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CrossFit with a goal of weight loss: what am I doing wrong?

by (5) Updated May 13, 2013 at 6:36 AM Created May 10, 2013 at 4:49 AM

I started CrossFit nearly one year ago, shortly after becoming fully Paleo. As a woman, my goal with CrossFit was - shocker - to lose weight. It wasn't really so much about the number on the scale, just the areas of unattractive body fat on my stomach, love handles and thighs that I wanted to make go away.

I found out quickly that "weight + loss" are negative buzzwords in the CF community, and a female coach has all but given me the cold shoulder ever since I expressed to her the parts of my body I was unhappy with and that I wanted to be smaller.

After a year of CrossFitting 3-4 times per week, powering through the most brutal workouts I've ever endured, the tummy and love handles are mostly gone, but the fat around my thighs remains ruthlessly persistent. At 5'8" and approximately 135 lbs, because of this excess fat I am by no means confident to be seen in a bathing suit, which seems cruel because I exercise so hard and eat so strictly.

I eat a strict Paleo diet out of necessity: one "cheat" (mine is frozen yogurt, about every three months or so) and my fatty areas swell back up again as if they are a sponge. I eat meat, vegetables, eggs, avocado, shredded coconut/coconut oil/milk, bulletproof coffee, full fat greek yogurt, ghee. Fruit and nuts are out.

My questions are these:

  1. Has anyone else experienced similar resistance to the goal of weight loss within the CrossFit community? How can I reframe my expectations while still getting what I need out of the program?

  2. What am I doing wrong to not be seeing the fat loss results I want? How is it that someone who works out this intensely, eats so restrictively, and has an otherwise tall and slender frame can have areas (my thighs) that absolutely refuse to give way?

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1643 · May 10, 2013 at 1:19 PM

You are half an inch shorter than me, and my weight.

Sister, I'm sorry...but if anything, you need to eat more and worry less about your weight. You cannot change genetics.

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741 · May 10, 2013 at 1:00 PM

5'8" and 135 lbs.?

My sister is 5'3" and 135 lbs., and she's ripped as hell from Crossfit.

You've got to get over this "oh, if I can just fix this area or that area". Why? Because it's never going to happen. And why is it not going to happen? Because of your genetics.

If you're gonna pack on a good portion of your fat around your thighs, it's just going to happen like that.

At this point, the expectation of being super lean everywhere is going to happen only at the cost of the rest of your health. Do you know what bodybuilders, models, actors/actresses go through just to keep their figure? Ever heard of how Christian Bale dropped all of his muscle-mass to play in the Machinist? His diet consisted of apples and cigarettes. Granted, that is a totally different scenario, but still..

Just keep Crossfitting, keep up the hard work with paleo, and enjoy yourself in the now. 'Cause one day, you might get injured, and you might lose all of your progress - all because you were obsessed with going harder, longer, and whatever to lose those "last few pounds". That's what happened to me. Now I'm a 20-year-old with arthritis and back pain. And my abs are gone.

Sorry for the rant. Please head my warning. Hope this helps.

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5814 · May 10, 2013 at 12:49 PM

I would bet that the reason you are getting a cold shoulder about weight-loss has many factors. Here are a few of my guesses:

(1) you don't need to lose weight. Your bmi is 21, which is at the very low end. I can feel for the fact that you hate your thighs, but for anyone looking in from the outside, I guarantee that you look "thin."

(2) you are making your goal a certain body type, rather than working with your own body. It's great to have goals, but just remember that genetics do play a huge part. When my mom went through a divorce in her late 20s, she lost weight down to 99 pounds (she's 5'4"). And I can still remember her standing in the mirror and shouting, "I still have THIGHS!" Yeah, way to scar a child for life... :)

(3) Crossfitters are not skinny. Sure, some skinny girls crossfit, but they aren't the ones who get strong and compete. Have you seen Iceland Annie? Holy cow.

So then, what do you do?

Continue working on thigh strength. As you convert more and more fat into muscle, they will get smaller. Probably only slightly, but you'll lose any jiggle. I guarantee you any sane person (who isn't hiring supermodels for runway work) will tell you that firm, muscular thighs in a variety of sizes are hot.

Remember that thighs are your strength! Well, thighs and glutes. If you are lifting heavy weights as a woman, most of your strength is rooted in your thighs and glutes. Personally, as a heavy-thighed girl myself, I think it's an evolutionary advantage. :)

And speaking of that, research shows that omega 3's get stored in your thighs and used when your brain needs it. Women who store more fat in hips and thighs (as opposed to belly) tend to be smarter, and more importantly, to have smarter children.

http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/soul+happiness/wellbeing/why+your+curves+make+you+smart,10243

All that to say, personally, I feel your pain. I'm stuck at a different place (160lb, 5'5") and have been there for 3 years in spite of eating 99% paleo (1500 cal or less) and crossfitting. I think I'm dealing with a setpoint which I cannot break to save my life. But I'm also in a size 8 pants, which is pretty crazy considering that when I was in high school I weighed 115 lb and wore a size 8 ... bodies are weird. But it can be mind-numbing sometimes. Recently I thought, you know, maybe I'm taking this too seriously. Maybe my obsessing over it is causing my body to store fat (read this somewhere, that obsessing about food can make your body think starvation is imminent and hold fat). So I tried to relax. I added some cheese to my eggs. I had a (tiny) bowl of ice cream. I gained 4 pounds in a week. Sigh. :\

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78 · May 13, 2013 at 6:36 AM

Yup, if losing true excess body fat is your concern, then energy expenditure in my opinion is not the most efficient way to do it. Exercise is good for strengthening the heart and elevating mood etc, but for losing body fat? Inefficient.

Diet is the key. Far easier to eliminate 500 calories a day than burn 500 calories. Don't fear carbohydrates in the form of tubers and an occasional bowl of white rice.

Diet is all you really need to mess with if you want to lose excess body fat. Don't stress your body with the whole crossfit thing and coconut oil thing....

Keep it simple. Eat clean, well and balanced. That means safe starches in my opinion.

Good luck.

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1357 · May 10, 2013 at 2:12 PM

To answer the question of what you may be doing wrong that is stalling your fat loss. It sounds as if you are not eating to fuel your activity level. The highly glycolytic nature of Crossfit means that you NEED a decent amount of carbs to see full performance and results. I would venture a guess your cortisol levels are sky high. I would add in a sweet potato or some white rice before and after your tough metcon days. I also agree with what was said above. It may be better for you to cut down on the metcons to once or twice a week, and stick to hitting the compound lifts hard and heavy. Lifting+lots of walking+ occasional metcon= awesome.

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28 · May 10, 2013 at 1:36 PM

I agree with cutting down on the Crossfit/metcons, and just stick to the compound lifts three days a week. You might be producing too much cortisol from the workouts? Maybe some sprints or some burpees once or twice a week, but not much else in the way of HIIT.

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2000 · May 10, 2013 at 1:36 PM

It sounds like you are forgetting the "have fun" and "play" aspects of Paleo and instead, you're focusing solely on weight loss. I'm not judging at all though, I've been there. I did xfit for 4 months and really liked it, but looking back, I don't think it was at all helpful for weight loss. I think all the working out I was doing and the very strict eating was really stressing my body out. I've recently switched things up (dropped cardio, added yoga, reduced calories, and continued heavy lifting) and I've seen significant weight loss. Focusing so much on being perfect wasn't doing me any favors. I was missing the "play" aspect of paleo when I was stressing out about going to my book club (which I really enjoy) because I didn't want to explain my diet to the hostess or worry about offending her because I'm not eating what she's served. I've also stopped stressing about getting workouts in and worrying about gaining weight if I'm not able to get to a class. It was getting ridiculous and was probably making me fat. Try to lighten up a little. Ease up on your workouts, ease up on punishing yourself and try to enjoy your body (which doesn't sound at all fat to me!) for what it can do.

As a side note, I found xfit to be incredibly competitive, not super-supportive like everyone says it is. It was supportive on the surface, but it was nearly impossible to not compare myself to other women I was working out with. That might say more about my personality than xfit as a whole, but regardless, it wasn't good for my psyche.

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32175 · May 10, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Body fat loss in women has a lot more to do with hormonal balance than many folk realize.

Excessive exercise or caloric restriction can actually work against women for fat loss.

I'd recommend reducing CF to twice a week and walking/swimming/biking SLOWLY for 1-2 hours on the other days, with a rest day, of course!

Focus on nutrient-dense foods like liver, seafood, hard cheese and make sure your Vitamin D3 blood level is between 50-60 ng/ml to optimize the building blocks for your hormones and thus allow them to come into balance naturally.

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