If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, chances are that you’ve eventually hit a weight loss plateau. You stay on top of your diet and exercise but the scale doesn’t budge.
Basically, you stop losing weight after a period of time.
Don’t be alarmed, this happens to everyone who has tried to lose weight. Fortunately, there are ways to get past these plateaus.
Is it Really Weight Loss Plateau?
As a coach, my observation has been that if you’re on a weight loss diet and suddenly stop losing weight, it may not always be a weight loss plateau.
There are many factors that affect your body weight. Our bodies comprise of so many different components. These components can be roughly be categorized into Fat Mass and Lean Body Mass.
Fat mass is the total amount of adipose tissue in your in your body. Fat is stored under your skin (subcutaneously), In and around your organs (Visceral) and also inside your muscles (intramuscular).
Lean Body Mass (LBM) or Fat-Free Mass (FFM) is everything in your body that is not fat. This includes your muscles, bones, water, organs etc.
With Weight Loss, our focus should be primarily on Fat Loss while maintaining Lean Body Mass.
With so many components that make up your total body weight, you may still be losing fat but it may not show up on the scale.
How To Tell If Your Weight Loss has Stalled?
Your body weight fluctuates daily. Your total body weight is affected by a lot of factors. For example, if you eat a high-sodium meal, you will most likely retain more water weight. This will show up on the scale.
Your weight also changes throughout the day. Most of us weigh more in the evening than we do in the morning. This is because of the extra food and water we consume throughout the day.
If you want to account for the daily fluctuations, I suggest the following:
- Use an accurate digital scale
- Weight yourself in the same conditions. Weigh yourself in the morning, without eating or drinking anything and after using the bathroom. Keep in mind that even the clothes you wear while weighing yourself can affect your total weight.
- Weigh yourself daily: If possible, weigh yourself daily and record your daily weigh-ins
Use weekly averages of your weight. This way you can compare your weight averages from week to week.
I use an app called RecStyle to record my daily weigh-ins. The app automatically gives me my weekly averages. I can also see the charts over a long period of time.
I also recommend keeping track of body measurements. Many times your weight on the scale may not go down but your waist measurements may go down.
The app- RecStyle also keep track of your body measurements.
I teach this technique in my book Weight Loss with Strength Training
If your average body weight and your body measurements don’t change at all for 2-3 weeks, you may have hit a weight loss plateau.
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Why Do We Face a Weight Loss Plateau?
True fat loss stalls happen because our current diet and exercise are no longer sufficient for losing weight. What was once enough to lose weight, no longer works.
Here are the top reasons for a weight loss plateau:
We Weigh Less
A lighter person simply needs fewer calories to maintain his/her body weight. When you were heavier, you expended more energy in performing daily activities.
An easy way to estimate how many calories you need is to use a body weight multiplier.
Most people who exercise regularly, need between 14-16 calories per pound of bodyweight, in a day. If you are a smaller person or have a slower metabolism, you may need 14 or even lower. If you have a lot of muscle mass or have a faster metabolism, you may need 16 or more calories.
For example, A male with an average metabolism needs 15 calories per pound of body weight. If he weighs 300 pounds, he needs 4500 calories (300 X 15) to maintain his weight.
If he loses 50 pounds and weighs 250 pounds, he now needs 3750 calories (250 X 15) to maintain his weight.
In reality, the actual calories he needs at that point may be even lower than 3750 calories because of the various metabolic adaptations that take place. This brings us to our next point.
Metabolism Slows Down
Your metabolic rate determines how many calories you need in a day.
Your metabolic rate consists of your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) + Physical Activity (Exercise and other daily activities) + Thermic Effect of Food.
BMR: Your body needs a certain amount of energy just to survive. Even if you stayed in bed all day and didn’t get out of bed, you would still need calories to perform your basic bodily function. This is known as your Basal Metabolic Rate.
Metabolism is an extremely complex topic. To put things simply, when you lose weight, your body downregulates the production of various hormones that control your metabolic rate.
Fewer Calories Burned From Physical Activity
Physical Activity – This consists of exercise and non-exercise activities you perform daily. Exercise includes activities including Strength Training, Cardio, Stretching etc., done with the intention of improving fitness or burning more calories.
Non-exercise activities are your daily activities such as standing, commuting, cleaning etc. that are not done to improve fitness or burn calories directly. These account for a significant amount of calories.
As we talked about in the previous point, your physical activity accounts for a significant part of your total metabolic rate. When we start losing weight, our bodies soon sense this as a threat. In order to conserve energy, we start moving less.
You may not even have noticed it. We tend to walk slower, sit down more instead of standing, get up less often while sitting etc. All of these reductions in activity can add up over time.
Even if your physical activity doesn’t drop by much, you expend fewer calories doing the same activities. It takes your body less effort to walk, stand etc.
In addition to everyday activities, as your fitness levels improve, you burn fewer calories while exercising.
If you were just starting out, you may burn 300 calories walking by walking. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, your body becomes more efficient and needs fewer calories to perform the same activity.
If you want to track and monitor your activity levels as you lose weight, check out some of the popular activity trackers such as the Fitbit.
We Eat Less Food.
Out of the total calories, you eat your body has to expend some calories in order to break down the food and extract energy from it. This is known as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF). From a mixed meal consisting of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, your body expends about 10% of the energy consumed to derive energy from it.
If a person was eating 4500 calories, his TEF was about 450 calories. If he starts eating 3750 calories, his TEF is now 375 calories. That’s a difference of 75 fewer calories burned, simply because of eating less food.
As a person becomes lighter, he/she will be eating less food and as a result burning fewer calories to process the food.
How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau?
If you know for sure that you’ve hit a weight loss plateau by following the steps above, you will have to make small adjustments over time to keep losing weight. It’s important to emphasize the word ‘slow’. This is because you don’t want to panic and make rapid changes all at one.
If you change too many things at once, you don’t know what’s really working or not working for you.
If you make drastic changes, such as cutting your calories in half, you may start losing weight, but you will also suffer because of it. You will be even more hungrier, tired and your performance will drop. Don’t make it harder than it should.
Here are the steps you can take to break a weight loss plateau:
Track Your Food Accurately
Make sure you’re tracking your food accurately: This is one of the common mistakes people make. If you don’t already track your calories, I highly recommend using an app called MyFitnessPal or Fit Genie.
Many people have no idea about how much they’re eating. If you eat out at restaurants often, try to cut it down. You have no control over how the food is prepared. if the chef at the restaurant adds even 1 Tablespoon of oil extra to your food, that’s an extra 100+ calories. It’s nearly impossible to track this.
If you’re eating a lot of processed foods that contain a lot of ingredients, the chances are that the calories listed on the label are not accurate. Did you know food companies are allowed to have up to a +- 20% discrepancy? This means that if the label says that a food has 100 calories, it can be as low as 80 calories or as much as 120 calories.
The point is, if you’re not controlling the variables, then you don’t know what’s working and what isn’t.
Solution: Start tracking your food intake by keeping a food diary. I use apps such as MyFitnessPal and Fit Genie. If you want to be really accurate, prepare all your food yourself and use a Digital Food Scale.
Recalculate Your Calories
If you’re accurately tracking your food, the next step would be to recalculate your calories based on your current weight. If a person loses 20-20 pounds, he/she will need fewer calories at a lighter bodyweight.
You can use body weight multipliers or a Calorie Calculator to find out how many calories you need. Keep in mind that all of these numbers are simply estimates.
Reduce your calories
Once you calculate, you new calories, you need to create a caloric deficit. Take the calorie number you get and reduce that number by 500 calories. That’s a good starting point.
See if this makes a difference over the next 1-2 weeks. If it doesn’t, you can reduce that number by a 100 more.
It’s best to reduce your calories slowly over time. This way, if your weight loss stalls again, you have some calories to play with.
When we lose weight, our activity levels drop. We also burn fewer calories doing the same activities. In a way, we become ‘lazier’.
Think of your calories like money. If you don’t have much money, you will be very conservative with your spending (hopefully).
We can combat this decrease in calories to some extent by consciously trying to stay active. Simple things like taking short walks, standing instead of sitting, using the stairs instead of the elevator, can help increase your daily calorie burn.
These activities are not considered exercise but make up a significant number of calories you burn. The calories burned through these activities is known as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).
I personally use a Stand-Up Desk while working, which not only helps me burn more calories but also helps me with my posture.
I also like to take short, 5-10 minute walks to take a break from work. This also gives me a mental break from work and get some fresh air.
Eat More Protein
Protein has so many benefits for weight loss.
Not only does protein help build and maintain muscle while dieting, it also helps keep you full in terms of hunger. Dealing with hunger is a major issue while dieting. Eating a protein-rich meal is very satiating.
Also, protein is more thermogenic than carbohydrates and fats. We already talked about the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) earlier. A mixed meal has a thermic effect of about 10% but protein by itself has a thermic effect of about 30%. This means that if you consume 100 calories of protein, your body will expend 30 of those calories to break down the protein and extract energy from it.
If you replace some of your calories from carbs and fats with protein, you will boost your metabolism slightly. You will also feel less hungry.
Good Sources of Protein:
- Lean Meats (Chicken breast, Turkey etc.)
- Eggs and Egg whites
- Dairy (Whey, Casein, Greek Yogurt, Cottage Cheese)
- Beans and Legumes
Try to get most of your protein from food. you can use a protein powder if you don’t get enough from food.
Eat more Vegetables and Fiber
Vegetables are high in nutritional value and low in calories. They provide your body with the essential vitamins and minerals for health.
They are also high in fiber which slows down digestion and keeps you full. Fiber is a type of Carbohydrate that the body cannot break down completely for energy.
If you replace some of your non-fibrous carbs with fibrous carbs, you will end up with fewer net calories. You will also end up eating fewer calories because fiber-rich foods are satiating.
Focus on Strength Training
There’s a difference between Weight Loss and Fat Loss.
Weight Loss simply means that the number on the scale goes down. It doesn’t matter whether the weight comes from losing fat, muscle, water, glycogen etc.
Fat Loss refers to losing body fat while maintaining muscle mass.
Building/Maintaining muscle mass while dieting is extremely important for both, Men and Women.
Strength training is the only form of training that can help build muscle in the long term. A person with more muscle will have a lower body fat % than a person with less muscle, even if both of them carry the same amount of fat.
There are many different exercises you can use to burn calories. Out of all the exercises, Strength Training offers some unique benefits.
With any exercise, your body adapts to it very quickly. With strength training, as your body adapts, you can always find ways to keep pushing yourself. As you get stronger, you can lift more weight or do more reps with the same weight.
Another major benefit of Strength Training is that it can help boost your metabolism. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest.
On the other hand, if you don’t strength train, you will end up losing muscle mass, which will result in an even slower metabolic rate.
For this reason, I always focus on strength training with my coaching.
Learn more about Weight Loss with Strength Training
Try HIIT Cardio
HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training.
Intensity refers to how close you train to your max.
In terms of Cardio,
- Sprinting = High-Intensity
- Jogging = Medium-Intensity
- Walking = Low-Intensity
Because the activity is High-Intensity, it has to be done in short intervals. A 100 Meter sprint lasts only 10 seconds. A marathon can last for over an hour.
HIIT is similar to strength training as both of them are high-intensity activities that are done in intervals. That is why HIIT offers some of the same benefits as strength training.
Benefits of HIIT
- Burns a lot of calories
- Boost your metabolism
- Burn stubborn body fat
- Short workouts
- Improves fitness and conditioning
- Improves athletic ability
- Can help build muscle
- Similar to strength training, HIIT can help boost metabolism. This means that, even when you’re done training, you’re done training, your body will continue to burn more calories throughout the day.
I don’t recommend Running for Weight Loss, but there are many different ways to do HIIT.
Get your free copy of the 25 Fat-Blasting HIIT Workouts
Try Low-Intensity Cardio
Low-intensity forms of cardio such as walking can be used in addition to your Strength Training and HIIT workouts.
Most people should still focus on Strength Training and HIIT first. If they need to burn a few extra calories, they can add in some slow cardio such as walking, swimming, biking etc.
Take a Diet Break
A diet break means that you take a short break, usually 2-4 weeks from your weight loss diet. I first learned about this concept though Lyle McDonald and his books.
When we diet down, our metabolism slows down a bit. Our stress levels are also high. As our stress levels increase, our bodies produce more cortisol, which is a stress hormone. This can cause our bodies to hold on to more water.
If we’re holding on to more water, the weight on the scale won’t change, even if we’ve lost body fat.
When we take a diet break and start eating some more calories, we get rid of some of the stress. We also allow our metabolism to reset a bit.
Many people actually lose weight while taking a diet break. Others gain some weight (not necessarily fat!). A diet break also gives you a mental break from dieting, which is equally as important as the physical aspect of it.
If you want to take a diet break, take at least 2 weeks and eat at maintenance. If you don’t know how many calories you maintain your weight at, use the Calories Calculator. Keep in mind that your actual calories may be lower than the number you get.
When you’re done with your diet break, you can jump back into your weight loss diet. You will probably find it easier to start losing weight when you do.
Try Reverse Dieting
This is more of a longer-term solution. If your calories are already too low and you’re doing a lot of cardio, you may want to reverse diet.
Reverse dieting is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of decreasing your calories over time, you increase your calories slowly until you find your maintenance calories.
This is similar to taking a diet break but the calorie increase is slower. With a diet break, you don’t know your current maintenance calories. Reverse dieting helps you to slowly increase your calories and gauge where your metabolism is at.
With reverse dieting, you add in 50-100 calories to your diet every week until you reach your maintenance calories.
You can combine reverse dieting + Diet break to allow your metabolism to reset a bit before starting your diet again. This strategy is used by some of the top bodybuilders as they prep for a bodybuilding competition.
Learn How To Reverse Diet.
A Weight loss plateau is inevitable. If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight, your weight loss will stall.
Your weight loss has stalled if you haven’t lost any weight for over 2 weeks and your measurements are the same.
Make sure that you’re tracking your body weight at the same time of day and under the same conditions. Body weight fluctuates daily. It’s best to weigh yourself every morning without eating or drinking anything.
Reasons why we face a weight loss plateau:
- We weigh less. A lighter person needs less energy
- Metabolism slows down
- Calories burned from physical activities reduces
- We eat less food – Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau?
- Make sure you’re tracking your food correctly
- Recalculate your calories for your current body weight
- Reduce your calories if needed
- Increase physical activity
- Increase protein intake
- Eat more low-calorie vegetables (Fiber)
- Try Strength Training
- Try HIIT Cardio
- Add Low-intensity cardio if necessary
- Take a 2-4 week diet break
- Reverse diet
I hope this was informative! If you have any questions, comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
My Book: Weight Loss With Strength Training