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There are two camps in the world of weight loss and each one wants to punch the other square in the face…
The first camp swears that weight loss is all about calories and as long as you eat less than you burn, you’ll burn fat.
They’ll tell you to count your calories and run on a treadmill as much as possible to produce a calorie deficit, which will result in fat loss.
They’ll spew out simple facts like “There’s 3,500 calories in a pound of fat and if you can eat and exercise in such a way that causes a 1,000 calorie deficit every day then you’ll lose two pounds of fat each week (1,000 X 7 = 3,500 calories).
It’s just good old, tried and true math solidified in physics.
It’s simple and it makes sense….
Wait a minute though, let’s not forget about the other folks!
The other camp could pass a lie detector test stating that weight loss is 100%, without a doubt, about balancing hormones and fat-burning enzymes.
Calories, they’ll say (or insinuate in a passive-aggressive way) falls somewhere between an afterthought and totally unimportant to the discussion.
They’ll tell you to cut carbs in order to lower insulin and leptin levels while focusing on short, intense sessions of high-intensity interval training and resistance training to pump out thyroid hormones, growth hormones, and androgens to get the metabolism purring again!
When hormones are balanced, you’ll unconsciously eat less, move more, AND burn more calories.
I can tell you that the hormone camp isn’t lying to you, these facts are scientifically sound.
…BUT, I can also tell you that calories are important and that you can’t burn fat without a calorie deficit of some sort.
Humph! Is this all hurting your brain?
Who’s right, Damn it?!?!?
Well…I’m going to tell you, but you may want to sit down for this because this is going to change your view of how to lose weight FOREVER!
Introducing: The Calorie-Hormone Curve Concept
The answer to the riddle lies in the new concept called “The Calorie-Hormone Curve”, and it sets this debate to rest…
We’ll get to my beautifully illustrated graph in just a moment.
First, let me dispel a big myth…
Here I go…”High-intensity interval training is NOT always better than cardio.”
There, I said it. Yes, I threw up a little in my mouth as I said it because I’ve always been one of those “die-hards” who gave a swift and decisive knee to cardio’s groin in previous posts and podcasts.
It turns out I was wrong…
A Norwegian study put 30 obese, sedentary women on one of three exercise programs: High intensity interval training, traditional cardio, or a 50/50 mix of both.
At the end of the 12 week study all participants lost weight, their measurements improved, their fat percentage dropped, and their insulin levels significantly decreased.
The problem was…there was no difference between the groups. They all lost about the same amount of weight, fat, and gained about the same amount of muscle. (International Journal Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, October 17, 2015)
Yes, that flies in the face of the hormone tribe who would go to war to defend the honor of HIIT and, no doubt, has the calorie-loving zealots making faces while screaming, “Nanny-nanny-boo-boo!”
But not so fast…
There is an explanation for the contradiction, after all there’s a lot of good research proving HIIT to be superior to traditional cardio for fat loss.
It’s called the “Calorie-Hormone Curve”, here’s what it looks like, just familiarize yourself with it and I’ll break it down for you…
Chart 1: Hormone-Calorie Curve
The Four Stages Of Weight Loss
Get ready, this section is going to have you “Ah ha-ing” all over the damn place and it’s going to make all those past successes AND failures make sense.
Before we get into the stages, we need to talk briefly about the three types of fat because the type of fat you’re dealing with determines the weight loss stage you’re in…
The Three Types Of Fat
The first type of fat is called “Easy Fat”…
Easy fat exists because your body is like a nuclear reactor that’s gone haywire.
In essence, there’s way too much fuel entering the blood and the body needs to get it out of the blood before it fries your cells and organs.
So, it super-stuffs the fat cells in order to save you from a cellular meltdown.
The two types of fuel/energy we’re talking about is fat and sugar.
Easy Fat exists solely to decrease the toxicity caused by too much sugar and fat floating through the system.
It’s a toxic form of fat because it causes a lot of inflammation in your body and it forces your heart to work very hard.
Needless to say, the body doesn’t want the Easy Fat on the body, but it wants the excess energy out of the blood more than it wants you to be thin.
So it super-stuffs the fat cells.
The good news is, the body is a highly motivated seller when it comes to unloading the Easy Fat. So, we don’t have to work too hard to burn it away!
If you have a lot of Easy Fat on the body, then you are in the “Sweatpants Stage” of your weight loss journey.
We’ll get into the signs that you’re fighting easy fat shortly…
The next type of fat is “Stubborn Fat”.
Most people who are struggling to lose weight are in THIS stage, which is characterized by fat that just won’t quit.
Stubborn Fat is hormonal and enzymatic fat. It exists on the body because the hormones and enzymes are way out of whack.
Hormones like insulin, leptin, ghrelin, cortisol, and thyroid…
Enzymes like lipoprotein lipase and hormone-sensitive lipase.
…that’s just naming a few.
Some of these hormones and enzymes are too high and some are too low.
The bottom line is stubborn fat requires far more than a calorie deficit in order to access and burn it.
You’ve got to balance a gaggle of hormones (some of which we probably haven’t yet discovered) that are sensitive to many different environmental and lifestyle factors.
You’ll spend most of your time fighting Stubborn Fat because it’s far more complex than the Easy Fat, which often falls from the body like leaves on a windy autumn day.
If you’re dealing with Stubborn Fat then you’re likely within one of two stages where you’re tangled in a battle with this formidable foe; you’re either in the Skinny Jeans stage or the Swimsuit Stage.
The final type of fat is called Vanity Fat.
Vanity Fat is the fat that only the elite or highly narcissistic folks will challenge in a dual to the death.
Fitness models and bodybuilders (as well as perfectionists, narcissists and overachievers) are often determined to burn their Vanity Fat.
Most of you will be terrifically happy when you burn most of your Stubborn Fat…
My experience is that 95% of confidence comes by the time you’re smack dab in the middle of burning the Stubborn Fat…i.e. when you can wear a one piece bathing suit with a ton of confidence.
If you’re dealing in Vanity Fat then you’re in the Bikini Stage of the journey.
I should note that many people who reach the Swimsuit stage feel fantastically confident in a bikini as well. Remember, these stages are meant to be metaphors more than literal interpretations of clothing you wear.
For most of us, specifically, those who have an unfair load of fat genes, trying to attack Vanity Fat is very unhealthy.
Sure…it looks healthy to be on the cover of a fitness magazine, but trust me when I tell you most of those fitness models are genetically gifted and are actually very unhealthy because they push their metabolism way too far.
Remember, it’s healthy to be a little fat. Your body wants you to be a little fat. Not so much fat that you are unhealthy or lack confidence, but just a liiiiittttlllle fat…
Back to the four stages…
The Sweatpants Stage
Review: People who are in the Sweatpants Stage must burn “Easy Fat” in order to move into the next stage called the Skinny Jeans Stage
Remember, Easy Fat exists because the body is super-stuffing the fat cells in an attempt to prevent damage to the cells and organs caused by excess sugar and fat floating around the blood. Generally people in this stage are simply eating too many carbs and too much fat.
Stage 1: Sweatpants
The Sweatpants Stage is where many of us find ourselves when we’re at or close to our heaviest weight.
If you’re reading this post with a bag of potato chips propped up on your chest and grease dripping down your fingers…well, this is your stage… the “Sweatpants Stage”.
The discussion doesn’t end here, however…
The truth is, you may be in the Sweatpants Stage even if you’re not at your heaviest weight.
Stay tuned because later on I’m going to give you a link to a quiz which will tell you exactly which stage you’re in.
Pretty cool, right?
For now, I just want to give you some common clues that you may be in the Sweatpants Stage…
First, if you’re on the “see-food diet”, meaning you eat whatever food you see, then you’re likely in the Sweatpants Stage.
In other words, if you’re not on a diet of some sort then you’re likely in this stage.
Second, if you’re not exercising at least 3 times a week. Then you may have some Easy Fat to burn and may consider yourself in the Sweatpants Stage.
Third, if you notice that you lose weight relatively easily when you do cut calories or jog on a treadmill. Then this is your stage.
Full disclosure: Finding your stage is more complex than these three characteristics, which is why I uploaded my brain into a quiz that will help you find your stage…
The key factor here is that weight loss is relatively easy, even if you anticipate that your weight loss will stall in a few weeks as it has a hundred times before, this stage is about cutting a few calories and moving a little more to get some results.
By the way, many people make BIG mistakes during this stage that causes weight loss to stall prematurely. We won’t get into those mistakes right now, but after you take the quiz I’ll give you some strategies specific to your specific stage in order to keep you burning fat through to the next stage!
For now, let’s move on to the next stage…
The Skinny-Jeans Stage
So, at this stage I have good news and bad news for you…
The good news is, you’ve burned the Easy Fat! Congrats…
The bad news is, you’ve burned the Easy Fat. So sorry…
The key characteristic of the Skinny Jeans Stage is Stubborn Fat.
Easy fat, as you know, responds to relatively small changes. Easy Fat is why the contestants on The Biggest Loser show burn like 30 lbs each in the first week of the show.
Stubborn Fat is why those same contestants burn like 2- pounds at week six or seven despite working out for 8 hours a day and eating sugarless gum all day.
The key indicator that you are in the Skinny Jeans Stage is a plateau that won’t budge simply by cutting calories or exercising more.
We call this the Skinny Jeans stage because often times people report fitting those skinny jeans that have taunted them from their closet for so long.
That being said, Skinny Jeans is simply a metaphor for the point where weight loss moves away from a calorie/energy-centric focus to a hormone-centric focus.
In a nutshell, if you’ve been cutting calories and losing weight for some time and wake up one day having been disowned by your scale, then you can assume that you’re in the Skinny Jeans Stage.
The goal at this point is to build a new strategy that focuses on balancing insulin, thyroid, leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin and other hormones.
Once you do this, the scale will take you back with a warm embrace and you’ll start to burn fat again.
There’s a lot to discuss around the hormonal-centric approach to weight loss in the Skinny Jeans stage. We’ll get into that in other posts for now, let’s continue to the Swimsuit Stage.
The Swimsuit Stage
Holy hell! If you’ve made it to the Swimsuit Stage then you’re probably grinning from ear to ear.
I want to let you in on a little secret…
The Swimsuit Stage is the holy grail of fat loss for us folks cursed with a bunch of fat genes.
It’s a secret because most people feel they need to get to the Bikini Stage to feel totally satisfied, healthy and happy; but, I’m going to make the case that the Swimsuit Stage is a far better, healthier, and happier place to be!
You see, we often think that the lower the body fat, the healthier the body and the happier the mind, but the reality is nature wants you to be a “little fat” – super skinny people wouldn’t survive long during famine or illness.
So, as with many things in health there’s what scientists call a “J-curve” – and we see that same J-curve in health and fitness.
Chart 2: Body Fat To Illness/Fatigue J-Curve
As you can see from the chart, health is at it’s worst at the Sweatpants stage and most people enjoy better and better health as they go from Sweatpants to Skinny Jeans to Swimsuit…
…but, something happens at the Bikini Stage. Illness and fatigue can begin to worsen again as people start to work on burning the “Vanity Fat”.
You’ll generally be healthier than you were in the Sweatpants Stage but not quite as healthy and energetic as you were in the Swimsuit stage.
Now, full disclosure, this isn’t always the case. Some people are genetically programed to be super lean and they can achieve very low body fat percentages while being super healthy.
…but, if you have a bunch of fat genes then you will likely feel your healthiest AND happiest somewhere in the Swimsuit stage even if you don’t get to the extra-lean Bikini Stage you see on the cover of fitness magazines.
Does that make sense?
So, the Swimsuit Stage is also a “Stubborn Fat” stage but because the fat cells have shrunk and there is more resistance to change.
Think of inflating a big balloon until it is about to pop and then letting go to allow it to deflate. At first the air will come one with great and as the baloon deflates the force at which the air leaves will decrease significantly. That’s kind of what happens with fat cells. As fat cells shrink they become more resistant to letting go of their fat stores.
During the Swimsuit Stage, you may run into some fat loss resistance.
At this point, you’re measuring fat loss in ounces rather than pounds and we start to focus much more on building strength and fitness rather than burning fat.
You’ll know that you’ve reached the Swimsuit Stage when you start to impress yourself with your own reflection.
You may still have a few “problem areas” but your confidence is high, your energy levels are rockin’ and you feel more balanced and strong.
People in this stage usually ask questions like, “How do I lose those last 5-10 pounds?”
The strategies used during the Swimsuit Stage are similar to the Skinny Jeans Stage but focused more on muscle, metabolism, and maintenance.
Now, let’s take a very brief trip into the Bikini Stage…
The Bikini Stage
Let’s get real for a minute…
Most people who start this journey in the Sweatpants Stage are not and never will be willing to do what is required to traverse the land of the Bikini Stage.
…because it sucks.
The Bikini Stage, for people who have fat genes, requires you to become a narcissist, plain and simple.
This fat is so stubborn that we had to give it a different name…”Vanity Fat”.
Because only the super vain will have the motivation and gall to eat, exercise, move, sleep, supplement, and drug themselves into the land of Bikini.
It’s a misconception that super-lean folks are always healthy. They’re not.
I have met bodybuilding champions who were so fatigued, sick, moody, and decrepit that my 80 year old mother could beat them up.
So, here’s the bottom line…
If you want to achieve ridiculously low body fat percentages, I’m not the coach for you. My goal is to help you get healthy and feel confident.
Once I get you to the Swimsuit Stage, my ONLY goal is to KEEP YOU THERE!
Then, if you are looking to join the cast of any show with “Housewives of…” in the title and you want to get super-skinny for the show then you will need to find a bodybuilding coach to help you achieve that goal.
Be warned…your life will suck…but, at least that will make for great TV.
What’s fascinating about the Bikini Stage is we come full circle and you return to a “Calorie-Centric Focus” again.
It becomes about counting calories, living in a gym, and acquiring a touch of OCD to eat super clean!
Ok, so let’s review…
Sweatpants Stage is bad…
Skinny Jeans Stage is better….
Swimsuit Stage is AWESOME!
Bikini Stage is bad but not as bad as the Sweatpants Stage.
If you’re in the Sweatpants Stage, cut a few calories and go for a walk a few times a day.
If you’re in the Skinny Jeans Stage, Do HIIT three times a week, cut carbs, get some more sleep and stop stressing.
If you’re in the Swimsuit Stage, life weights a few times a week, do HIIT a couple of times a week, meditate daily, walk as much as your schedule allows, jog maybe once a week, cut carbs a bit more, add some supplements to stoke metabolism and build muscle, and be happy and healthy.
If you’re wanting to enter the Bikini Stage, find a coach who will yell at you a lot and make you exercise until you vomit. Never eat dessert, weigh every morsel of food, count every calorie, and suck every ounce of joy from your life.
Ok, the time has come to find your stage…are you ready?
Take This Quiz To Find Your Weight Loss Stage
Discovering your weight loss stage may be the most important step in your weight loss journey because it will determine the types of strategies that will work during this particular point in your weight loss process.
Think of it this way, if I sent you on a quest and the first part of the quest involved walking 10 miles across a desert, you’d be pretty happy to be given a good pair of walking shoes, a cantina, and a tube of sunscreen.
Would you make it through the desert?
Most likely…it’d be tough, but you’d make it.
Now, imagine that you finish the first stage of your journey and you come to the base of a huge mountain only to find a pair of scuba flippers, a snorkel, and a wet-suit waiting for you.
Would you make it to the top of the mountain wearing those items?
Probably not. In fact, you’d likely die.
Why did you make it through the desert and die on your way up the mountain?
Both terrains were “unfriendly”. So, it wasn’t the terrain…
It was the wrong tool for the terrain, plain and simple.
That’s why knowing your stage is so vitally important. If you try to beat “Stubborn Fat” by using a calorie counting app on your smart phone, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
It’s not that the app is faulty…it’s just the wrong tool for the Skinny Jeans or Swimsuit stage of the journey EVEN IF IT WORKED WONDERFULLY DURING THE SWEATPANTS STAGE!
So, hopefully that clarifies why you’ve had such difficulty achieving your weight loss goals.
So now let’s find your “Weight Loss Stage” – Start your quiz below…
Sorry guys, the quiz is in progress. Come back soon!