6 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight

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Diet Mistakes Causing Your Weight-Loss Plateau

Food journal? Check. Regular workouts? Yes, indeed. Enough fiber to keep an entire army regular? You got it. I know how to lose weight. I’ve been writing about the topic for more than a decade. That’s why it was so frustrating when the pounds clung to me like a codependent boyfriend, no matter how hard I tried. A lot of women have this problem, the experts tell me. “Body weight can fluctuate by up to five pounds on any given day, so the amount you shed can easily get lost,” says Pamela Wartian Smith, MD, the author of Why You Can’t Lose Weight. I combed through research and grilled diet gurus to pinpoint little-known reasons that your efforts — and mine — haven’t been showing up on the scale. Who knew?

You Don’t Drink Enough Water

We’ve all heard how important H2O is when it comes to shedding pounds. It helps to suppress appetite, so you’re less likely to overeat. But that’s not all: When you’re dehydrated, your kidneys can’t function properly, so the body turns to the liver for additional support. Because the liver is working so hard, more of the fat you consume is stored rather than burned off.

What surprised me most, though, is that if you’re upping your fiber intake but not also hitting the bottle hard, things tend to get a wee bit, er, backed up. “It’s important to add fiber gradually and increase water intake at the same time. Otherwise, instead of helping with digestion, fiber may actually lead to constipation,” notes Anna-Lisa Finger, RD, a personal trainer for the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore. I often consume nearly double the recommended 25 grams of fiber daily. Gulp.

Just how much water should I be drinking? “About one-half your body weight in ounces every day, especially if you’re exercising,” Dr. Smith says. So the eight-cups-a-day rule applies only to sedentary women who weigh 128 pounds (sure as hell not me!). “If you consume an aggressive amount of fiber, another eight to 16 ounces a day is a good idea,” Dr. Smith adds. H2OMG! That amount of liquid — for me, 12 cups a day, minimum — requires serious effort. I fill up with about a liter at each meal, and I’m a peeing machine.

You Skimp on Protein

Several studies show that high-protein diets result in more pounds shed, at least initially. Protein enhances the feeling of satiety and prevents your losing muscle as you lose fat. You also have dietary thermogenesis, which is the energy you burn to process and use the food you eat, on your side. “Your body expends more energy to metabolize protein than carbs or fat,” says Cari Coulter, RD, the program director for Wellspring Weight Loss Camp in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “So higher-protein diets make you burn slightly more calories.”

So how much protein do I need a day? “It depends on your weight, but most women should get 40 to 80 grams,” Dr. Smith says. To accomplish that, I have Greek yogurt (18 grams) or a couple of eggs (13 grams) for breakfast, and I eat a few ounces of lean poultry (25 grams) or fish (22 grams) or a heaping helping of black beans (15 grams) or lentils (18 grams) at lunch and dinner. I snack on a handful of raw almonds (6 grams). As a result, I feel fuller — sometimes so full I don’t even sneak a bite of my son’s ice cream (the way I used to whether I was hungry or not) — so it’s easier to keep daily calories in check.

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More Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Weight

You Sit at a Desk All Day

I log a solid hour of exercise almost every day, but outside of that, my time is mostly spent sitting in front of a computer. Much to my dismay, research finds that dedicated workouts simply can’t compensate for being sedentary the rest of the time. According to one University of Missouri-Columbia study, sitting for just a few hours causes your body to stop making a fat-inhibiting enzyme called lipase. Getting up and walking for just two minutes during each of those hours burns an additional 59 calories a day, according to recent research from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Experts recommend setting a timer on the computer to remind you to move every hour, but what’s helped me is the Fitbit One ($100, fitbit.com). I keep this activity tracker clipped to my bra 24-7, and I won’t go to bed until I’ve logged 10,000 steps a day. To accomplish that, I heed some of those recommendations we’ve all heard a million times (“Take the stairs instead of the elevator,” “Park far away from the mall”). I even jog in place while brushing my teeth and watching TV. At first my husband and son laughed their skinny little butts off at me, but now seeing me hopping around the living room strikes them as normal. Walks are part of my family’s evening routine, and “How many steps do you have now?” has become the new “Are we there yet?” I’ve even given Fitbits to friends and family as gifts so we can see who takes the most steps. Move-more mission: accomplished.

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Your Numbers Are Off

I’ve always considered myself a math whiz, so I assumed that I had the whole calories-in, calories-out formula down pat. Here’s how I determined how many I should eat a day: I got my basal metabolic rate (BMR, or the amount of calories I need to maintain my weight) using the online calculator at fitnessmagazine.com/weight-loss/bmr, and I entered “moderate” for my activity level, because I exercise regularly. That gave me about 2,400 calories a day. Then I added whatever calories I burn during my workouts (usually about 500), according to my heart-rate monitor. That meant I could eat almost 3,000 calories a day without gaining a pound (or nearly 2,500 a day to lose a pound a week). Sure, it seemed high, but I had used a calculator. It had to be right!

Not so fast, Coulter says. “The BMR calculator already factors in the calories you burn with your workouts, so you shouldn’t add them in again,” she explains. Math club membership revoked! All this time I had thought my daily needs were 500 calories higher than they really were. No wonder I’d been maintaining instead of losing.

You Work Out Regularly

I know, I know. How can an exercise routine make you gain? For starters, people tend to eat more when they work out, either because they feel they’ve earned it or because they’re overestimating how much they’ve burned — or both. “This is especially true in the early stages of a fitness program, when your body is getting used to the decrease in calories consumed and the increase in calories burned,” Finger says. (Read: You’re freaking hungry.)

But here’s the real shocker: Working out can make you retain water. “To ensure that you don’t get dehydrated, the plasma in your bloodstream will store an extra two to four pounds of water,” explains Michele S. Olson, PhD, a FITNESS advisory board member and professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama. “You’ll always carry that extra water unless you become inactive; it’s not fat or muscle, but simply superhydration. It’s a good thing.” It’s also a good thing to keep chugging H2O, which can, counterintuitively, help minimize additional water retention. So I’ll take Olson’s advice and stay active, well-hydrated…and off the scale.

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You’re a Stress Case

I’m a lot like the lab rats — and humans — who turn to comfort food and pack on pounds when they’re under duress. “The stress hormone cortisol triggers the fight-or-flight response, which is an appetite stimulant,” Dr. Smith says. “In addition, it steps up the production of a certain brain chemical, neuropeptide Y, which increases cravings for carbohydrates.”

Even when I don’t give in to cravings, stress can stall my slim-down. “Too much cortisol slows metabolism,” Dr. Smith says. “Even worse, excessive stress causes fat to be stored in the abdominal area, where weight is harder to lose.” Ugh! I can practically feel my belly expanding every time I have a meltdown over something, including my weight-loss efforts.

Luckily, a lot of the things I’m doing to whittle my middle should also ease my angst. “Exercise reduces stress,” Dr. Smith notes. “Balanced, nutritious meals can repair the damage that stress does to the body, and a social support network also helps.” So my team of Fitbit-wearing friends and fam is helping me beat belly bloat in more ways than one.

Get Weight-Loss Results

Scale Serenity

It’s been three months since I embarked on this adventure, and I’ve lost 12 pounds — a solid pound a week. I’ve increased my water and protein intake, I move more throughout the day, and I’m trying to stress less. But one of the best things I’ve done has been — go figure — not weighing myself, at least for a little while, as Olson suggested. I was tempted in the beginning, but I stuck to my scale embargo for a month. Now I weigh in weekly, but the fluctuations don’t bother me. Really. Because I know I’m creating a daily calorie deficit, and I’ve found other ways to measure my progress (see “Beyond the Numbers,” below). I know the fat is coming off, no matter what the scale says. I feel enlightened — in more ways than one.

Beyond the Numbers

When the scale bums you out, here are three other ways to gauge your progress.

How do your clothes fit? Try on the same pair of jeans and shirt every six to eight weeks.

How do you feel? You should have more energy, sleep better, and feel less stressed.

How much can you do? Keep a workout log and track how much weight you can lift and how many miles you can walk or run.

 

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Brazil Butt Move: The Samba Tomato

 

woman doing Brazilian Butt Lift Samba TomatoCheck out one of Brazil Butt Lift trainer Leandro Carvalho’s coolest moves for getting your derriere in supermodel shape. This tropical trick is just one of the moves that have made Brazil Butt Lift the talk of the town.

Get Ready: Stand with feet wider than hip-width apart, toes slightly turned out, and abs drawn in.

Go! Bend your knees and sit back into your heels as you lean your torso slightly forward and squeeze your butt tight. With your hands on your hips, circle your hips to the right, continuing to make circles as you remain in a deep squat. Sit back into your hips and keep your heels pushing into the floor. To make it more intense, wave or circle your arms or shimmy your shoulders (reps: 15 to 20 in each direction).
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1. Get your sweat on with strength training! If you want a bikini body, this is non-negotiable: Fit your workout in, no excuses! Commit to a full-body strength-training program at least three times a week to burn calories during the workout, boost your metabolism’s calorie-burning power for 24 to 48 hours after, and develop lean muscles that look and feel better than flab. Perform exercises that use more than one muscle group such as squats, pushups, rows, and lunges in a circuit to make your workouts most efficient. Tip: Try working out in the morning to get your metabolism revved up for the rest of the day.

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2. Make your butt and belly your top priorities. Your glutes (butt muscles) are the biggest muscles in your body, so working them out is one of the best ways to burn calories—and prevent a saggy bikini-bottomed butt. (There’s nothing worse!) Of course, everyone knows that the real key to looking great in a bathing suit is having a flat belly! Give both areas extra attention during workouts leading up to and during bikini season by performing this move right after warming up at the beginning of each workout, 2 to 3 times a week:

Bridge Marching: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the floor so your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees, keeping your hips parallel to the ground. Maintaining that straight line, lift your right knee upward, so your foot comes up off the ground. Then, return it to the starting position and lift your left knee the same way. Continue alternating (as if you are marching in place), keeping your butt muscles contracted the entire time for a total of 10 on each leg.

3. Drink extra water. Skimping on water can reduce the effectiveness of your workouts because even mild dehydration can affect your performance and fat-burning potential. If you need another reason to drink up, swallow this: the best way to rid yourself of excess water weight is to flush your body with water. You should drink at least half your body weight in ounces each day (e.g., a 150-pound woman should drink 75 oz. or the equivalent of about four and a half 16.9 oz. bottled waters a day). Just don’t skimp on the ice! Research has shown drinking ice-cold water causes your body to work harder (i.e., burn more calories) to maintain its ideal core temperature. So gulp down the cold stuff like it’s your fat burning fuel—because it is!

4. Increase your daily intake of natural diuretics. These are foods that increase the speed at which fluids pass through your body to help you de-bloat. Natural diuretics include cucumbers, asparagus, lemon, green tea, and any foods with a higher concentration of magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and/or caffeine. Tip: Try adding cucumber or lemon to water.

5. Cut back on processed, starchy carbohydrates such as breads, pastas, bagels, cookies, and crackers. Most of these foods are loaded with extra sodium and preservatives that can contribute to water retention and bloating. If the ingredients on a packaged item list more than a few ingredients—or anything you can’t pronounce—don’t eat it. Instead, opt for a serving of one of the many fresh fruits and veggies now in season, with lean protein to keep you satisfied.

6. Reduce your alcohol intake. If you’re used to having a glass of wine or pint of beer every night, try cutting back to two or three nights a week. You’ll reduce your total calorie intake and set yourself up for a better night’s sleep to energize you for your workout the next day. Tip: When you do indulge, always sandwich your drink with a glass of water before and after to avoid alcohol’s dehydrating effects.

7. Stand up taller and engage your core muscles. Think about tucking your hips underneath and tightening up your stomach as if you were going to be punched. Improving your posture will instantly make you look thinner—even if you haven’t lost a pound yet!—and train your body to hold everything in once you’re in a swimsuit. Every 15 minutes, set an alarm for a “posture check” to train your body: If you’re standing, stand up straight and hold everything. If you’re sitting, pull those shoulders back and engage your stomach muscles.

How to Minimize Your Butt: Firm and Lift

fullfirmYou’re standing in front of your full-length mirror after struggling to squeeze into last year’s swimsuit. As you peer at yourself, there’s no denying it. Either your suit has shrunk or your behind grew. Panic’s setting in. You’re already planning beach time, and your pool’s opening up soon. With shock and horror, you’re now realizing that instead of “Buns of Steel” you have a “Rear End that’s a Dead End.”

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You’re sagging, flabby and wobbling as you walk. It’s time to take action.

First, let’s learn a few bun basics. Your behind is made up of three muscles that comprise the glutes: gluteus maximus-the largest glute and one of the strongest muscles in the human body; then, gluteus minimus and medius. It’s the maximus that gives your bottom its shape and is integral to almost every movement we take. The glutes are covered by a layer of subcutaneous fat. How much fat you carry is dictated by genetics as well as lifestyle.

Give yourself a reality check by looking at the body fat distribution of your family members. If most of the women look like pears, there’s a pretty good chance you do too. Your pear shape won’t change, but its size will. Your goal is to minimize your bun, not to wish it away completely. Next up, it’s time for bun pride. If you’ve got a great rear end, but just too much of it, then celebrate your J. Lo or Beyonce endowment and do the work to make your buttocks as fit and shapely as you can.

Now, it’s time to turn your attention to lifestyle. The only way to get your buns in shape is to combine smart nutrition with the right kind of exercise. Here are some tips and tools to help you get started.

Eating for Great Glutes

  • Quality: Stick to whole foods. Abandon processed and refined products because they’re not real food, just “food-like” products. I like to call them science fair projects. Most are laced with refined sugars that play havoc with your insulin levels resulting in a never-ending appetite for more junk. Keep it simple. Veggies, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains. Eat smart fats that are healthy and satisfying, like avocados and nuts. Don’t forget to combine protein and fiber, like a high protein Greek yogurt with walnuts and blueberries.
  • Quantity: Even if you’re eating whole foods, you still have to rein in the calories and control your portions. Steamed, raw and grilled veggies, especially the watery ones, you can feast on. Watery, not densely sugared, fruits are best (apples, oranges, berries, melons). Be careful with the whole grains, especially bread products, rice and pasta. Make sure you read the labels and stick with one serving when you eat. You’ll need 4-6 oz of lean protein at any one sitting.
  • Frequency: Eat a balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours. If you do, you’ll feel satisfied enough to eat less throughout the day, resulting in more rapid and effective weight removal. Make sure to cut off eating after dinner (which should be ideally no later than 8PM). Or, if you’re up and moving around after dinner and are truly hungry, a 100-150 calorie healthy snack is acceptable, like a yogurt or cottage cheese, or an ounce of cheese.

Exercising for Great Glutes

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Cardio

1. Walk: Try to aim to get up and walk as much as you can throughout the day. If you’re walking for fitness, do it briskly so that you can push your glutes to the max and strengthen them. A 150-pound person walking about 4 mph for one hour burns about 400 calories. That’s roughly equivalent to walking 10,000 steps if you’re wearing a pedometer.

2. Run: Not everyone is a runner so don’t worry if you’re not interested in running. It’s just a cardio exercise that’s accessible and great for stress management. Hit the hills and work those glutes, or try some sprints to show your glutes who’s boss. A 150-pound person burns about 475 calories during a 45-minute jog.

3. Ride: Hop on a bike and your lower body will thank you. If you’re sitting on a stationary bike, alternate 3 minutes at 70-80 RPM with 2 minutes at 100-110 RPM for a calorie-burning 30-40 minute workout. Try Spinning classes, or ride outdoors and hit those hills. Increase your resistance and work those glutes. A 150-pound person burns about 335 calories in 30-40 minutes.

4.  Kickbox: Hip, thighs and glutes are in for a delightful time as you perform front kicks, roundhouses, side kicks and back kicks in wild and crazy combinations that include punches and will target your abs to make them stronger. A 150-pound woman will burn up to 500 calories with 45 minutes of kickboxing.

5. Hike: Get your hiking shoes on and get ready to rock and roll up and down hills and mountains for a phenomenal glute workout. Wearing a backpack only makes your glutes work harder. Hey, enjoy the scenery while you’re at it. A 150-pound person burns about 400 calories in about an hour of hiking.

Strength Training:

1. Squats: Squats are your mainstay for building and strengthening your buns. Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold weights at shoulder level or at your sides. Bend the knees, and lower into a squat, keeping the knees behind the toes. Imagine that you’re sticking your butt out behind you, but keep the torso upright and contracted. Press into the heels to stand up. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 8-16 reps.

2. Wall Sit: Stand about 2 feet in front of a wall and lean against it. Slide down until your knees are at about 90-degree angles and hold, keeping the abs contracted, for 20-60 seconds. Come back to start and repeat, holding the squat at different angles to work the lower body in different ways. To add intensity, hold weights or squeeze a ball between the knees.

3. Leg Press: Here you’ll be pushing a weight or resistance away from yourself using your legs. This can be done with gym equipment or bands.

4. Lunges: These exercises come in a variety of forms. The traditional lunge goes forward with weights and a bent knee, or there is the assisted lunge with no weight and you can hold onto a wall or chair. Or, you can try a lunge that requires a much smaller range of motion, lowering your body only part way.

5. Dead Lift: This exercise is not meant for everyone. It targets the lower back, glutes and hamstrings. If you have any problems with these muscles, don’t do a dead lift. This exercise simulates what we do all day long as we bend over and pick things up.

6. Hip Extension: This is one of my favorite exercises to strengthen the glutes. Stand facing a wall, placing both palms on the wall, and with a straight back, simply push one leg out behind you as high as you can go keeping the back and leg straight. Do this 10 times, switching legs each time. Or, you can get on the floor on all fours, and take one leg and simply stretch it straight behind you. Do this 10 times, switching legs each time. If you use ankle weights, you can add more intensity for a real glute challenge.

 

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