No matter where you turn when following any of the many available weight loss social media forums, the topic of plateauing always will come up. Plateaus are a real problem for some, however, they never have to be a problem for anyone. I know that right now, there is going to be at least a few who are fuming mad after reading that last sentence, but it is a truth that almost no one ever needs to get worked up about a plateau if they are doing everything right.
If you are on medications or have a diagnosed medical condition which causes you to gain, or to have difficulty losing weight, then you may have a solid reason why this article does not apply to you so much. That being said, by being proactive you can still do better for yourself than you might believe yourself capable.
What is a weight loss plateau?
A weight loss plateau happens when the calories you burn equal the calories you eat.
When this happens, your weight loss is going to stall, but you need not get worked up about this if the stall is only for a couple of weeks. It is always possible during your weight loss plateau that you could still be losing body fat yet retaining water to the point the reading on your scale is not budging. This is the reason why at David’s Way we strongly encourage our readers to worry more about getting to a healthy body fat percentage, at a healthy rate of loss over time instead of concentrating on a set number on the scale you are attempting to achieve in a short period of time. Odds are you did not get fat overnight, which means it is unreasonable to assume you can get thin overnight. Lets get your body fat down at a healthy rate of loss which would only be about 1 pound per week.
Short plateaus where the scale number refuses to budge happens to almost everyone who is in the process of losing weight. It really should not come as a surprise to anyone when they do have a temporary stall, yet many do not, or cannot, understand why it has happened to them since they are doing everything right. When you hit a plateau, the last thing you want to do is freak out, or give up and revert back to your old unhealthy ways. If you hit a plateau, you need to simply take a moment and evaluate why it has happened and then adjust your diet and exercise regimen accordingly.
With a little knowledge of what happens within your body when you begin a diet, you can get through plateaus without stress. When you have a difficult time losing weight, the answer to this problem is usually going to be more simple than you might believe it to be. But first you need to understand how your body’s physiology works when you diet.
During the first week or two of a diet, your weight is going to drop rapidly and then it is going to slow down. This is true for everyone, it is not a problem unique only unto you. When you cut calories your body gets it’s needed energy by releasing it’s stores of glycogen. Glycogen is a type of carbohydrate found in your liver and muscles and is made up partly by water. When glycogen is burned for energy, it release it’s water which you will see in a rapid initial weight loss. If you lose ten pounds in your first two weeks of dieting, about eight of those pounds will be solely from water weight and not your body fat.
Most people who go on a diet, will lose lean muscle mass along with body fat which is why we advocate eating a high protein diet coupled with resistance training that will help you maintain your lean muscle. Your lean muscle mass is what keeps your metabolism up, it helps you to burn calories more efficiently. If you lose lean muscle mass along with body fat, you are going to cause your metabolism to slow down and therefore burn calories at a slower rate than when you were heavier. When you hit a plateau, it is time to re-evaluate your caloric intake and exercise regimen if you have not already been thinking it through before hand. Constant, and honest evaluation will keep your weight loss going in the right direction, yet maybe not as quickly as you might desire. You will either need to decrease your calories consumed or increase calories burned when you hit a true plateau, or a combination of these two factors. If you do not adjust your methods, your weight will be stuck where it is.
What to do when you do plateau.
- Evaluate your habits. Have you changed anything? If you began your weight loss journey weighing and measuring your foods, do you still do this? A few ounces extra of a lot of foods will add up quickly over the day and week. Do you still track all that you consume? Those peanut butter and jelly sandwich crusts you trimmed off of your childs sandwich add up as does those calories you get from licking off spoons and knives when preparing foods. Do you track those tastes you take while preparing your family’s meals? Are your food portions at dinner getting larger while your exercise time is getting smaller?
- Cut your calories a little more, yet do not ever go under 1200 per day unless you are under medical supervision. One pound of fat equals 3500 calories which means to lose one pound of body fat per week, you must cut your caloric intake by 500 calories per day. If by cutting 500 calories a day places you into a caloric range under 1200 per day, then you need to consider increasing your exercise time and intensity. If you cut your calories too far, you are setting yourself up also for intense hunger which could easily cause you to binge eat at some point during your day.
- If you are still consuming simple carbs such as table sugar along with processed foods, quit them. Simple carbs cause your body crave more and also to become inflamed and retain fluids as do processed foods which are usually full of sodium, preservatives, unhealthy fats and simple sugars. Eat whole foods that you need to prepare yourself. You will actually find it difficult to consume all of your daily needed calories when you only consume whole, healthy foods.
- Ensure you exercise at least four days per week for at least a half hour and at an intensity which is enough to place your heart rate into it’s aerobic fat burning zone. You do not need a fitness tracker nor a heart rate monitor to know when you are in the zone. You can know you are in the right fat burning zone when you can speak but with some difficulty. If you cannot speak during exercise, you are in the anaerobic zone and need to back off the intensity. If you speak normally, then you need to increase your intensity. Remember, it takes an average of 20 minutes in the aerobic zone to burn through glycogen stores before your body actually begins burning fat for energy.
Whatever you do, never give up on yourself in your journey to lose weight and be healthier. Plateaus are not always a bad thing as with the right resistance exercises at the right intensity, your body fat might still be going away as your lean muscle mass is increasing which means the number on your scale may not move for a few weeks at a time. I advise to never weigh yourself daily, and even if you weigh yourself weekly, you should only concentrate on the difference in weight between the first weigh in of the month and the last one of the month. Additionally, if your trousers are fitting looser around the waist, and your shirts are fitting better around your belly, then the number on the scale is pretty much irrelevant. No matter what you do, never give up on yourself, you deserve better. If you are having a difficult time with your weight loss, you can always reach out to us through our contact email in the David’s Way menu or in our blog’s comments section. We are always happy to answer all correspondence from our readers.