The Dreaded Fat Loss Plateau
You’ve been happily moving along on your fat loss journey and slowly but surely your measurements have gone down and you’ve dropped a dress size or two.
Congratulations! I know how exciting and motivating it can be to see results!
Then, all of a sudden...NOTHING. Weeks go by with no improvement in measurements or dress size. What's happening?!? I feel your frustration because I've been there too!
Take note that I’m not mentioning scale weight here, because the scale tells you NOTHING about what’s really happening in your body!
So what’s happening? Have you really hit a fat loss plateau?
If you’ve been doing the standard eat less and exercise more protocol, complete with lots of cardio, I'm sorry to say that your metabolism is probably in the toilet. Doubly so if you haven’t been weight training.
You can definitely lose weight by restricting calories and doing lots of cardio. The problem is that the weight you’ve lost is not only fat, but also muscle tissue. Muscle is a big metabolic driver, meaning it’s very “expensive” for your body to maintain. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. This means you can eat more without gaining fat. When you cut calories and don’t train with weights, you lose precious muscle mass. This may seem great at first because your scale weight goes down…but so does your metabolism. This is the primary reason why people often gain back all the weight plus more when they quit their diet.
This is also the primary reason I no longer weigh my clients. The number on the scale tells you NOTHING about a person's body composition and is a very poor measure of progress. Dress size and waist, hip, and thigh measurements are much better indicator of whether you're headed in the right direction!
Okay…jumping out of that rabbit hole...
First thing's first: just because you gained a little weight or stayed the same for a week does not mean you have hit a fat loss plateau. Your weight can vary by up to FIVE POUNDS every day (another good reason to NEVER trust the scale). If you drank more water, ate more salt, or if you're premenstrual, it can affect your scale weight!
SIDE NOTE: I recommend you trash your scale ASAP...but before you do, try this fun (and eye opening experiment): weigh yourself at 6:00 AM (or right after you get out of bed), and then again at 6:00 PM on the same day. Shocking, right?
If, on the other hand, your measurements have not gone down (or have gone up) over the course of several weeks, then it's time to be a little more concerned.
If you think you’re on a fat loss plateau, here’s what to do:
1. Track your food religiously for one week. I mean religiously. Weigh and measure EVERYTHING. Nine times out of ten, lack of results is due to diet. This is almost always an eye-opening experience for people. In most cases, people find they are eating too much, or too much of the wrong kinds of foods. It's really easy to overlook little things....like finishing what your kids left on their plates, or dipping your hand into the office candy jar a few times a day. Every now and then I also see clients who have hit a plateau because they are eating TOO LITTLE. You cannot under-eat for long periods of time without affecting your metabolism. The human body has intricate defense mechanisms that guard against starvation. If you trip that switch, you won’t get off that plateau!
The only way to know if it's your diet is to honestly track for a short period of time. Use a free app like MyFitnessPal to track food for a week!
Here's what to do if it's your diet:
- If you find you’re eating too much, obviously, adjust your intake and/or the quality of your food. For example, If you're drinking 4 or 5 glasses of wine per week, simply reducing that by a couple of glasses might be the ticket to get you moving in the right direction again.
- If you find you’re eating too little, you need to gradually increase your intake. In many cases, people find they gain a couple of pounds initially, but then all of a sudden their body starts releasing fat again. Once you are off the plateau, you need to make sure you include some higher calorie days so your body doesn’t think it’s starving all the time.
- This is one of the main reasons I teach carbohydrate cycling to my clients. The alternation of low carb and high carb days keeps the body's metabolism humming along!
2. Evaluate your exercise routine. If you’ve lost weight through diet alone, this may be the time to add exercise. If you’ve been exercising regularly, you may simply need to switch it up, add intensity, or add weight training to your routine. And for those fitness buffs, consider that you may be over-exercising too. If you are working out with weights and doing intense exercise, adding more exercise on top of that is simply going to add extra stress to an already-stressed body. More is NOT better in this case!
If your diet is in good order and you think exercise may be the key, here's what to do:
- If you’re not working out, start by adding a 20 minute brisk walk every day. If possible start weight training twice a week.
- If you are already working out regularly, but have yet to include weight training or high intensity intervals, go ahead and switch it up. If you are unsure of your form or how to put together an intelligent training program, find a qualified trainer!
- If you are already exercising intensely, but are starting to feel tired and irritable all the time, are constantly hungry, or are having trouble sleeping, consider that your body may need a break. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but taking a week OFF from working out may get you off that plateau!
3. Evaluate your stress level and sleep. If you’ve been overly stressed at work or home, are constantly busy, and/or not getting quality sleep, your hormones are likely out of whack. Add dieting and intense workouts on top of this, and it only serves to compound the problem. Fitness professionals and doctors don't give nearly enough attention to the role that stress and sleep loss can have on your ability to lose fat or maintain fat loss! When all of the other pieces of the diet and exercise puzzle are in place, you need to dive deeper into what’s causing your plateau. If you are anything like the average American, sleep and stress are out of balance.
If your diet and exercise are on point and you still fail to see results, here's what to do:
- If you’re not sleeping well, figure out what you need to do to get better sleep. Check out my post about getting a better night's rest here!
- If you’re stressed (and quite frankly, who isn't?), try to incorporate a deep breathing practice (even 5 minutes per day will yield benefits!), or engage in activity that reduces stress, like yoga. Remember that just like exercise, these stress-reduction tactics need to be practiced: meaning they need to be done regularly to be beneficial. Meditating, deep breathing, or doing yoga one time won’t help!
Health and fat loss isn't always as simple as exercise and nutrition! It it were that simple, we'd all be lean and healthy!
As a personal trainer and a normal human being, I have come to realize that exercise and diet are a small part of the greater whole of true well-being.
Through my online programs and health coaching, I work closely with my clients to identify areas of their lives that need the most work. Sometimes it’s diet, sometimes it’s stress or life circumstances, and, less often, it’s exercise.
Looking for a program that incorporates all of these aspects into a single course? Need to exercise on YOUR schedule? Sign up for the 10 Week Biodiet course! It's 100% online and you will learn everything you need to know about nutrition, exercise, and stress relief in a fun and supportive online group!
The next round of this program starts on April 30th! I keep group size small and manageable so that each person gets all the attention they need to be successful! Spots are already filling, so email me TODAY to set up a FREE 20 minute consult to determine if this course is right for you!
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