestyle” and that’s why all of our programs are designed to leverage your psychological programming (and this is why we have graduation rates north of 80%).
BONUS: You ARE losing body fat, but you’re using ineffective tools to measure progress.
Back in 2009, before doing my personal Reboot, I was 60 pounds overweight. When I got down to 190 pounds from 220, I remember feeling as if I hadn’t made much progress.
I believed I was close to my goal in terms of weight. The problem is that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t look close. I also felt like I wasn’t seeing much difference at all.
When you look at yourself in the mirror every day, you don’t notice the changes. The mirror is a horrible tool for measuring progress. So is the scale, as I’ve outlined here and here (even if your scale attempts to measure body fat percentage).
The bottom line is that it’s extremely common for people to make progress, only to throw in the towel because they’re improperly measuring that progress. They also tend to have unrealistic expectations for how quickly progress should be happening.
Take Action: If you’re looking to measure fat loss progress, I’d recommend two things: Bod Pod testing and pictures. If you don’t have access to a Bod Pod, just use pictures. Or, you can ditch worrying altogether and just eat real food, move a lot, and enjoy the hell out of life (probably the best option).