Question – My goal is to lose fat, tone up, and maintain my weight loss long term. HIIT was initially effective then I plateaued. I eat pescatarian and watch my carbs.
Answer – It sounds like you mean you have lost some weight but want to lose more? Or perhaps you have gained back some that you initially lost with your new diet/exercise? Either way, there are 3 things to consider:
- The intensity of your exercise
- The fat in your diet
- Sleep and stress
Exercise will reduce most visceral fat (the kind around your organs) but not much subcutaneous fat (the kind you can pinch) because visceral fat is insulin sensitive and responds to simple energy demands, whereas subcutaneous fat is insulin resistant and needs a shift in your diet before it gets used by your body. So most of your weight loss — fat loss actually — comes from dietary change.
Done right, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has two main benefits for weight loss:
- It will cause you to deplete your glycogen stores in your muscles and liver which require rebuilding (especially if you do it fasted). This will take 12–24 hours after your exercise. This means your body is breaking down your own bodyfat to rebuild glycogen rather than building new bodyfat.
- It will suppress your appetite. If you were to do moderate, longer duration aerobic activity — what many people think of as “fat burning” activity — you’ll actually stimulate your appetite. Steady-state cardio usually makes people hungrier.
If you aren’t receiving these benefits, you might not be intense enough. Here is what I recommend for simple HIIT: Split Your Minute.
A pescatarian diet (fish/seafood and no other meat) will likely be high in protein but not fat. There are a number of different views on the amount of protein vs fat you should eat for weight loss, fat loss, and health. My view from my own experience, research, and clients, is that a high protein/low fat diet is not much different from a high carb/low fat diet.
Protein stimulates insulin release (especially dairy since it has the 4 amino acids that most raise blood glucose) but it also stimulates glucagon, an opposing hormone. So protein doesn’t often lead to the same complications of insulin resistance. However, if you are already insulin resistant — and almost all of us are, especially if we’ve been obese — then you’ll be more sensitive to high protein and the amount of insulin released.
When insulin is high in your blood, your body is in building mode. Insulin is causing it to build fat and muscle. That means your body is not using bodyfat for fuel. In fact, it can’t break down bodyfat while insulin is high blocking glucagon’s actions. High insulin means storing your ingested food for fat and then stimulating your hunger so your body gets fast energy even though it has plenty of bodyfat it can use for fuel.
The goal is to keep blood glucose low so insulin stays low so your body can access the stored bodyfat for fuel instead of demanding more food. This is why counting calories is pointless. Less carbs mean nothing if the ratio of carb/fat stays the same. Your body will still have higher insulin blocking bodyfat usage. Counting macronutrients is all that matters. You’re counting carbs. That’s good. But likely you are eating a higher carb/fat ratio than you want for the leanness you’re after.
For example, I continued to drink beer weekly after going low-carb-high-fat (lchf). It was my one treat. It added a few hundred carbs to my week. I was within my weight range but still heavier than I wanted to be and puffy and refused to believe that little bit made a difference. When I quit and went carnivore for a month (eating only meat), I dropped an additional 15 pounds and got lean. My energy increased, strength remained the same, and I needed less sleep.
So I suggest you experiment with adding fat. Fat — especially saturated fat — is not harmful at all (the few foundational low-fat research studies have been debunked and the paradigm is based on policies not science — see my ketoholic blog for details). Saturated fat is a necessary building block for hormones, cell membranes, and your brain and can be your main source of fuel through consistent lchf eating.
Finally, stubborn belly fat can be the result of chronic cortisol release.
Cortisol is a hormone like glucagon that raises blood glucose, but it’s a threat hormone reacting with short bursts of glucose release in order to prepare you to fight or run. Stress releases it: stress from a bad job to being attacked by a lion to late nights of not sleeping. If cortisol release becomes chronic rather than acute, it adds to insulin resistance and leptin resistance so you build fat and you don’t get full.
Work on reducing chronic stress.
I tell my clients this too: eat whatever carbs you want, just be aware their only value is to provide bodyfat. There are times that’s good and times it isn’t. So just decide how much fat is worth the flavor.