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Why you’re not burning fat

“I'm working out, so why am I not burning fat?” I get asked this question a lot. The answer is not a simple one and it's quite possible that there are a few factors holding you back and hindering you from seeing the results you hoped for.

Our bodies are complex machines and sometimes it's not quite enough nor is it as straightforward as ‘just move more to burn more'.

There are a number of reasons why you may not be burning fat optimally. These are the top four things I review with clients when they come to me with this problem.

1. You're doing too much ‘steady state' cardio.

Pounding away on the treadmill for hours and doing lots of low-intensity aerobic classes is not as effective for burning fat as you may think. Quite simply, resistance training and lifting weights is far superior for fat loss, as weight training will help to develop muscle mass, which helps to increase your metabolism and thus the efficiency at which your body burns fat rather than muscle for fuel. So perhaps it's time to reconsider your workout strategy and reacquaint yourself with the weights rack.

2. You're eating too little.

Now I know this sounds counterintuitive, but you have to remember that our bodies are smart and are designed to try to withstand and survive anything; this includes times of famine, or when you are not taking in adequate calories (food). If you are consistently undereating and not consuming enough calories, your body will sense that you are starving it and begin to hold on to fat in an attempt to protect your organs. In this way, restricting calories too much and for extended periods can have a negative impact on your fat-burning abilities. Now I'm not saying you need to go out and start excessively overeating, but rather that it is important to eat the correct balance of calories to support your energy requirements, help preserve precious muscle and keep your metabolism firing high so it can continue to burn fat.

3. You're stressed and tired.

You're doing everything else right, exercising consistently, fuelling your body with the correct foods and in the right portion sizes, but that belly fat still won't budge. One explanation could be that you're stressed which is causing your body to overproduce certain hormones that unfortunately can make you hold onto unwanted body fat. Cortisol is one of these hormones, and although cortisol has many essential functions, it can also wreak havoc if too much of it is present. When we are stressed, whether due to anxiety, lack of sleep or overtraining, cortisol goes into overproduction which can increase abdominal fat storage, as well as stunt your body's ability to burn fat — a double negative impact! So try to ensure you get enough sleep — seven to eight hours is the ideal — and work on reducing your daily stresses, meditation, practising mindfulness techniques and doing leisurely activities that you enjoy. Going for a walk on the beach, reading a good book or chatting and laughing with friends are all excellent for helping to lower stress and cortisol levels. Also, make sure you take adequate rest between workouts. I always recommend at least one full rest day per week.

4. You're drinking too much.

I know it's summer and you're either going out on a boat, going to a party, or heading for happy hour, but life is about balance, and while there is nothing wrong with the occasional glass of wine or couple of cocktails, an excess of alcohol can severely impact your body's ability to burn fat. Firstly, and what a lot of people seem to forget, is that alcoholic drinks contain quite a lot of calories. I hate to say it, but these are pretty much ‘empty calories' and void of providing your body with any nutritional benefits.

Secondly, studies have shown that alcohol may also increase your appetite causing you to overeat and often on less healthy foods. Thirdly, we metabolise alcohol quite differently to other food and drink sources. After drinking a glass of wine our bodies become busy trying to metabolise this, meaning focus is almost entirely shifted away from burning fat. So drinking in moderation really is crucial if you want to become a lean, mean, fat-burning machine. My advice is to always alternate alcoholic drinks with water and stay well hydrated. Plus, remove high-calorie foods from your cupboards. If they're not there to tempt you, you won't be able to indulge when your judgment has been impaired.

So if your progress has come to a standstill, I would carefully assess what it is you're really doing. Be honest with yourself, there is usually room for improvement in some aspect of your life, whether that be lifting more weights, eating better, sleeping more, drinking less or just taking the time to breathe and relax. If you think you need help, reach out for the advice on an expert — I'm happy to help!

• Becky Wright is a qualified personal trainer, nutritional therapist and international bikini fitness champion. She has worked with clients worldwide, including royalty. Becky works at Alchemy Fitness. Contact: becky@alchemy.bm

Need help?: Personal trainer Becky Wright says if your progress has come to a standstill, carefully assess what it is you're really doing

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Published June 17, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated June 16, 2015 at 11:23 pm)

Why you’re not burning fat

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