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Why Sometimes It's Difficult to Break Weight Loss Plateau

Before we look into some solutions to help you break your weight loss plateau, here are some important facts that you should know:

The more weight you lose, the more weight loss slows.

This comes down to simple mathematics. Take a woman who is at 70kg and loses 1% of her body weight in fat per week (0.5%-1% is a solid pace of fat loss). She would then lose roughly 0.7kg of fat per week. Now if she gets down to 60kg, losing 1% of fat is now 0.6 kg per week, or 15% less than 0.7kg. As her weight decreases further, less weight would be lost as a percentage of his total bodyweight so weight loss inherently slows down the leaner you become.

Losing weight becomes harder the closer you get to your ideal weight.

Not only does the pace of weight loss slow down, but your body will work harder to hold on to your fat stores the leaner you become. The ability to lose more fat decreases and it becomes even harder to do so.

If you are chronically in starvation mode, your metabolism will drop.

If you are a 80kg guy eating less than 1,000 calories per day for let’s say 3 weeks, you can bet your metabolism will take a nose dive. There are a host of other negative issues with extreme starvation diets (lack of proper nutrients being one of them). If you are in starvation mode for more than a month, or two, your metabolism can and will likely slow down.

Even if you follow a calorie controlled diet, your sugar intake is high.

If your sugar intake is high, your body releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is the hormone that sends signals to the fat cells, telling them to store fat. If you have insulin resistance, your body stores more fat even if you follow a calorie controlled diet.

How to Break a Stubborn Weight Loss Plateau

Follow a diet which is stricter on the amounts of carbohydrate and sugar.

In a ‘normal’ diet, we eat carbohydrates and sugar. Carbs are broken down into glucose. Glucose is used for energy. When carbohydrates intake is low, the different availability of nutrients for energy forces the body to use fat instead of carbohydrate. Fat is converted to fatty acids and ketones in the liver.

The increase in ketones produced puts the body into a metabolic state called “ketosis.” In this stage, you stop burning carbohydrates as fuel and instead turn to the burning of what are known as ketones therefore you lose fat.

In short, carbohydrates are not around for energy use, so your body shifts to using fats for energy. If you eat enough protein, the muscle stores in your body will be spared and not used for energy.

So what foods should you eat?

Eat more of the vegetables or proteins (chicken, fish, eggs, sprouts, spinach etc).

And what NOT to eat?

The main thing is to stay away from carbs. Try to avoid roti, breads, pasta, rice, cereal, potato, beans and alcohol.

Sample menu:

  • Breakfast – Omelet with 4 eggs onions, peppers and tomatoes / whey protein
  • Lunch – Salad greens, whole avocado and grilled chicken / lentils soup (Indian dal and brown rice)
  • Dinner – Salmon / any lentils preparation, steamed spinach and veg soup.

This example includes approximately 1500 calories. You may need more calories.

Increase the intensity of your workout.

While nutrition is likely the culprit for the stall in your weight, making sure you are progressing the intensity of your workouts can only help improve your results.

Control the “Calorie Creep”

My estimate is 90% of all weight loss plateaus are related to “calorie creep”, or more generally, eating more calories than you think you are eating. Combined with a decrease in metabolism from weight loss, plateaus are almost a certainty.

The calorie creep can come from mindless eating, eating out at restaurants that serve huge portions, or simply condiments like dressings, spreads, and sauces. Alcohol also goes on the calorie creep list.

Be More Alert While Choosing Food at Restaurants

Prefer eating home cooked food. Be extra careful while choosing healthy food options from the restaurant menu. Order high fiber, high protein, low-fat food items. Check your portion size. Avoid late night eating. Stop emotional eating.

If you are not lifting weights, start weight training.

If you are losing weight by ‘just’ cutting calories and doing cardio, you are losing muscles mass. It will drop down your muscle ratio in the body and you will hit a plateau. 

The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even at rest. So start strength training like using free weights and weight machines in the gym. Perform compound exercises like squats, lunges, deadlift, clean and jerk, push-ups, pull-ups and barbell row.

If you’ve followed my advice up until now and nothing still has worked, there’s one last thing that might be causing your plateau: a hormone imbalance.

A thyroid disorder, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome — they could all be making your body hold onto pounds. Don’t immediately assume this is the problem, but if you have truly tried everything else, it might be worth going to an endocrinologist and exploring this issue with a medical professional who can evaluate you personally.

Always remember...

As you continue on your journey to reach your ideal weight, keep in mind that changing your body is a marathon, not a sprint. The sooner you can appreciate this, the better off you will be in the short and long term.

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Written by Sapna Vyas Patel , PhD in Nutrition Science and Dietetics
Sapna writes simple, easy to understand articles that are based on pure scientific evidence. She is one of the most popular fitness professionals in India and is followed on social media by fitness enthusiasts, nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, trainers, and professionals.

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