Plateaus are not unusual, and I'm really seeing a difference in my weight loss compared to the last time I was dedicated to diet changes and exercise 10 years ago, and 10 years before that. But, as it says in an article I'm going to share in a moment, there is a difference between weight loss and fat loss.
Knowing that is really important, because it makes those numbers that won't budge a little more bearable. Despite their stubborness, I've still seen clothes fit better in these last 2 weeks and--I'm getting more muscles and less blubber in my arms, which are being seriously worked for the first time ever.
Here is the article. I looked up "weight loss plateau" and found this one to be the most helpful, positive, and straight-forward. This is from builtlean.com and was written by Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT
Weight Loss Plateau Facts To Keep In MindBefore delving into some solutions to help you break your weight loss plateau, here are some important facts that you should know:
1) Weight Loss Plateaus are VERY commonIf you do not experience a weight loss plateau as you approach your ideal body weight, consider yourself very, very lucky. Weight loss plateaus are to be expected as you are losing weight. Our bodies are resistant to change. A large chunk of people who reach their ideal weight have experienced as many as 2-3 plateaus lasting several weeks. Remember that if changing our bodies was easy, then everyone would be walking around with a six-pack.
2) The More Weight You Lose, The More Weight Loss SlowsThis comes down to simple mathematics. Take a guy Mike who is at 230lb and loses 1% of his body weight in fat per week (0.5%-1% is a solid pace of fat loss). Mike would then lose roughly 2.3lb of fat per week. Now if he gets down to 200lb, losing 1% of fat is now 2lb, or 15% less than 2.3lb. As Mike’s 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.
3) Losing Weight Becomes Harder The Closer You Get To Your Ideal WeightNot 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. We are left with a sobering fact – the ability to lose more fat decreases and it becomes even harder to do so. The most common plateaus I see for guys is first around 20-22% body fat, then around 12% body fat (for those guys looking to break into single digits).
3 Steps To Break Your Weight Loss PlateauNow that you understand the difference between weight loss plateaus and fat loss plateaus along with the basic dynamics of weight loss, here are some tips to follow to help break through the toughest plateau.
Weight Loss Plateau Step #1: Re-evaluate Your Calorie IntakeAs you lose weight, not only does it become harder to lose, but your metabolism decreases. Now don’t go searching for those “how to boost your metabolism” articles – your metabolism is supposed to decrease as you lose weight.
Going back to our friend Mike, if he continues the same workout regimen at 200lb as he did when he weighed 230lb, his metabolism will be roughly 15% lower at 200lb vs. 230lb. Why you ask? He has less body mass, which means his body does not require as much energy to support a smaller frame.
That’s why every 10-15lb you lose (if you have a lot of weight to lose), you can reevaluate your calorie intake to ensure you are eating less calories than you are burning. For more, check out How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight?
Weight Loss Plateau Step #2: 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. Maybe you don’t realize that small 100 calorie bag of “healthy” chips is really 400 calories because there are 4 servings in each bag. Alcohol also goes on the calorie creep list.
The best place to start is to track your food intake if you are not already doing so. There are many great reasons to keep a food journal, so tracking your nutrition intake (even for a few days) is possibly the smartest and most important step you take to improve your nutrition.
Weight Loss Plateau Step #3: Progress Your Body, Don’t Confuse itWhile 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.
There is a lot of hype about “muscle confusion” because of a certain exercise program that has sold over 20 million copies through infomercials. In the extreme case, choosing a different workout every time you hit the gym is not confusing your body as much as you think, but it’s definitely curtailing your results. If you want to maintain the results you have, changing things up is awesome, but not if you want to maximize your results in a muscle building, or fat loss program.
Continuity in your exercise program is more important than switching things up all the time. Without continuity, you will not be able to track improvements and make the workouts harder, which is the goal. In my BuiltLean Program, even though I switch up the workouts every couple of weeks, I keep several of the exercises and the structure of the workouts the same so that you can track changes in your strength and fitness levels.
What happens if you still can’t break your weight loss plateau?The chances are very likely if you follow the preceding 3 steps, you will be able to break your plateau. Again, 90% of the time it’s a matter of not balancing calorie intake with calorie burn. But for those in the 10% category, here are some issues/solutions to consider:
1) Starvation Mode – The opposite of the calorie creep is not eating enough calories to help sustain your body. While your metabolism will not drop if you skip a meal, or even a few, it will drop with chronic calorie deprivation. If you are a 180lb guy eating less than 1,000 calories per day for let’s say 3 weeks, you can bet your bank account your metabolism will take a nose dive. Some studies have shown metabolism can drop by as much as 40-50%. There are a host of other negative issues with extreme starvation diets (lack of proper nutrients being one of them). If you are chronically in starvation mode, it’s advisable to up your calorie intake.
2) Calorie Cycling – If you are in starvation mode, or have just been dieting for more than a month, or two, your metabolism can and will likely slow down above and beyond the range if you were eating more calories. There is no scientific evidence supporting calorie cycling as a superior way to lose fat, but I must mention it given the large number of respected experts who support it. Furthermore, science is not exactly ahead of the curve. Alternating low calorie with high calorie days MAY prevent this starvation response from occurring (i.e. 3 days low, 1 day high).
3) Hormones – There is a large contingent of nutrition experts who describe a stall in fat loss not as a calorie in/out issue, but as a “defect in fat metabolism”. Think about an overfat woman in a developing country who barely eats any food. How can this be? There are several theories, but they most likely have to do with a hormonal imbalance that affects fat loss metabolism along with calorie burn. Hormonal issues related to weight loss are more common with women than men. What’s the solution? Unfortunately, a simple answer is not possible, other than to seek medical assistance and test your hormone levels such as adrenal, testosterone etc.
As you continue on your journey to reach your ideal weight, keep in mind that changing your body is a marathon, not a sprint (See: body change vs. maintenance). The sooner you can appreciate this, the better off you will be in the short and long term.
I hope this was a helpful overview of the true dynamics of weight loss and how to break a stubborn weight loss plateau.
What I thought about the most when reading this is how crucial it is for me to change my eating now and forever, before I get older and it gets even hard to lose. Don't ask me why I am more motivated this time than ever before--I've done this many times and keeping it off and exercising will power has always been a struggle--but I am. (We all know that losing is half the battle and maintenance is the other half.) Call it wisdom with age, learning more about the nasties that the government allows in so much of our food, and wanting to live to a ripe old age like 3/4 of my grandparents, who lived healthily into their nineties. (My dad's mom is still living and turns 96 in June.)
Anyway, plateaus can be frustrating, sometimes frustrating enough to quit all of your hard work, so I wanted to post this article and a little about my own experience to possibly help others. I'll leave you with some inspirational thoughts that I found today. If you're on a crusade like me, best of luck! (Although we both know that luck has nothing to do with it, because it is dang hard work!)