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How Stacy Broke Through Her Fat Loss Plateau

I was going through my files this morning looking for a case study when I came across some notes I had on an old client.

I’ve got folders full of scribbled notes on tablet paper from¬†client consultations¬†that I’ve kept over the years¬†in part of my¬†fat loss¬†research. I figured it would be a good idea to start sharing some of these stories as there are some very¬†valuable lessons¬†that can be picked up¬†from them.


Stacy was a client that I worked with several years ago when we had a Shaping Concepts personal training studio in Charlotte, NC. At the time I met with her she was in her mid forties and wanted to lose around 10-15 pounds (while toning and firming up of course).

Even though she was¬†doing resistance training 3 x week with her¬†personal trainer and cardio for a whopping 60 minutes 5 x week, the scale wouldn’t budge!¬†To¬†make matters worse she¬†wasn’t seeing the changes in her muscle tone she was working so hard for.

To say she was frustrated with her lack of results would be an understatement.

This was someone who was working extremely hard with her exercise and stayed pretty disciplined with her diet. There was no junk-food, sodas, or any significant problems with her diet from what she could tell.

However, my hand written notes that I took during a consultation with her revealed some clues to why she was “stuck.” With a little bit of digging¬†and in¬†depth questioning this is what I found.


While¬†Stacy was eating pretty “clean” per say with very little processed and refined food, she was eating less than 1000 calories per day on average, most of which were carbohydrates.

Here is what I had copied down from a sample day in her food journal:

Special K cereal, skim milk, glass of orange juice, cup of coffee with Splenda.

Tuna fish wrap on whole wheat, fruit cup

Brown rice and stir fry vegetable medley

Everything¬†appeared to be “healthy” on the surface¬†so what was¬†the problem? You may have¬†already guessed it but before I give you¬†the answer let’s look at the rest of¬†my notes.

Committed to the idea of BURNING as many calories as possible, Stacy was doing an hour of cardio five days a week either running on a treadmill or doing spinning.

She told me that although her job had always been somewhat stressful, she had recently struggled sleeping with 5-6 hours of sleep at night if she was lucky.

There was also a noticeable decrease in energy during the day, especially in the afternoons. This was accompanied with strong sugar cravings that some days was hard not to give in to. She was disciplined but admitted to caving in to the candy dish at the office on occasion.

These were all very BIG clues in helping to spot the problem.

This was my recommendation to her at the time from my notes that I remember being initially met with some resistance.

  • Cut out the cereal and orange juice at breakfast and switch to scrambled eggs and¬†a cup of berries.
  • Drink an Advocare¬†protein meal replacement¬†shake¬†between¬†breakfast and lunch.
  • Add 4-6 ounces of protein (fish, turkey,¬†lean red meat, seafood, etc)¬†grilled or baked to dinner.
  • Cut down from 60 minutes of cardio to 30 minutes 5 x¬†week.

That was it, very specific changes but nothing else in detail to over complicate things.¬†She was obessed with¬†knowing how many calories that would equal but I wouldn’t even go there. My directives were simple and to the point.

The problem is it took a couple weeks of “persistent persuasion” from myself and her personal trainer before she made the switch. The reasons¬†for her resistance, besides¬†my solution appearing to be way too simple, is easy to understand looking back on it.

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I was telling her essentially to “eat more” in order to start losing fat again.

This idea by itself was hard for her to get her head around since we’re led to believe you need to “eat less to weigh less.” This is a huge stumbling block for a lot of people.

I was telling her to REDUCE the amount of time she was doing cardio.

Once again, this¬†was hard for her¬†to fathom since she wouldn’t be burning as many calories.¬†Truth be told she would have been better off to cut¬†out cardio altogether for the time being, but since I knew¬†she wouldn’t do it I simply cut it back.

What happened….

To make a long story short,¬†Stacy finally took my advice and within the first week of compliance she lost 2 pounds and broke through the plateau. The end result was she continued losing body fat and eventually reached her goals within a couple of months. My “simple” ideas had worked.

Was there any magic involved? Of course not, just some changes in hormonal balances that allowed her to hit her fat loss zone.

Here’s what was happening to her body that she couldn’t see simply because she was working off the WRONG information.

The drastic caloric restriction combined with excessive cardio had reduced thyroid hormone production essentially down regulating her metabolism.

This put her in a “fat storing” mode instead of¬† a “fat burning” mode.

Increased cortisol production further reduced T3 production, impaired insulin sensitivity, and made lean muscle gains virtually impossible.

This was also¬†the main culprit for the difficulties with sleeping at night. Her adrenal glands were pumping out cortisol due to body’s stress response from excessive exercise on very low calories.

The significant lack of protein in her diet made hunger levels go up (decrease in Peptide YY) and sugar cravings increase. Talk about a double whammy that nobody wants!

Although she wasn’t eating nearly enough calories to support her metabolism and energy needs, what fuel she was giving her body was mostly carbohydrate.

Even with¬†mostly¬†”healthy” carbohydrates (remember there were very¬†few¬†”bad” carbs from processed foods in her diet) fat loss wasn’t happening.

The problem is all carbs eventually end up as sugar and her body was stuck using that sugar as fuel (not tapping into fat reserves) due to low protein and dietary fat intake.

The¬†combination of everything that was going on also led to¬†a¬†decrease in testosterone and¬†growth hormone levels. Bottom line is she¬†had conditioned her body to¬†store¬†whatever excess energy was¬†available at times due to self preservation¬†aka “survival” mode.

The hormonal shifts and lack of protein also ensured she wouldn’t be seeing a change in lean muscle definition no matter how hard¬†she worked out doing resistance training. She was over-training, underfed, and lacking sufficient protein to support lean muscle.

As you can see her recipe for fat loss was simply upside down and backwards.

Eating very low calories (mostly¬†from carbs) and doing tons of exercise simply won’t work!

Read that over and over again until it’s engraved in your brain. Once you understand how the body works to protect itself from stress and starvation it all makes perfect sense.

While there is a lot I could discuss on why she turned the corner with 4 simple changes the big takeaway is seeing the power of focusing on only a handful of things at one time.

The lesson is don’t¬†try to overwhelm yourself by trying to be perfect¬†and certainly don’t fall into the trap thinking¬†that more exercise and fewer calories is¬†always the answer.

Fat loss is a hormonal game first and foremost. You set the table with the right hormonal balances with changes in your diet and exercise.

For most people you’ll get the conditions right from a “fuel” standpoint by increasing protein intake while lowering carbohydrates, selecting mostly fibrous vegetables and moderate fruit.

Combined with the right type and amount of¬†physical activity and¬†plenty of rest and recovery, you’ll be on the right track.


What works in the¬†human body to promote¬†fat stores to be burned for energy doesn’t change. While everyone is going to be different due to a host of factors including¬†genetics there is always a solution. Sometimes you just have to dig down a little deeper to find the answers.

If you would like help cracking your “fat loss code” I can help. Check out my website homepage to learn more about how you can receive a FREE Lean Code Profile and no-obligations Charleston personal training trial.

Of course you can always leave me a comment on¬†this post¬†with your own personal success for frustration story. I’d love to hear from you.

Ok, that’s about it for today…talk to you later- Shane

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal¬†trainer, fat loss¬†expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. Visit his website for FREE E-Books on¬†nutrition, fitness, and fat loss including the Lean Code Method “Quick Start Nutrition Guide.”

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