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Struggling with Weight Loss

Weight loss culture gets a really bad rap, and, in most cases, I’m right there with most of the folks making arguments against it because fitness and nutrition should never be used to make you less healthy. However, in America, we have a population where over 70% is overweight or obese. Granted that some of these individuals are technically “overweight” because they’re carrying a lot of muscle mass, realistically, this only makes a tiny, tiny percentage of the overweight population.

As for the health risks of being overweight or obese, these are undeniable. Ranging from an increased risk of heart attacks, diabetes, joint problems, or chronic back pain, carrying excess weight is not a good thing. While normal weight individuals are still susceptible to similar health conditions, quite famously is the heart attack suffered by The Biggest Loser’s personal trainer, Bob Hart, the risks of suffering and recovering from such events are much better for someone who is normal weight versus one that is overweight or obese.

Because of the ever-rising percentage of the overweight and obese population, there’s a good chance that those that fall in this category have had their medical professionals suggest that they lose weight with good nutrition and exercise. Unfortunately, this is a lot tougher than people think, and if you’re someone who has tried and failed at losing weight, I’m sure that you know this all too well. Today, we’re going to dive into some of the most common areas that continually make it so difficult for people to lose weight.

Obsession with Weight Loss

This may sound counterintuitive, but one of the biggest reasons why so many people struggle with weight loss is their very obsession with losing weight. This can create a highly restrictive environment and mindset, which many can only tolerate for so long. It may also lead to unrealistic expectations, and when such expectations aren’t met, this creates a sense of failure and a lost passion for sticking with the weight loss journey.

I once had a client who did her homework before we even got started, and she knew that one pound of fat had about 3,500 calories (kcal) and that health experts suggest weight loss at 1-2 pounds per week. That said, she calculated her BMR and subtracted 1,000 kcal, this way she could lose two pounds per week. The problem was that she wasn’t factoring in the activity level, which was going to increase, and the amount of protein consumption was going to be pretty low. Had I not informed her of this, she would have lost the weight, but some of it would be coming from lost muscle mass, which would help keep from making her looking gaunt, as well as maintaining the weight loss for the long term.

Does it help to count calories? It depends. While almost everybody either overestimates or underestimates their intake, logging in what is being eaten can be hugely helpful in spotting the foods that may be preventing weight loss. Logging in food can be very tedious, but if you find it helpful to keep track of what you’re eating, I don’t find anything wrong with it.

Are apps like MyFitnessPal helpful or harmful? This is another case where the answer is “it depends”. Using food diary apps that display the estimated caloric intake and expenditure are great in theory, but there is no way that you can get an accurate reading. Instead, I really love these products when they’re just being used as food diaries, instead of calorie counters. I always have my weight loss clients log their food in FatSecret for three days (it’s similar to MyFitnessPal), where most tell me about their eye-opening experience when they see everything they ate in a log. With this information, we can start to look into possible alternatives for some foods or plan a strategy where they can still eat these foods without sinking their progress.

The Workouts

Until recently, it was believed that doing hours and hours of cardio was the best way to lose weight because it allows one to burn more calories than when lifting weights. While doing a lot of cardio can burn a lot of calories, it really doesn’t make as big of a dent on weight loss as you might think. Remember, one pound of fat has about 3,500 kcal and running/walking one mile burns about 100 kcal. This kind of strategy is the very reason why so many workout newbies burnout so quickly and, on many occasions, this is one of the leading causes of overuse/overtraining injuries.

Working out, alone, is not going to cut it when it comes to losing weight. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had clients express their frustrations about not losing weight, even though they’ve been crushing it with their workouts; however, after further investigation, it’s almost always revealed that eating habits haven’t changed, sleep, etc. One of the facts that’s tough to swallow about weight loss is that it requires you to make a couple of sacrifices, and not just one. In the end, even if you’re still struggling to lose weight, I can guarantee that things like getting more sleep, eating more healthy, and exercising regularly are going to have you feeling a million times better than before.

One of the things that so many get wrong about training is that every rep of every set of every workout has to be done at 110%. While this mindset is appreciated, it’s not realistic and you can cause your body more damage than making progress. It’s true that training until failure and greater volume loads can increase muscle mass at a faster rate, thus helping to speed up fat loss, but this is not a rational strategy. Think of running hill sprints at maximal effort — you might be okay for the first couple of rounds, but even if you’re in amazing shape, you will lose speed and running technique will falter as you go along. The same applies to training to failure with every exercise, except in this instance, the diminishing technique, which is normal when fatigued, may put you at risk of an unwanted injury. It’s okay to train until failure for 1-3 exercises, then stopping at near failure for the rest (1-3 repetitions in reserve is fine).

If you have a preexisting injury, this means you have to be way more selective about your exercise routine. The first step is finding exercises that aren’t going to aggravate the injury or reduce the intensity. Injuries can vary and you may still be able to exercise, but you still want to be careful because the last thing you want is to make it worse.


For the longest time, cardio has been one of the main go-to exercises for folks that want to lose weight, but this mindset has been steadily changing in recent years. In fact, some trainers and influencers might tell you that cardio is one of the least effective ways to lose weight because it’s merely burning glycogen (the stored carbohydrates in the muscles), instead of fat. The problem with this is that these folks are only thinking about subcutaneous fat (the fat that resides just under the skin), but cardio is actually the most beneficial form of exercise to burn off visceral fat (a dangerous type of fat that is found around the organs). Anyhow, your body will be burning that fat after your workout as you are recovering since fat is the primary energy source while in rest.

How effective is cardio for weight loss? It really depends on the nutrition. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people killing themselves in the gym, then walk straight to the Wing Stop that’s next door. I’m not saying that you have to eat nothing but boiled chicken and broccoli, but you shouldn’t expect your workouts to burn off a junk food diet; this kind of thinking is like paying credit card debt with another credit card.

Does doing high-intensity intervals with cardio increase fat loss? Not so much, but if you’re someone who is short on time, high-intensity workouts can be completed in much less time. These days, I’m seeing a lot of influencers promoting walking or stair climbing as the best way to lose fat. Since fat is the main energy source at rest and low-intensity activity, these influencers believe that slight increases in activity will melt fat faster, but you have to consider your time. While walking is more likely to burn more fat over the course of the training, itself, there’s not much recovery needed after; meanwhile, high-intensity training is mostly using carbohydrates as its energy source, but excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) after the training means more fat is burned for hours after completing the training.

Nevertheless, I have no problem with folks opting to walk versus sprints, just as long as they understand that you’re going to have to commit 30-60 minutes to burn off the same amount of fat as 10-20 minutes of high-intensity cardio. The caveat to high-intensity cardio is that it’s hard and unpleasant; even as someone who competed as a collegiate rower and a Navy veteran, if you could read my mind as I’m doing a sprint workout, you’d hear me asking myself why I torture myself with this. I will say that the strongest argument to go with low- versus high-intensity cardio is that the risk of injury with low-intensity training is almost zero. In my opinion, implementing both high- and low-intensity cardio is most recommended because you’re able to get the best of both worlds! As Gary Vee says, “Stop thinking in terms of ‘or’ and start living in the world of ‘and’.”


The idea of eating healthy is really simple, and you really don’t have to do like me and get a Master’s degree in Nutrition. The hard part is the practice of eating healthy on a consistent basis. As a personal trainer, I get a first hand look at my clients’ workouts when they’re training with me, so I get to correct their form and make adjustments in real-time; but, when it comes to their eating, that’s not the case. Former UFC Middleweight champ Rich Franklin has one of my favorite quotes — “The eating happens in private, but the results come out in public.”

My suggestion when it comes to eating healthy is to be patient and make gradual changes, allowing yourself time to adjust. Registered dietitian Alisha Beardsley promotes one of my favorite approaches — instead of taking away the foods you love, start adding in those you know are good for you. For example, leafy greens are known to be high in fiber, and may reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, and they’re also really low in calories. You can add spinach to your favorite smoothies, and in most cases, you won’t really notice a change in the taste. As Charlie Sheen famously said, “WINNING!”

The key to successful weight loss is consistency. Some of the factors that make consistency difficult to achieve can range from boredom (which is what I think makes highly restrictive diets such failures) to overly inflated beliefs of what healthy eating needs to look like. Sudden changes in diets can be difficult to stick with, so you might be better off to ease yourself into healthy habits.

Make a list of the foods that you know would make it the most difficult to give up and think of ways that you may be able to substitute for these items; you can also substitute some of the ingredients. For example, if you listed carne asada tacos, you can reduce some of the greasy fat with chicken fajitas instead of carne asada. Again, you want to ease yourself into healthy eating, so just go with one item on your list for every 3-6 weeks; if even then you can’t get accustomed with the change, select something else and come back to the problematic one in a couple months.

Most important thing about adopting healthier eating habits is to be prepared for slip-ups and definitely do not beat yourself up if this happens. Cravings and bad decisions happen, and just as long as you get right back on your healthy eating plan, whatever you ate during that slip-up is not going to affect you at all. However, you need to be sure that you correct yourself, immediately, and don’t do a “I’m going to get back to my diet on Sunday”, especially if your slip-up happened on Tuesday.


Losing weight is tricky because the basic concept is super simple, but the practice has so many road blocks and distractions that it can make the process very difficult. In a recent podcast, comedian Gabriel Iglesias talked about his struggles with losing weight, which even included hiring a nutritionist to move into his house and prepare all of his meals and snacks, but it made him feeling miserable. Everyone’s weight loss journey is different, so comparing yourself to friends, relatives, or social media influencers can magnify the horrible feeling when you cannot reach your goals. Going down to the bare bones, one not only has to break away from old habits, but also has to form new ones, and this is a much more daunting task that only a few can accomplish after their first, second, or even a third try. In my opinion, even if you’re not losing weight, if the journey has gotten you to enjoy exercising and adding in healthier food options, I think that still counts as a victory.


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