Even in the wonderfully oversaturated world of diets and weight-loss plans, the last 10 to 15 pounds might as well be called the “fuggedaboutit” phase. Because it can often feel like, no matter how hard you train and how little you eat, that little kangaroo pouch is going to stay strapped to your abdomen.
But what is it about those last 15 pounds that makes them cling on to you for dear life?
“As you drop excess pounds, your metabolism adjusts your body’s energy needs to serve less weight,” says Jason Boehm, a board-certified nutrition specialist. In other words, if you’ve been maintaining a particular diet throughout your weight-loss plan, your body won’t continue to metabolize food and burn fat as quickly as it once did. That’s why, according to Boehm, the only true way to lose weight — based on myriad articles and studies — is not running, but reducing your daily food intake.
“I suggest lowering your daily intake by 200 or more calories, but never below 1,200 calories per day for women, or 1,500 daily calories for men.” Unfortunately, that means that if you jump-started your diet by eating 1,200 calories a day, “you’ll be unable to safely reduce your calories further when your rate of weight loss slows,” explains Boehm.
Jeff Jalaba, a certified personal trainer at Equinox, suggests preparing for this plateau from the start. “Spend the time at the beginning of a program to learn your weaknesses and strengths. Don’t worry so much about the weight and understand that learning the right movement patterns in your workouts — for example, the proper way to lift weights and getting the right amount of rest — will allow you to have a higher ceiling.” He adds, “Starting your fitness with too much exercise early on can make it more difficult to add time or intensity to your workout to burn off those final 15 pounds.”
Another issue Jabala often sees with clients trying to lose that last 15 pounds is a decrease in motivation. “When you’re starting out, you have all this motivation to work as hard as you can. Everyone is complimenting you, and it’s easy to use that as motivation. But the closer you get to your goal, the easier it is to let yourself slip back to your old habits and become complacent.”
Then there’s the flip side—when you lose weight through dieting, you’re also losing muscle mass. “The more muscle mass you lose, the slower your metabolism becomes. That’s problematic because muscle burns more calories than fat,” says Boehm. And so, with any diet, you need to continue to increase your workout intensity as well. “Add more volume to your weights and decrease the rest time in between workout sets.”
Still, Jabala is quick to note that the further along you get in your fitness plan, the less effective working out will be for weight loss. “It becomes a smaller piece of it. Nutrition and regeneration — including sleep and everything you do before and after the gym — become much more important as you get closer to your ideal weight.”
So you can do the latest fad workout routine until your kidneys explode, but if you really want to go from dad bod to six-pack, the only sure way is to eat less and sleep more.