The last ten pounds

The last several pounds - usually around 5-10lb (3-5kg) - are your body’s last reserve, it is there to safeguard you and ensure your survival in case of extreme conditions and even possible starvation. The logic of it is pretty solid, in the past when food was scarce and conditions were a lot tougher this could have saved your life. In the past it was useful, now it’s a pain.

Having fat reserves was indeed something that used to be the deciding factor whether you lived or died, but today, for most of us this is no longer the case – food is plentiful and there is warmth and shelter available when we need it. Having reserves is no longer a necessity… but your body didn’t get the memo. It still does what it is programmed to do – ensuring you have the best possible chances of making it through the winter. It does more than that, as you get older, your metabolism changes as well slowing down and optimizing taking into account your possible future inability to provide for yourself aka - hunt. Yay body, good job.

Now, losing the extras, the weight that is not necessary for your survival is a relatively straight forward process. After all, that’s what you have fat reserves for – it’s fuel, you use it up. The moment you hit what is called the “comfortable weight” – and everyone has their own, when you are neither fat nor slim – that’s when you hit the mark. From that point on your body will resist everything you throw at it and your usual training, everything you’ve been doing so far will make no difference. Your body will do everything it can to optimize and burn as little as possible while maniacally stockpiling anything extra it gets hold of. It’s a safety mechanism that basically puts you on “energy saving mode”.  

Reserves are there to safeguard, they will only be used up in case of an emergency or hardship – and that’s exactly what you’ll have to simulate. It has to be just enough pressure to force your body into digging into it and start emptying the fat cells and not too much to make it panic. That’s the tricky bit, and it is vital – if you push yourself too far too fast, start extreme diets you won’t be able to maintain, you will only “piss your system off”. And the moment you go back to your normal lifestyle it won’t just get it all back, it’ll move the mark forward increasing your comfortable weight in case the crisis hits again in future. That’s what most people do, they go from one extreme diet to another eventually getting trapped in a vicious cycle of yo-yo weight loss and gain – although they get results, these results are temporary and the weight always comes back (and it often brings friends).  

It’s a choice. It works for some people and you can do that too – but if you want to get rid of the reserves permanently you’ll have to permanently change your lifestyle. And that means you have to introduce a new normal where it is impossible to have reserves – a more active lifestyle and a more conscious way of making eating choices at all times. 

What does it take to get rid of it, then? There are two ways, in fact, you can starve your body for resources or you can increase training intensity (raise a level and/or training time) – ideally, you should do both without going into extremes. 

Just to give you an idea, the moment you hit your comfortable weight and you want to go past it, you now need to work harder and smarter – because what you did before and what gave you results before will no longer be enough.  You want to first of all vary your training to shock your system a little bit and keep it confused so it doesn’t optimize. The best thing to do is to introduce HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts and give up some of the extras in your menu e.g., extra slice of bread, fruit in the evening, have something sweet or alcohol on the weekend only. If you do running, start running longer distance or run uphill or do sprints. Do something new, add an extra 10 minutes of a different kind of training your muscles are unfamiliar with to your normal regimen or completely change your routine for a while - and then keep on doing that. 

Whatever you were doing before, you have to go one-two steps further in your efforts – just not a whole mile – like giving up solid food and training 3 hours a day, for example. Unless what you do – the training and the diet changes, can become your lifestyle don’t do it. If you want permanent change in how you look, you have to make permanent changes in your lifestyle as well. 

Your body will always try and get it back, the moment you relax and go back to a lifestyle where you eat just a little bit extra and exercise just a little bit less, you will get everything back. It isn’t something you can change, that’s how your body is wired up and it’s what it is designed to do. Which is not a bad thing if you think about it. If the Zombie apocalypse does happen you’ll be grateful you had extra body fat – just enough to see you through the winter and not too much to slow you down.  Even fit people, especially fit people in their off season, have extra reserves. Maintaining a body fat percentage that is below what your body is comfortable with is always a struggle. It does help to understand the logic behind it – so you are better prepared to deal with it and then be able to manage it better. 

The important thing to remember is that it is first of all a process. You are trying to educate your body and show it that these reserves are unnecessary, that it can and have to let them go. The only way you can do that is to have that kind of lifestyle – that’s the only means of communication you have with your body. And instead of fighting back every step of the way, it will listen and it will respond.