How to Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau
Have you ever “cut calories” to lose weight and suddenly hit a plateau? Suddenly you are no longer losing weight?
Individuals will typically plateau every 3-6 weeks. When you immediately start dieting at a very low calorie intake, say 800 calories, it leaves no wiggle room to reduce calories when you hit a plateau. Your metabolism has adapted to the low-calorie intake leaving you with having to cut to extremely low amounts of calories (say, 600 calories per day) just to lose a bit of fat.
Same goes for steady state cardio (like running on the treadmill). Let’s say you start off doing 1 hr of cardio per day. What happens when you hit a weight loss plateau? Now you run 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour at night. And when you hit another plateau? 3 hours of cardio? Then 4 hours?
Quality of Food and Macro Nutrients
Food is fuel. The quality of food you eat plays a huge role in your overall health. You can technically lose weight eating nothing but macaroni, but you aren’t going to be very healthy. Your immune system will suffer from lack of nutrition, and your body may suffer an inflammatory response from the high intake of wheat.
Your food/fuel sources should come from WHOLE PLANT FOODS- fresh fruits and vegetables, lentils/legumes/beans, starches (potatoes, rice, oats) and plant fats (nuts, seeds, avocado). Single ingredient food. Foods that don’t come with an ingredients label because they ARE the ingredients.
Fill up in the produce section of the grocery store, find a local farmer at www.localharvest.org or shop the bulk food isle at your local health food store for the biggest savings on high quality foods.
Macro nutrients are protein, carbohydrates and fats; the foods your body needs in large amounts. This is different from micro nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, which your body needs in smaller amounts. The percentage of macro nutrients you eat with each meal and through out the day will have a big impact on your body composition; i.e. how you look physically. Everyone is different so play around with your nutrient percentages.
Your emphasis should be placed on lifting & lifting heavy – whether you’re male or female. Resistance training should always be the core component of exercise. Why? Because weight training will build the lean muscle that gives your body it’s shape. You can’t “tone” what doesn’t exist, so it is important that the majority of your workouts are weight training, NOT cardio.
Did you know that muscle actually burns fat? Lot’s of fat, in fact. It takes about 10 calories a day just to keep one pound of muscle alive! Plus, one pound of muscle not only takes up far less space than 1 pound of fat, muscle is essential for weight loss to burn fat and increase your metabolism. And a faster metabolism means you get to eat MORE without gaining weight! This is why weight lifting is so essential in the weight loss process.
Keep in mind, the scale does not account for muscle gain vs fat loss. An individual may lose 6 lbs of fat, yet gain 2 lbs of calorie burning muscle, yet the scale will only reflect a loss of 4 lbs.
Replace your steady state cardio with High Intensity Interval (HIIT) training
Research shows high intensity interval training is far superior for long term fat loss. This means your cardio sessions will be quick but intense (think sprint not marathon).
What if I have been severely restricting my calories for years?
The solution to reversing your adapted metabolism and getting your metabolic rate back up is reverse dieting. Reverse dieting is essentially SLOWLY adding calories back in to your diet in order to raise your metabolism back up without fat gain. We are talking roughly adding 40-60 extra calories per week. Reverse dieting allows your metabolism to rise back up slowly over time. The slower the better.
The slower you can do this, the more time your body will have to raise it’s metabolism back up and acclimate to the calorie changes. Track your body’s response to any changes that occur – if you gain weight, slow down your reverse diet. If your weight stays the same or even drops (ideal scenario) then add a few extra calories in.
How long will it take me to lose the weight?
This depends on how much weight you have to lose, your weight loss goals and the body fat percentage you want to get down to.
Weight loss of 1 – 1.5 lbs per week is a safe weight loss goal without losing muscle or compromising your health. If you start losing more than 2 lbs per week you will need to increase your calories to avoid losing that hard earned muscle.
Let’s say you are currently 160 lbs and 25% body fat and your goal is to get down to 18% body fat.
Currently: 25% x 160 = 40 lbs of fat
Goal: 18% x 160 = 28.8 lbs of fat
40 – 28.8 = 11.2 lbs of fat to lose
Safe weight loss is 1 lb per week = 11 weeks
Your calories will need to be adjusted as your body composition changes (i.e. as you lose weight and gain muscle) and remember, don’t be glued to the scale!
But I can not emphasize enough, diet on as MANY calories as possible!
The biggest challenge I see with most individuals wanting to get into shape is that they are too impatient. They worry if they aren't dropping several pounds a week, then they are not making progress and they give up. If you are dropping ½ a pound to 1 pound of fat a week on average, you're doing great!
Remember that fat loss will not be linear. Sometimes you will lose nothing, sometimes you'll lose 1.5 lbs and sometimes the scale will go up due to retained water. Your body is smarter than you. It is adapting to the changes you are making in your diet and exercise. The closer your body gets to a low body fat percentage, the more it's going to fight you. Our bodies are very efficient at holding onto fat for our survival, so make sure to consistently eat plenty of whole plant foods, exercise consistently and get adequate rest. And whatever you do, do NOT drastically cut your calories. Always diet on as MANY calories as possible!
Hitting a Plateau
If you do plateau out over a number of weeks with your fat loss (focus on fat pounds, not total body weight), then make minor tweaks to your meal or exercise plan, but not both at the same time. And when I say minor I really mean it. If you're currently doing 15 minutes of HIIT, 3 days a week, then increase that to maybe 5 days a week and leave your calories the same. Or leave your exercise plan as is, and tweak your diet. Try reducing carbs by 10 grams per day, or reducing calories by 10%. The key is to be patient and stick with it.