Having a weight loss plateau is perfectly normal. Just because it’s normal doesn't mean it’s not frustrating though, and it feels like all your hard work has ground to a halt.
Instead of seeing a weight loss plateau as a roadblock, you need to see them as speed bumps that may get in the way from time to time but, can still be navigated.
This article will look at what causes these plateaus and how you can get through them the next time they may strike.
What Is a Weight Loss Plateau?
The basics of this plateau are that weight loss or fat loss has stalled after a period of progression. But what is the real reason this has happened and why does it occur when it does? Weight loss, or fat loss, has seemed to stall and the first thing to do is to recognize if this is a plateau.
If you weigh yourself daily, you know that there are fluctuations that occur each day. If you are weighing yourself every day, you want to at least be consistent with it. Your true weight will be first thing in the morning after you’ve gone to the bathroom. You want to weigh yourself at the same time and also make sure your scale is calibrated properly. Even a floor that is not perfectly even can give you an inaccurate reading.
It’s important to do this first thing as your weight can fluctuate just over one day, with people often seeing variations of 3-5 pounds. Since there are these daily changes, you want to take a different approach and look at your weekly averages week after week. This will give you a better snapshot at your progress and if you’ve actually reached a plateau or not.
True weight loss happens over weeks and months and that’s why tracking is important. You should see a gradual decrease over this longer time period. Healthy and sustained weight loss will be around 1-2 pounds per week. It’s a linear path that will have small up and down spikes over the time period but should still move progressively downward.
When you see that the weight isn’t gradually dropping the way it had been over the past weeks and months, that can be your sign you’ve hit a true weight loss plateau.
The Issues with the Scale
A scale gives you some data but doesn’t always show the whole picture. You will not get an idea of true body composition as a regular scale will not show a balance between lean muscle and body fat. You may have lost 5 pounds of body fat, but gained 5 pounds of muscle and the number on the scale would stay the same. That body compositional change, however, would show some great physical results.
The body fat loss would help you appear leaner and the lean muscle gain would also enhance your overall appearance. You could look significantly different while the number on the scale hasn’t changed.
The scale is also not going to reveal issues surrounding water retention
or bloating along with the hormonal fluctuations that can cause these issues. You can still check the scale, but a better indicator of weight loss will be with a tape measure.
When you’ve lost body fat, you will notice your clothes fitting differently and tracking your body part measurements can be a great way to monitor results. If you are going the tape measure route, measure these main areas:
- Right thigh - at the midrange point
- Waist - just below your ribcage and above your belly button
- Chest - measure under the armpits
- Right bicep - unflexed
- Right calf
You can take measurements on your right and left appendages, but this is a good base of measurement to track progress.
Why Is Your Weight Not Going Down?
This may be because you are doing too much and not getting enough calories at the same time. If you are overdoing it in the gym, it can be like taking a few steps backward. Your workouts shouldn’t be over 75 minutes (30-40 may be all you need) and you want some rest days throughout the week. If you’re working out every day and exhausting yourself, your body will go into that self-preservation mode, raising stress hormones and, again, making weight loss difficult.
If you are involved in an adequate exercise program (3-4 days per week) and going for a reasonable amount of time, you may need to add in a little more physical activity if you’ve reached a weight loss plateau. This doesn’t have to be overly intense but some extra cardio may help. This can be another 5-10 minutes on to what you are normally doing, or one or two 20-minute walks added on to your weekly amount.
You also want to make sure you’re eating enough and getting into a bit of a calorie deficit((AMM Fitness: Calorie Deficit Explained
)) if weight loss has stalled. You need not count every calorie but it’s a good idea to take a few days to track your nutrition intake so you at least have a good idea where you’re at.
Many people do not understand how many calories they are taking in each day. Calorie counting is far from a perfect science but to get a rough ballpark figure, the average woman needs around 2000 calories a day to maintain. An average man will need around 2500 calories.((Dietary Guidelines: Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level
)) There are many factors that can alter this requirement but this is a good starting point.
If you’re not losing weight, you’ll want to reduce that amount by around 300 calories each day and see how this is going after a week or so. If there has been no change, you might need to drop another 200 calories. You don’t want this to go lower as not enough calories can have a negative effect on your metabolism and will lead to stalled weight loss.
Is 1000 Calories a Day Too Little?
In a word? Yes. Your body needs more than that just to carry out its basic functions of living - and that’s not including you getting up and moving around. Even if you were just to lie on the couch all day, your body will need at least 1200 to 1400 calories just to exist. If you are not giving your body sufficient calories, it goes into panic mode. Your metabolism will drop as your body needs to hold on to every precious calorie to sustain itself. When this happens you can kiss weight loss goodbye. The other problem is eventually you will snap because you are so hungry and will eat everything in sight.
When you flood calories into a body with a slowed metabolism, you can guess what they end up being stored as.
Keeping yourself fed with high-quality, and nutritious foods will allow your body to run optimally and provide you with energy to be active, burn body fat, and bust through those weight loss plateaus.
What to Do When You Hit a Weight Loss Plateau
This is where it’s important to take a step back and have a look at what’s been going on in your life. Tracking your info
can be helpful because it gives you some data to observe. You don’t have to be obsessive about it but recording your workouts, sleep, stress levels and understanding your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and basic metabolic rate (BMR)
will help give you an indicator where the problems may arise.
If you’ve noticed you’ve been overly stressed
with work and life lately, this may be the culprit. When your body experiences stress, it elevates stress hormones such as cortisol. When cortisol is constantly elevated, it can slow weight loss to a crawl. Stress hormones are released in the body as a way to preserve itself. The body will be more likely to hold on to body fat as it believes some sort of trauma is happening and it needs all the backup fuel it can get. At this point, your body is not interested in burning body fat, or building muscle - it’s interested in preserving things.
Higher stress may also lead to a lack of sleep which causes the same issues, and when you add these two together, they compound their negative effects. If you’re seeing this to be the case, it means you will have to slow things down a bit. Make getting extra sleep a priority and you may have to back off the workouts for a bit. Even better, taking some time off from the gym can be a great way to let your whole body, central nervous system, and immune system recover.
This could be a good time to focus on relaxing, meditation, or yoga
. You also want to make sure you’re keeping your diet as clean as possible as eating things like refined sugar and carbs
when stressed can easily lead to weight gain.
Listen to your body and give it a breather when needed. Doing this will allow it to come back stronger than before.
How to Get Past a Weight Loss Plateau
When you hit a plateau, it's a sign that your body is becoming complacent. There is no longer enough stimulation to warrant a response from your body. If you remember back to high school biology, you’ll recall homeostasis. This is a state of balance and it’s the preferred state your body wants to be in. Your body is all about self-preservation and keeping things stable. This is an evolutionary response to conserve energy for those times when it may be more needed.
Your body will learn to do things as efficiently as possible and therefore, you will progress with weight loss, and muscle and strength gains for a while - but then it hits a wall. Your body has figured out how to efficiently manage what you’re throwing at it, and this means it’s time to switch things up.
For workouts, you want to always keep your body guessing
. The best workout is the one you haven’t done yet. Your body needs an ever-changing stimulus in order to get more results. The good news is this doesn’t have to be a drastic overhaul. If you’re exercising, you just want to make changes to your routine, exercise order, duration, or repetitions. At the very least, you want to do at least what you did last workout - plus a little more. If you ran for 30 minutes, go for 32 next time. If you did 10 repetitions of an exercise, go for 11 or 12.
You can change the order of the exercises you do, perform some cardio before strength training
, add in some high-intensity intervals, or shorten your rest periods between sets. The main thing is to give a bit of a shock to your body in order for it to change.
Weight loss plateaus will happen, it’s just all about being prepared for when they strike. Getting an understanding of why they happen is important to progress past them. What’s also important is realizing how your body works, and what it needs in order for it to respond favourably to exercise and diet.
A weight-loss plateau can be overcome with changes in activity, addressing lifestyle issues, and keeping the diet as clean as possible. Recognizing when stress has overwhelmed you, sleep is being neglected, and you need a break will go a long way in helping combat weight loss plateaus.
You also need to be aware of consuming enough calories per day and the issues that come from not nourishing your body properly. Healthy weight loss is all about combining exercise, diet, rest, recovery, and an overall holistic approach for it to happen.
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