How to Shift Stubborn Weight

How to shift stubborn weight

How to Shift Stubborn Weight

So you’re doing all the right things: you’re eating well and you’re exercising regularly … but you’ve hit a plateau. You’ve reached the point where you can’t budge any more weight, but there is weight to be budged.

What to do?

Quick note: This is where I could tell you I have an Exercise and Sports Science degree, worked as a Health and Fitness instructor for three years and was a competitive athlete for 10 years. But none of those things really matter. What follows here is what I’ve learned from experimenting with my own body for many years and it’s not so much intended to be ‘how to’ advice as it is ‘Here’s what worked for me. If you’re a bit stuck and frustrated, it might work for you too’.

First things first

Are you really eating ‘well’? Because if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

We can’t out-exercise bad nutrition.

As mentioned above, I was a triathlete for 10 years. And for pretty much that entire time, I carried 2kg more than was optimal for me. 2kg is not much in everyday life, but it’s a lot when you’re trying to get off a bike and run fast. My friends will tell you that I was forever trying to lose those ‘last 2kg’. This shouldn’t have been hard given I was training 15-20 hours a week, but what I thought was a healthy diet back then actually wasn’t.

A healthy diet is one where you:

  • Eat real food,
  • Not too much,
  • Mostly plants.

I ticked none of those three boxes. I was eating mostly processed food, a huge amount of carbohydrates in the form of bread, cereal and pasta (ie. not a lot of veggies in there) … and far too much in general. (I was eating the same amount as my 6″6′ boyfriend who was playing State League basketball.)

I wish I knew then what I know about nutrition now.

These days this is what my exercise for a week looks like: two CrossFit sessions (45 mins) and five easy runs or walks of around 30-45 minutes. That might seem like a lot, but compared to what I used to do, it’s nothing. Five hours of training a week compared to 15.

Yet, these days, even after having two kids, my weight is 1kg less than it was for the bulk of my triathlon days.

What’s the main difference between now and my triathlon days?

My diet

  • These days none of my food comes out of a packet.
  • I don’t eat cereal any more because, other than oatmeal, every cereal on the market has added sugar (no, not even Weetbix).
  • All of my meals involve mostly vegetables, a bit of protein, and healthy fats (nuts, avocado, olive/coconut oil, fatty fish). The fat and protein are essential for feeling full (if you don’t feel full … you keep eating).
  • I get my carbohydrates from root vegetables (potato, sweet potato, pumpkin etc) and rice. (I’m not saying everyone should stop eating pasta and bread … but I personally find it much easier to control my weight when I’m not eating bread and pasta.)

What helped me changed my diet?

The I Quit Sugar (IQS) program was the main one. The program shouldn’t even be called I Quit Sugar. It should be called ‘I Quit Eating Processed Foods and Learned How to Make and Eat Real Food That’s Close to the Source’. IQS goes for eight weeks and does a few things:

  • It gets you eating a whole lot more veggies.
  • It hugely reduces the amount of sweetness you need food to have in order for it to taste ‘good’.
  • It gets you back in the kitchen making your own food from scratch.

For the record, IQS isn’t about getting everyone to eat zero sugar. The program does remove all sugar (processed and natural) from your diet in a gradual fashion, but it then re-introduces things like fruit once your reliance on sugar is removed.

The other program that hugely helped me change my diet was Highway to Health (H2H) which was created by Kirsten and Match Murphy who run my CrossFit gym. Highway to Health borrows from Paleo, Whole 30 and IQS and it’s what got me off pasta and bread – two things that tend to make me feel heavy and bloated. H2H goes for 21 days and is less extreme than Whole 30 (which involves going cold turkey on everything: sugar, grains, dairy, legumes for a month). I do H2H whenever my diet has fallen apart a bit and I need to hit the reset button.

Thanks to what I’ve learned from IQS and H2H, these days I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I can/can’t eat or what I should/shouldn’t eat. If I want to eat a piece of cake – I eat it. If I want to eat bread, I eat it. It’s the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time I eat heaps of veggies, good fats and a good amount of protein (via eggs and meat). Which means I don’t spend a lot of time agonising about the less nutritious stuff I’m eating the other 20% of the time.

The key to success with things like IQS/Highway to Health/Whole 30/Paleo is to not approach them as ‘going on a diet’. The key is to approach them as educational programs for changing the way you eat for the rest of your life. If you’re going to do them as a diet then here’s what’s going to happen: you’re going to lose the weight you want to … and then you’re going to put it straight back on when you return to your normal way of eating. #headdesk

Ok – so now that we have diet under control, it’s time to talk exercise.

When it comes to exercise, our bodies adapt to physical loads very quickly. That means if you’ve been walking for half an hour every day, continuing to do that will help you maintain weight, but it won’t help you lose weight. Particularly the ‘last 2kg’ kind of weight. You have to change things up.

  • If you’ve been walking for 30 minutes every day, walk for 45-60 minutes. Or change the terrain – find a hill or some stairs and walk up and down those.
  • If you’ve been walking for 60 minutes a day and your body can handle it, try running. You don’t have to suddenly go out and run for 30 minutes. Start dropping 1 minute runs into your daily walks. ie walk for 4 minutes, run for 1 minute. Repeat. As you get fitter, make the run intervals longer.
  • If, like me, you’re a runner and you’ve been going for 30 minute jogs five times a week, either increase the distance, find some hills or include some higher intensity periods in there. ie jog for 4 minutes, sprint for 30 seconds. Repeat.
  • If you’ve achieved all the weight loss you can with the amount of running/walking you’ve got time to do (for example I don’t have time to run 80km a week at the moment), then you need to include some strength training in there. The beauty of strength training is that it builds lean muscle which boosts your metabolism at rest. Everyone can quickly and easily get some simple strength training into their day with some tabata workouts.

What’s a tabata?

One ‘tabata’ is 8 x (20 secs hard, 10 secs easy). That’s four minutes of hard work. At the end of that four minutes you’ll be breathing nice and hard. The beauty of tabata is that you’re doing the exercises at your hard, not someone else’s. If you’ve not been doing much (or any) exercise,  choose your tabata exercise carefully. (ie Don’t do a running tabata if you’ve not run in 20 years).

Sample tabata for beginners:

  • Squat up and down on the spot for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds
  • Pushups on your knees for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds
  • Step ups on to a box/low wall/stairs for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds
  • Sit ups for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat another three times.

Sample workout for someone who’s been doing regular exercise at least three times a week and is looking to change things up:

Go for a brisk 5 minute walk around the block, come back home, do the above tabata, then finish with another brisk 5 minute walk. That’s 14 minutes all up. As you get fitter you can do multiple tabatas, a longer warm up/cool down or you can go find yourself a CrossFit class.

Why I love CrossFit

  • It’s made me stronger than I’ve ever been in my whole life.
  • It’s a short, sharp, high intensity workout that’s done and dusted in 45 minutes so it’s great for time-poor people. (The main workout usually only goes for 12-20 minutes. The rest of the time is warm up + strength work.)
  • Anyone of pretty much any fitness level can do it as the instructors adjust the prescribed workout to each person’s specific abilities and fitness and there is never any pressure to go beyond your own capabilities.

The main things I want you to take home from the above

  • If you’ve got weight to shift and you can’t shift it, you need to change things up. If you continue to do the same thing you always have, you will get what you’ve already got.
  • You can’t out-exercise poor diet.
  • If your diet still contains processed foods … start with your diet before you look to exercise.
  • We’re all experiments of one. What’s worked for me won’t necessarily work for you – try things out, keep the stuff that works, discard the stuff that doesn’t.


Got questions?

Ask them in the comments below. The above is something I started putting into an email for a mum from school before I realised I was writing so much I should just turn it into a blog post. I have so much more to say on this topic … but the above is a good start!


Comments 26

  1. I must admit my biggest problem is my diet. I know it and yet, when I’m stressed, it’s the first thing that goes off track. I’ve followed Michelle Bridges program and lost weight in the past. However, the last 24 months, I have gained weight and more so in the last 8 months or so. I need to lose 5 kilos to get back to what I was and I really need to be strict with my diet. I just wrote a post on how I have failed big time so far this year in terms of my fitness. I started a new job and well, let’s just say it’s thrown everything out of whack.

    I like to workout in the morning which means though, I have to eat breakfast at work. I agree that all cereals are loaded with sugar and it annoys me. But I also got bored of eating oats and because I eat brekkie at work, it’s usually something quick like Weetbix. At my old job where we had a decent kitchen and when I used to drive to work, I’d take homemade baked beans. I guess long ramble short, what do you do for breakfast especially if it has to be on the go?

    Thanks for all the other tips. I do enjoy Tabata and HIIT…another thing I’m missing having started a new job. I can’t make it to classes at my gym anymore and have to workout on my own. I find it harder to do something like Tabata in that context.

    1. I like having a veggie pattie with either smashed avocado or poached egg on top. At work I warm the pattie in the sandwich press and cook my egg in a mug in the microwave.

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        Yes! I have a green smoothie for breakfast every morning – that makes my mornings so much easier! The key to ensuring you’re not hungry again in 1 hour is to put a good fat (like avocado or nuts) in there and also some protein powder (pure protein powder, not the body building kind that has all kinds of crap in it)

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      Hey Sanch – I think the key here is to make changes slowly with your diet. As I mentioned in the post, don’t do things like the Michelle Bridges program and think ‘this is a short term thing that will help me lose weight’. You have to tell yourself ‘this program is going to help me make changes for life’. Michelle’s program is a little hard as it restricts calories. You might be better off trying something like IQS where the focus isn’t so much on calories and doing a heap of exercise. The focus is more on changing how you eat for a lifetime xxx

  2. Can you please explain a bit more what cross-fit is – I am curious. Also, I was wondering if you still do triathlons ?

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      Hey Chloe – CrossFit is a type of fitness class that incorporate functional strength training with cardio. Functional strength training = strength exercises that use whole body movements as opposed to concentrating on a single muscle group like most strength exercises in a regular gym. Each CrossFit class has a warm up, then a strength component, then the main Workout of the Day (WOD) that can go from 10-30 minutes. In that WOD you are working through a series of exercises in a high rep/challenging but not heavy weight combination. The unique combination of cardio + strength training means you get very fit and very strong!

      And no, I don’t do triathlon any more. Definitely no time to train for triathlon with two very young rugrats – I stick to running these days, much more time efficient!

      1. Thank you! Well sounds good to me but I’m an obliger so I do best with team sports for exercise but is certainly something that I am going to look into. Also, from what I have read of IQS, its about low exercise…. how does that fit in with competitive sports and with your exercise regime? Do you change things up a little? Do you miss the competition?

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          Obligers go well with CrossFit too – it’s a very team environment even though you’re doing the workout solo. Plus people notice if you don’t turn up for class and will ask where you were. Also good for Obligers!

          IQS doesn’t specifically prescribe exercise – but every meal has plenty enough calories to fuel intense exercise. I never had any problems from that side of things with IQS.

          And yep – I definitely miss triathlon competition. So every now and then I go and do a 5km Parkrun event to get a ‘hit’!

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      Yes – this is a good time to try Highway to Health I reckon. The idea is not to lose weight (a bit hard while sitting on the couch!). The idea is to try something new and see how good you can feel simply by changing the way you eat.

      Also – eating out of boredom is going to be something you’re fighting constantly. Great books and Netflix are your friend here xx

  3. Thanks for this advice as I just did IQS program over 8 weeks and was doing only approx 3 hours of exercise per week … No weight loss – so the regime you suggest sounds very good and doable. Being on wrong side of 50 is why i assumed I did not reduce in kgs. Will get the right combo of diet & exercise hopefully before I end up decrepit: lol.

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      Hey Trish – being on the wrong side of 50, strength training is so important for you. I would definitely be trying to walk every single day for 30 minutes – but I’d also find a gym or a a CrossFit gym and incorporate some regular strength training in there too (pump classes are good too). Whichever gym you join, they will be able to tailor a program for you xx

  4. The diet part is so important, isn’t it, and we have those seven words of Michael Pollan’s implanted in our brain here (it’s one of the examples of the things I know but don’t yet follow through with). Thanks for the reminder – and the exercise tips, too!

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      That’s why I find programs make the changing of diet easier. We all know what we *should* be doing – but getting ourselves to do it is another story. If we have a program to follow though – that just takes a bit of the fatiguing decision making out of the equation

  5. All great pointers, Kel. Another suggestion – see a kinesiologist. They will be able to tell you if you have any intolerances to specific foods such as gluten, dairy, eggs, soy etc. You can have a non processed diet and STILL not see any effect if you have intolerances that are damaging your gut, so your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs from the food you are giving it as fuel. For example, I can’t eat corn, potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums, eggplant – organic or otherwise – which I would never have known. And the usual replacement grains for wheat (corn, spelt, rye, barley) are also off my list. It’s only been 6 weeks, and I don’t have any bathroom scales to measure, but I’d estimate I’ve lost about 5 kgs, taking me back towards MY triathlon days! New wardrobe, here we come!
    For the record, I’ve found it much easier than I expected to stick to the ‘plan’ this time round, mostly because I know eating the wrong things is not just ‘bad for me’ but is actually making my gut sick. That mindset change has been a godsend.

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      Too true Mel! So interesting that it was a kinesiologist that was able to tell you all these things. How did they figure it all out?

      And I so agree – it’s so much easier to stay off those foods when you know they’re just doing your insides any good!

      1. It was the quirkiest thing ever, so you MUST have an open mind (not an issue for you, Kel). I had to fill in endless surveys, which pretty much told them most things they need to know about the state of my gut and brain, but my assssment involved using a strong muscle (my right shoulder/deltoid) and checking what substances decreased its strength. So, I lifted my arm straight out to the side, he pushed down on it, and I had to push against it. Normally, not a problem (they aren’t trying to break you!) Then he he put various substances (one at a time) into my body’s force field (simply held a vial at my chest) and then did the same thing – all bar two things made my arm drop! He also did a few other things to test where my brain has been damaged (strength, balance, flexibility etc) – frontal lobe (memory etc are shot to pieces). I apparently have issues with metal toxicities as well, but I don’t know specifically which ones yet because I can’t afford the $777 blood tests required! I’ll wait til I’m back in Australia to do those 😉 In the meantime, I’m concentrating on the things I can control (food). Which is quite enough at one time, anyway! See, quirky!

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  6. This is exactly what I needed to read right now and you’ve covered everything for me! Thank you so much. I am saving this blog to reread when I hit a plateau.

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  7. I love that “you can’t out exercise bad diet” – true story! I’ve just rejoined Weight Watchers, because I have to be held accountable, accounting myself just doesn’t cut it! I like it because I can track what I eat, track my exercise and establish healthy patterns, for me, losing/maintaining weight isn’t a diet, it’s a lifestyle. My PT is obsessed with tabata, it’s hard but it works!

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      Definitely. I should put a bit into the post above about how different personality types need some kind of accountability. And also how some personality types are moderators and others are abstainers

  8. Hi Kelly, I’m interested in H2H. Is it manageable with two children (2 & 4) and both parents working full time?
    i’m managing to fit HIIT exercise in each day, but the diet is falling by the wayside as I pick at the kids dinner and feel the need to reward myself for getting through another day of life! (LOL!!).
    I’ve done many programs – 12WBT, Commando, IQS – but nothing sticks 100% long term. I’m 42 so am concerned about the slippery slope!

    1. H2H is a good ‘reset’ kind of program I find. It’s definitely changed how I eat … and then when I find myself falling into bad habits, I do it again to reset.

      They’ve also set it up quite well so that the meals are quite simple to make and often whatever is for dinner the night before is also lunch the next day. And so long as you’re able to do a lot of your meal prep on the weekend, you’ll be able to work it around your family (it won’t be easy … but it will be doable – especially if your hubby gets on board eating the same things you do … and if your kids are anything like mine, you’re used to preparing something different for them anyway?)!

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