If you’ve ever spent time dedicating yourself to a weight loss diet, you know that results are not linear. You may start out losing weight at steady pace but eventually things get out of whack. Some weeks you lose weight and other weeks you stay the same. Heck there may even be times when you gain weight! There are many reasons for these temporary fluctuations and sticking points. But what exactly can you do to bust through these plateaus?
The trick to keeping the weight loss going depends on the reason behind the stall in progress. Sometimes there is a simple fix that requires little effort. But other times you have to put in a good deal of work to get yourself back on track. Let’s discuss some of the main reasons that your weight loss stalls and what you can do to remedy the situation.
Don’t Sound the Weight Loss Alarm Just Yet
The human body is a funny thing. On the most basic level it seems to operate on a fairly straight forward rule known as calories in vs. calories out (CICO). Eat fewer calories than you burn each day and you should lose fat. As such, you should see the number on the scale go down over the course of several days, weeks, and months. However, there are some complications that can muddy the waters and make it seem like you didn’t lose any fat at all. Charting your progress over time will reveal a fairly linear downward trend in weight. However, there are sure to be some major swings back and forth along the way.
It is possible that you
can lose fat but not lose any weight. The main way that this
happens is through fluctuations in water weight. There are quite a few reasons
that cause you to hold extra water including increased sodium intake, increased
carbohydrate intake, and fluctuations in hormones (especially for females). Thankfully,
the water weight will resolve itself on its own so you don’t need to do
anything special in this case.
Another way you might lose fat but not lose weight is through muscle gain. This is common for those who introduce weight training into their fitness routine or those who start a new, more intense lifting program. Beginners and intermediates can enjoy a phenomenon known as “body recomposition” in which they lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously. For most of you, this should actually be a welcomed result. Even though the number on the scale doesn’t move as quickly, you’ll look better in the mirror!
This is why it is important to keep track of more than just weight when it comes to losing fat. The scale can lie to you and warp your self-image. Snapping progress pictures, taking body part measurements, or measuring body fat levels are great tools to add to tracking your scale weight. Just remember that scale weight is more volatile than the other methods so it may be off from week to week. My advice would be to compare pictures, measurement, or body fat levels first and then see if the scale agrees.
When It’s Time to Put in Some Work
There are definitely instances when your stall in weight loss is the result of a stall in fat loss. If you find that your weight stays constant or even increases for several weeks then it warrants further investigation. Again, it could be that you gained some muscle especially if you are a beginner or just started the diet. But if your measurements and progress pictures remain unchanged as well, then it could be that you’re at a standstill.
One reason for this could be natural metabolic adaptation. As we lose weight, our metabolism slows down a bit. This is due to having less body mass as well as your body’s natural reaction to calorie deficits. Eventually, your metabolism will slow down to the point where your calorie burn matches your calorie intake. When this happens, you have two options: decrease your calories, or increase your activity level. If you are already tracking your calories or macros, then reducing your calorie intake is fairly easy to do. If not, you might want to start tracking in order to get an idea of how much you are actually eating. Once you find your baseline, you can then reduce your intake and see if it helps you lose weight again.
However, there are instances where reducing caloric intake or increasing activity is not the right idea. Maybe you’ve been dieting for a very long time and you are now on fairly low calories. Perhaps you are also exercising as much as you possibly can each day. Reducing your calorie intake at this point might actually do more harm than good and can be dangerous to your health. In this case you have to do something that may be difficult for you to accept. You actually have to stop dieting.
(FYI – Anything less than 20 calories per kilogram of body mass, or ~9 calories per pound of bodyweight, would be considered low calories.)
Introducing a “reverse diet” where you slowly increase calories over time will help to repair your slow and damaged metabolism. You may gain some weight back in the process but eventually your metabolism will normalize and you’ll be able to maintain your weight on more calories. You would then want to spend an adequate amount of time maintaining this newly repaired metabolism and letting your weight stabilize. Finally, you would be able to reduce calories and lose fat again. This is an intensive process but one that is well worth the effort in the end. Sometimes you just have to take a step back in order to keep moving forward.
At the end of the day weight loss just doesn’t happen in a perfectly linear fashion. There will be fluctuations up and down throughout the whole process. But it is important to stay objective during the weight loss process (as hard as that may be). Water weight and changes to muscle mass can cause a stall in weight loss despite the fact that you still lost fat. Taking extra measurement like body fat and progress pictures can help you identify these instances more easily.
However, you will eventually hit a fat loss plateau. Your metabolism adapts over time until it eventually equalizes with your caloric intake. When this happens you will have to decrease your caloric intake, increase activity levels, or a combination of both. But these decreases can’t happen forever either. If you find yourself dieting on extremely low calories with little to no fat loss, it may be time to stop dieting altogether. Reverse dieting will allow you to repair your metabolism and limit fat regain. Eventually you will be able to normalize your metabolism and lose fat once again!
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