People have found a bazillion ways to achieve the same goal – Weight Loss. Some have followed a cleansing or detox diet for a super-quick weight loss while others have simply adopted a keto diet or intermittent fasting in the hope that they are the magic pills to lose fat super fast. As a fitness coach, I appreciate the efforts people put in to achieve their fitness goals. But at the same time, I need to give you all a reality check as to what’s the right way to do it and what’s not.
Research suggests that less than 20% of people who lost weight could keep it off for more than a year. Meaning, if you haven’t found out the sustainable way of following a diet then you are more likely to regain that lost weight immediately after you’re off diet. Truth is, this actually happens to more than 80% of the people.
What follows after the ultra fast weight loss hack is a vicious cycle of losing and training weight. That’s not the only thing – I’ve heard so many people say, “I’ve been following everything as per plan, still I don’t see any results!” And that is why I’m writing this blog.
What most people experience when they say I’m doing everything in the rule book yet I don’t see any results has a term for it – Weight Loss ‘Plateau’. Simply put, it’s a phase where you don’t see any progress (or even actually regress for that matter), even while on your diet. To understand why this happens and how to fight this, let’s first have a quick look at the basics of weight loss.
Weight Loss 101
No matter what your goal weight is, the number 1 formula for achieving it is calorie deficit (there’s no other way, really). You could be having a carb-free keto diet or some other popular fancy diet, but all that really matters is calorie deficit.
If I have to explain it in simple words – Calorie Deficit means you burn more calories than you consume in a day.
There’s tons of research that says all types of diets lead to similar weight loss when the calorie deficit remains the same.
It’s not just a saying when we say Calorie Deficit is the King!
What Really Is Weight Loss Plateau?
Weight loss plateau is a phenomenon that happens when you’re following a calorie deficit diet to lose weight and during the journey there comes a point when even after reducing calorie intake to the maximum possible, you’re not losing weight. Scale is not changing even after 2-3 weeks trying everything on point. What has worked before has simply stopped working now.
As frustrating as this sounds, the assumption is that you’re following everything right starting from being in a calorie deficit to working out as per plan, getting enough daily activity for NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and your recovery and hydration being on point. This is the point you feel like giving up and losing track. And let me tell you, I’ve personally seen a lot of people giving up their goals just because they’ve stopped seeing any progress.
Why Weight Loss Plateau Occurs?
There are a few potential (& most common) reasons why progress is stalling.
Underreporting Calorie Intake
A very common cause of weight loss plateau is underreporting calories. People think they eat less than they do, whether it’s from under-guesstimating portion sizes, lack of calorie knowledge, and/or completely ignoring the small bites during the day. Having sugary drinks, eating kids’ leftovers and munching during a Netflix show are common reasons people under-report their calorie intake.
In one study of obese individuals who claimed they couldn’t lose weight despite eating less than 1,200 calories a day, participants under-reported daily calorie intake by up to 2,000 calories while overestimating their physical activity levels!
On top of that, many of us have a habit of Weekend eating which can be problematic as well. People often have less structure on the weekends. Whether it’s Vada Pav or Pizza, we mostly gravitate towards high calorie options, while ignoring portion control, let alone considering the diet restrictions we have. This can heavily influence you to eat more calories than needed, leading to underreporting them.
For all the above reasons, you feel that your progress is stuck. But in reality, you’ve been doing guess-work, hoping that it’ll be accurate. Near-Accuracy is imperative when it comes to weight loss and shouldn’t be ignored, because, you might actually be undoing all your hard work with just a couple of ‘minor’ mistakes!
Our Bodies Are Designed to Fight Against Weight Loss
It’s a survival strategy that we’ve adapted to, after millions of years of evolution. Calorie deficit diet would signal our brain to conserve energy and increase the drive to eat to survive, else low efood avalibility signals the brain that we will die soon! Indeed, hormonal changes occur during weight loss, such as decreases in leptin and insulin along with increases in ghrelin, which send hunger signals.
As you start on a calorie deficit diet, you start losing weight at a higher pace. This is why you’ll feel like you’re making great progress in the start and the pace becomes gradually slow. As the journey progresses and you lose weight, the effect of calorie deficit diminishes and your calorie expenditure starts coming down.
The reason is, with less weight, your BMR comes down which makes up the majority part of calorie expenditure. This also reduces overall calorie expenditure. This means – with each kg of body weight you lose, your total calories burned during the day reduces.
Also, with exercise regime, your fitness level increases as you progress and this reduces energy demand for your workouts leading to more dip in your total calorie expenditure. Simply put, your body becomes efficient with your workouts, almost like it adapts to it. What was once challenging for the body has become manageable & it goes into the same survival mode of preserving fat. That’s why we need to shake things up a little bit – by changing your diet, workouts or other aspects.
Strategies to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau
Before we actually come down to breaking the weight loss plateau, it’s super important to know whether you have really hit a plateau in the first place. So, I’m giving you this self check that you can do to make sure.
To Know if You’re Really Plateauing
Like I said earlier, one of the common mistakes is under-estimating your calorie intake & overestimating calorie expenditure. Well, here’s how you can see for yourself if you are making this mistake – track everything you eat for 2 weeks. Every meal, every drink, every small bite. This level of accuracy will help you know if you’re actually plateauing or just have been guess-working all the while.
If you can see progress, you skip the strategies & stick with accuracy. If you’re 100% sure that there’s still no improvement, here are a few strategies.
These are the basic habits and routines you need to maintain in order to support your overall health and fitness. Here are some key hygiene factors to keep in mind:
- Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night to help your body recover and prepare for the next day’s activities. Studies suggest, your body will hold water when sleep deprives, essentially masking over your weight loss.
- Rest and recovery: Make sure you’re giving your body enough time to rest and recover between workouts. This may mean taking a day off from exercise, or simply scaling back the intensity of your workouts on certain days.
- Stress management: Stress can have a big impact on your overall health and fitness, so it’s important to find ways to manage it. This may include activities like meditation, yoga, or simply taking a few minutes each day to relax and unwind.
- Water intake: Staying hydrated is crucial for your body to function properly. If it makes sense or if you’d want to develop a habit of drinking water properly, you can keep track of that too.
When you’re on a deficit, naturally your non-exercise activity levels will reduce (NEAT). It’s simple, why would the body want to keep expending extra claories when food availability in question for survival. This could be problematic because, if you’ve burned off 500 calories by working out & spend the rest of the day sitting on the couch hardly moving, then the 500 calories is offset by your inactivity! This essentially can slow down weight loss. Here are some passive ways to burn off extra calories:
- Walking: Try to incorporate more walking into your daily routine. This could mean taking a walk after dinner, walking to work instead of driving, or simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Slow cardio after workouts: After your workouts, try adding in some slow cardio like walking or light cycling. This can help burn extra calories and keep your metabolism revved up. Also, after a good strength training session, light steady-state cardio has the potential to burn more fat for energy.
- NEAT after meals: Taking a walk or doing some light activity after meals can also help increase your daily calorie expenditure.
Take a Break
Taking a break can speed things up a little. This doesn’t mean giving up on your goals – rather, it means taking some time to focus on other aspects of your fitness routine. If you’ve been long into a weight loss journey, let’s say for about 4-6 months, then it makes sense to take a short break for a while. It can be a week or so to even 2-3 weeks, during which you can be on maintenance calories and focus on training & getting back on track stronger. This break can also act as a time for you to improve your training performance. I generally recommend a ratio of 4:1 (4 being the time spent in a deficit to 1 being the time spend on maintenance) at a minimum. So, for every 4 months of deficit, 1 month of maintenance helps offset many negative adaptations that would have occurred because of a deficit.
Wrapping It Up
A plateau is not a sign that it’s your end, it’s just a phase where your body goes into survival mode on a deficit or more likely, like I’ve covered above, chances are you’ve been missing out on accuracy. It is very frustrating to see no progress at all when you feel like you’re giving your 100%, but at the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that set-backs are inevitable. Weight loss is a long, enduring battle. As much as it’s rewarding, it can be easy to go off-track due to minor set-backs like plateau’s & at the end of the day, I say this again, it’s not a linear process. Overcoming plateaus requires a very individualistic approach. Keep the pointers that I suggested in mind to see what works for you and let’s make some progress!