Why Stress Is the Insidious Enemy of Fat Loss

...And Your Body Is Not

We cut out ALL sugar. We walk past the pastry counter practically drooling. We sign up for as many classes as we possibly can. Even giving up drinks with friends to hit that last spin class on Thursday night. We are tired. We are sore. Bruised even. And we still get to the beach on Saturday and look around, wondering how many of these chicks do we look better than? If it’s at least 50% it’s ok, right?

And we are frustrated. Nothing is changing! Except maybe we can’t sleep. But Instagram told us to go #beastmode with HIIT workouts and the 21-day fix said all we need is 1200 calories.

So we pack up our gym bags Sunday night and vow to leave a little more sweat on the floor and a few more crumbs on the plate than we did last week. And maybe, just maybe, by next weekend we’ll look good enough for that itsy bikini bottom that has yet to make it out the dresser drawer. 

And the cycle continues. Welcome to New York.

We look at fat loss like it’s a war. We strap on our Nikes and go to battle on grounds like Barry’s Bootcamp and Tonehouse. We congratulate ourselves on hitting two workouts in a day. Every meal we go without carbs is a definitive win. Our bodies with their stubborn fat and sharp cravings and exhaustion are rebellious. They must be conquered.

You are in the midst of an all-out war but you are hungry. You are overtired. Your workouts are breaking you. When did this knee pain thing start? You don’t like what you see in the mirror. You’re losing morale.

You cannot win like this. Planning endless attacks day after day, week after week. You’re exhausting your power, battling on too many fronts. Waging guerrilla warfare without strategy. Shooting in the dark.

Fat loss is not a war. 

At least it’s not a war against your body. You’ve chosen the wrong side. You let your evil head sway you. And I don’t mean the intelligent, rational side, I mean the dark side.

The side that reads magazines articles with opposing literature and immediately questions herself. The part of the brain that can look in the mirror and decide she got fat over night. You know this voice. The one that your yoga teacher says makes up stories about how unsatisfactory you are. The one that makes you feel shameful for that late-night slice of pizza at the office yesterday.

Yup that's me, aught on a particularly stressful day in the winter.

Yup that's me, aught on a particularly stressful day in the winter.

This ego of yours has convinced you that stress is your friend and your body is the enemy. This voice is not your ally! She has lied. And you have betrayed your body and become dependent on her shaky approval.

STRESS KILLS! You know this! Your body has been trying to tell you all along! It tried to warn you when it saw the dark side gaining control. That same body that you pummeled with burpees and starved of calories. The body that you rebelled and revolted against. 

It’s always been there trying to communicate with you, sending up smoke signals and transmitting encrypted messages to warn you of the impending harm. When you don’t eat, your body tries to remind you by shaking your focus. When you don’t sleep, it makes you feel slow. When you go too hard at the gym, it tries to grab your attention by creating pain.

The realist truth in the world is this: Stress is the enemy of everything.

If you really want to win, you need a a new strategy. Ask not what your body can do for you, but what you can do for your body. It’s time to join forces against the real enemy of your fat-loss goal, and really health in general. 

You want to combat stubborn fat? You need to listen to your body and declare war on stress.

Stress Is The Enemy of Fat Loss

There are different types of stress. There’s physical stress. There’s mental stress. But your brain interprets them all the same. And it responds with a release of hormones that make it particularly difficult to cut fat. When the body feels threatened, it goes into fight or flight mode. If we live here constantly, our cortisol is chronically increased. This can kill our ability to break down fat and raises our ability to destroy hard won, fat-burning muscle. 

And there are more obstacles. Our leptin sensitivity changes, owing to our inability to put the bag of chips down until the whole thing is gone. We are even more likely to get sick in this state, as the immune system can become suppressed. You cannot battle fat from the convalescence of your couch. You cannot fight fat when you are hormonally compromised.

Prepare For Battle

So minimizing stress… How can we do that? I said listen to your body. Easy for me to say right? You’re correct. It is. I’ve seen the other side. I’ve cultivated that relationship and I can intuitively sense what my next move should be most of the time.

But I also know(from experience), the transmission can be difficult to interpret when you’ve been pummeling that voice with shame and guilt and kettlebell swings. You gotta get back in touch with it somehow. And I’ve got some tips to help you rebuild your relationship with your soul voice.

This is the voice that is always your ally. She is the true caretaker of your body. The one who knows exactly what you need and when you need it. The only one your crazy head can never win against. IF, you let her speak.

But the first thing, the most important thing I want you to consider, is that your body is in fact a fat-burning metabolic machine. It is a an absolute war machine. And it’s loving loyalty is with you alone.

You’ve been scheming up new ways to restrict and limit your body rather than aid it. It’s not your fault. The fitness industry has taught you to think aggressively. I dare you to instead change your perspective and imagine what you can do to fortify your defense. What can you supply your body with to help it function better? 

Fat-loss is the cause. And your body and all of it’s biological systems are the army. To function at it’s best, you’ve got to give it what it needs. Essentially, anything that helps relieve stress can also help rip fat off of your body. Because when the body is less stressed, the fat-loss machine, your metabolism, can run most efficiently. 

So, what can you do to eliminate the impact of stress on your body and soul?

Supply The Right Basic Training

Training is by definition: intended physical stress. You break your body down on purpose, hoping that during recovery, you build yourself up better than you were before. 

But it’s got to be the right dose of stress. We’re all different. We all need to work on building stronger muscles and stronger hearts, yes. But that doesn’t mean we should all be doing the same workouts to achieve these qualities. 

And if the training plan is too stressful for where you are right now? And this could mean many things — it’s not appropriately progressive, or it’s too intense, or the exercise selection is not right for your level of athleticism and skill — It’s not the right dose and you won’t get any of the results you want, fat-loss included.

In yoga, we say that training is all about finding the edge. To push the edge further, you must train within that line. So all of your workouts should be something like comfortably difficult. There should be some amount of ease even on your toughest days. Because when we push past our limits too often, we find dis-ease. Did you read that? You find disease.

And this is why the extreme high intensity competitive bootcamps like CrossFit and Barry’s can be very frustrating for most of us. If every day is game day, and you are constantly disrespecting the sacred edge, you find all kinds of stress in the form of tightness, injury, pre-workout anxiety, post workout exhaustion, and chronic inflammation to name a few.

So I challenge you to accept two big concepts that will help you train smarter. I’m even going to give you some action steps for applying them.

Exercise Your Strength(DOn'T Exhaust it)

The first, is that you should always leave some reps in the tank and some weight on the rack. Constantly going for max lifts and training to failure can fry the nervous system and exacerbate your muscles. This is too much stress on its own.

Also, consider that when you train, you are incurring a certain amount of risk. And the more fatigued you become, the more that risk increases. That gamble isn’t worth the short term success. 

And really, if you leave yourself in a puddle of sweat on the floor today and you wake up so sore that you can barely move in the morning, how do you expect tomorrow’s workout to go? I mean, will you even be able to pull yourself out of bed to do it? You cannot win a war if you can’t get to the battlefield.

My favorite lifting session for fat-loss is 10x3. Lifting relatively heavy weights for a good amount of volume can be a recipe for hormonal happiness that results in the torching of those last couple of pounds.

But I mean it when I say RELATIVELY heavy. You cannot expect to use anything even CLOSE to your 1-rep max here. You should be able to complete 11 rounds if you had to, but you will just choose not to.

Day 1 Superset

Barbell Deadlift

Barbell Bench Press

Day 2 Superset

Barbell Front Squat

Pull-Up

3 bodyweight pull-ups is my prefect 10x3 sets. But you can add bands to remove some resistance.

3 bodyweight pull-ups is my prefect 10x3 sets. But you can add bands to remove some resistance.

*For both workouts, perform the two lifts back to back. That is one set. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets. Repeat for ten rounds.

Here’s the important part: For novice and intermediate lifters, choose a weight that is about 60-65% of your 1-rep max. Expert lifters may play with a weight that is closer to 70% of their 1-rep max. 

Be of Strong Heart

The second, is that you should always include some rhythmic cardio in your training plans. We said you’ve go to train the heart, right? And I mean something like rowing, biking, or sprinting. These exercises allow for a sequential turning on and turning off of muscles that allows blood to flow MORE freely through the body in a way that strength work cannot. 

And restricted blood flow is the chief reason lifting weights for speed, is not true cardio. Weight bearing exercises require too much tension and accordingly slow the blood flow back to the heart. This concept also helps explain why those who lift weights, REALLY need not to ignore cardio training.

Rhythmic cardio is also EXTREMELY therapeutic for mental stress and that is because much like meditation and yoga, you will be challenged to take control of your breath. When you can breathe better, you can deal with all of life’s unexpected but inevitable shit, better.

Longer intervals are a great way to fight stress.

Longer intervals are a great way to fight stress.

And control is the important part here. If you lose control of the weight when you are strength training, you have failed. This is obvious. Much less obvious, if you lose control of your breathing during cardio work, you have lost control of the interval and well, you lost the battle. You will reap no great cardio or fat-loss rewards as a result. 

My favorite workout here is 10x2min. 

Warm-Up

Progressively increase intensity on your chosen appropriate medium(run, bike, row)

Workout

Complete 10 2-minute long intervals at 70-80% perceived intensity, resting 1 minute between each interval.

Here’s the important part: Utilize long slow exhales during the work intervals, blowing air out of pursed lips. No matter how fast you move, the breath should ALWAYS be relatively slow and controlled. Modify speed according to ability to maintain that control. Honor the edge!

This bootcamp protocol should help you make some real visual changes to your body. But more importantly, you should start to make some real philosophical changes in your brain. Pay attention to how you feel after each activity, after training mindfully for a couple weeks. Throw in a yoga session of choice as your fourth session each week and you should start to pick up on some valuable transmissions from your soul voice about what really serves your body and your fat-loss goals. 

Give Your Body The Right Fuel

You have but one concept to adopt here. And as you march yourself down the queue at Dean and Deluca, I want you to remember that your battle cry is no good if you’ve got nothing to back it up with. You cannot fight if you don’t have the energy. Fat-loss takes fuel.

Your body and brain are fueled by two things: oxygen and food. It’s very simple. To function optimally, you need to breathe well(as we already covered) and you need to eat well. This means that starving yourself is not an option. 

I work in NYC and I can tell you that my clients who have the most trouble losing weight are the chicks who don’t eat at all, or don’t eat enough. For one, the lack of satiety causes more mental stress. Anxiety and guilt then become a part of every food experience.

But more importantly, they are lacking the adequate nourishment that is necessary to allow for results. To fuel your workouts, your body needs carbohydrates. Think of carbs as the engine of your metabolism. 

This is my actual breakfast 4 days per week! Packed with protein and carbs!

This is my actual breakfast 4 days per week! Packed with protein and carbs!

To recover from workouts, your body needs protein. Think of protein as the building blocks of your muscles. And having more muscle makes the engine stronger and drives your metabolic capacity up nice and high.

And your body also needs fat. Fat allows protein and carbs to do their jobs efficiently. And it also serves to help you absorb other necessary nutrients like vitamins and minerals. 

As we already outlined, workouts are stressful and sophisticated breakdowns that are contingent on recovery. But they are also only as good as the energy you have to put into them. You need all three of these macronutrients to ensure your success. But we’re going to focus on the first two to get you started here.

Tip #1

Up your protein. To whatever you normally eat, add another chicken breast or another three egg’s worth of whites. Mix up a protein shake. Just get that number up. Take note of how you feel and look over two weeks time.

Tip #2

After you have completed your protein experiment, play with carbs. This one is particularly important if you have been carb-less or very low carb for any significant amount of time. On your tougher lifting days and on your cardio days, add in extra carbs. White or brown rice, regular or sweet potatoes, even oatmeal is a great option here. Add a full extra serving on these days. Take note of how you look and feel over two weeks time.

Don’t skip the instructions to run these tests independently of each other! It’s important to realize how each individual change affects your body. Change one thing at a time to really hear what your soul voice has to say about it.

Keep Morale High 

There are unlimited opportunities for mental stress. I cover relationships in a different blog. But there’s family stress. There’s financial stress. There’s work stress. All of these potential stressors can mess with your hormones and negatively affect your decision-making skills. If you want to focus on fat loss, you’ve got to eliminate outside threats. 

I’m going to focus on tech stress here as it can lead us to multiple problems. Two in particular that are easy to get a handle on.

One, too much tech can scramble your brain. That makes even normal daily tasks more stressful. Increased tech usage late into the day can also make it difficult to sleep. And sleep is a necessary part of the recipe for good results. 

So, look for ways to limit your usage. Trade your google calendar for an actual calendar. Yeah, like a planner. Remember those? Trade your iPhone alarm clock for an actual alarm clock. That way, you can shut the phone off, leave it in another room, anything to get the actual device away from your brain while you catch some z’s. 

And two, quite possibly the more important of the two, get off Instagram! I know you, dear. When you’re frustrated trying to lose weight, you’re on there listening to false fitness idols and comparing yourself to hydroxy-cut hotties. Stop that. Comparison is the enemy of progress. You need confidence here, not questions. And too much doubt will drown that soul voice again. 

So, cut your time on tech. And instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on yourself. Start keeping a diary of how you’re feeling each day. What’s going well? What’s actually getting you down? And you don’t have to limit yourself to just fitness related topics. Keeping track of your personal and professional life in tandem with your fitness tracking will also help you recognize important patterns. (Hint: The way we see ourselves, influences the way we move!)

Take real photos of your body and compare them every six weeks. NOT EVERY DAY! There are natural ups and downs. Progress is not completely linear. So you need to allow a decent amount of time to pass to accurately gauge results. 

I actually keep these tiny notebooks that I journal in throughout the day!  

I actually keep these tiny notebooks that I journal in throughout the day!

 

DECLARE YOUR INDEPENDENCE

This is a manifesto of war on stubborn fat, yes. But it’s also a treaty of peace with your beautiful body. A declaration of independence against the restrictive and punishing way you’ve been fighting for your physique goals. And a vow to be the best ally of your most inner soul voice.

I challenge you in training to exercise your strengths; not to exhaust them. I challenge you in nutrition to nourish your body; not to ration it. And I challenge you to eliminate outside threats to your soul voice; to rally your spirit. Because we’ve got some leaning to do, ok? Life is too short to get caught up in confidence killing conflicts and uphill battles. And that itsy bikini(with you in it!) deserves it’s day in the sun. #fatlossisstressloss #sophisticatedstrength