So, you’ve finally made the decision. Now you’re going to lose weight and get fit no matter what. You’ve joined a gym, you’re on a strict diet, you’ve started jogging in the morning and everything’s going great. You’re making progress by leaps, you’re losing 1 kg per week and increasing 2 kg each week to your lifting weights and you feel on top of the world.
Every day someone compliments you on your weight loss and it seems like you’re going to hit your goal weight within months. But...then comes a time where your progress slows down. The scales on the weighing machine gets stuck in place and you can barely increase even 1 more pound of lifting weights.
So, what happened?
You’re still as dedicated as ever but why has your progress stalled. The answer to this is simple: You’ve hit a weight loss plateau. But don’t lose your morale. You can get through this easily. But, first you need to know what is a weight loss plateau and how can you overcome it.
What is a weight loss plateau?
A weight loss plateau is the time when your progress becomes stagnant and despite doing everything right- regularly exercising, getting adequate nutrition and rest, the numbers don’t change.
From consistently losing weight and gaining strength every week, you suddenly stop making any progress for weeks or even months. The worst part of a weight loss plateau is that takes a toll on you mentally as well making you feel discouraged and disheartened.
Have you actually hit a plateau?
Before we get into overcoming a plateau, first ask yourself if you’ve really hit a plateau or you just feel like it.
Are you following your exercise and nutrition plan or are you slacking away? To decide if you’ve really hit a plateau, ask yourself the following questions:
Are you stop putting in the same hours of exercising as when you started?
Are you cutting out on a few exercises here and there?
Are you skipping those last reps?
Are your cheat meals becoming more frequent?
Are you getting adequate sleep and rest?
If you’ve fallen into any of the above pitfalls then you haven’t hit a plateau. You just need to put in a bit more effort and try and push yourself more. Follow your diet more diligently and keep your exercise routine regular. You’ll see the results in no time.
Why you might feel like you’ve hit a plateau?
Your body has adapted itself: The body is adaptive in nature. When you felt that initial increase in strength it wasn’t an actual improvement. Your body was merely struggling with the movements and learning how to make use of your existing strength. When this stage ends you stop being able to increase your weights at the same rate. Now increase in weights will only occur because of hypertrophy (increase in muscle size) which is a much slower process.
Hypertrophy is the thickening of muscle fibers. Hypertrophy occurs after the body has been stressed just the right amount and it starts to create larger, stronger muscles to tolerate this new, increased load.
Essentially, you’ve reached the maximum weight your existing muscles can lift and now you need bigger muscles to lift more weights.
You’ve lost water weight: When you drop your calorie intake, the body uses glycogen for energy which is a type of carbohydrate that is found primarily in the skeletal muscles and the liver cells. It is the main form of storage of glucose in the body.
Glycogen is stored in a hydrated form, so when this glycogen is used for energy, it releases water. It results in weight loss caused by water elimination. This is a temporary effect.
Your Metabolism has declined: With weight loss, you may also experience muscle loss along with fat loss. Muscle helps keep your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) up. So, now you burn fewer calories than before.
If your metabolism has slowed, it doesn’t matter if you eat the same number of calories that helped you lose weight. When you hit a calorie equilibrium as in calories you burn equal the calories you eat, you reach a weight loss plateau.
Why you’ve actually hit a plateau?
You’re body is experiencing Adaptive Thermogenesis: Adaptive Thermogeneis or starvation response is the phenomena that triggers the body to maintain its body fat and actively try to preserve it. This occurs because the body believes it’s going through a famine and tries to preserve as much excess fat as possible. So even after losing a few pounds, it’s going to be a persistent challenge to keep progressing. If you’ve hit a plateau, it might be because your body is adapting to the body fat being lost.
Too many cheat meals and diets: You’ve gone a bit overboard with your cheat meals and diets and are sneaking a few more bites of calories every now and then.
How can you overcome a weight loss plateau?
*Try any one of the below mentioned techniques for overcoming your weight loss plateau.
1. Lower Calorie Intake
Cutting down your calorie intake gets your weight moving in the right direction again. Eat smaller portions and cut down any sugar intake. Avoid cheat days as much as possible. Eating proper meals without snacking in between is one of the best ways to lower your calorie intake.
2. Increase Exercise Frequency or Intensity
To counteract the effect of low metabolic rate, revv up your exercise regimen. Resistance training/weight training promotes muscle mass retention, which influences how many calories you burn during activity and at rest. Weight training is the most effective type of exercise for weight loss. If you already have an exercise routine, work out an extra 1–2 days per week or increase the intensity of your workouts to boost your metabolic rate.
3. Track Everything You Eat
Researchers have found that people have a tendency to underestimate the amount of food they eat. A study showed that, when asked obese people believed they consume around 1,200 calories per day. However, a detailed analysis observed that on average they were actually consuming nearly twice that amount. So, track your calories and macronutrients — protein, fat and carbs — to get concrete information and to modify your diet if needed. Also psychologically, the act of recording your food intake alone may enhance your weight loss efforts.
4. Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting involves going for long periods of time without eating, typically between 16–48 hours with an eating window of 8 hours. During intermittent fasting, insulin stays low triggering the body to start using the stored body fat from your fat cells for energy resulting in fat burn and ultimately weight loss. Even while doing intermittent fasting, make sure you eat a healthy amount of macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
5. Track other metrics than scale
Scales lie. When you make healthy progress, the scale slows down, because there’s less weight to lose than before. You might also be dealing with extra water weight, or bloating, or menstruation, or anything else.
So, track other things like:
Take biweekly photos: Are you looking better? Are your clothes fitting better? That is progress.
Take measurements: Track your inches rather than your weight. Measure yourself using a measuring tape. Inch loss indicates fat loss.
Track your body fat percentage: A skinfold caliper is a device that can be used to track body fat percentage. It measures the thickness of the fold of your skin and its underlying layer of fat. It is an accurate representation of the total amount of fat that is on your body.
The final word...
Weight loss plateaus also takes a mental toll. It can be very demoralizing and frustrating. However, they’re in no way unusual. They’re a normal part of your weight loss process. Everyone goes through a stall at some point in their weight loss journey. Fortunately, with the above strategies you can begin losing weight again and healthily achieve your goal weight.