3 Ways To Break Through A Weight Loss Plateau

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Fat loss plateaus are a common part of the fat loss process that occurs primarily due to changes in body weight in combination with adaptive thermogenesis and are not something to be overly concerned with. (Click to tweet this)

Not losing weight anymore but not sure why?

In this article we will look at what a weight loss plateau is, why you’ve hit one and strategies to break through and start losing weight again.

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.
— Colin Powell

When your primary goal is fat loss it’s common to reach a point where your progress will stop.

This stop in progress is commonly referred to as a fat loss plateau and is mostly a result of common metabolic changes that occur during prolonged fat loss, namely adaptive thermogenesis.

Adaptive thermogenesis is the name given to the slowing of your metabolic rate when you remain in a prolonged calorie deficit. The greater the calorie deficit and the greater the duration of the deficit the higher this reduction in metabolic rate will be (1).

The effect is amplified by the change in your body weight and therefore a change in your overall daily calorie needs. For example;

what worked for you at 210 lbs won’t necessarily work for you at 180 lbs as your body’s needs will be different.

It’s this change in your calorie needs and the role of adaptive thermogenesis that causes you to stop losing weight.

Have You Hit A Fat Loss Plateau?

Don’t freak out, this is a normal part of weight loss and increasingly common the longer you’re in a calorie deficit and the more weight you lose.

When your weight has stalled for 2 weeks or more and you’re sure you’re;

  • Still eating in a calorie deficit

  • Not gaining muscle

  • Sleeping well

  • Staying hydrated

Then chances are you’ve actually hit a weight loss plateau.

What To Do When You Hit A Plateau

At this point it’s important you DON’T do the following things:

  • Increase your cardio

  • Decrease your calories

  • Cut your carbohydrate intake

  • Freak out and give up

Instead, it’s very important you DO one of the following things:

  1. Recalculate your calories

  2. Incorporate refeeds into your diet

  3. Take a diet break

At this point you might be thinking;

“Why don’t I just recalculate my calories and be done with it?”

The answer is; you can, that’s fine BUT there are 2 other strategies which are arguably more effective as they help to negate some of the other effects of a calorie deficit, namely;

  • Increased hunger

  • Mood swings

  • Food cravings

  • Reduced activity levels

  • Poor diet adherence

Tasty food sitting on crates

#1 - Recalculate Your Calories

As you lose fat your body weight decreases which means your caloric needs change, this becomes more and more pronounced the more weight you lose. (Click to tweet this)

To address this change in your daily calorie needs you can simply recalculate your calories to fit your new needs;

  • Bodyweight in lbs x 12 = new fat loss calories

Doing this will get you losing fat again but will do little to address the other side effects of a prolonged calorie deficit.

However, the next 2 strategies will.


#2 - Use Refeed Days

A refeed is commonly described as a planned increase in calories used when dieting to negate some of the downsides of eating in a calorie deficit. Namely;

  • Decreased leptin levels (and an increase in hunger)

  • Reduced resting metabolic rate

  • Reduced activity levels

  • A worse mood

  • Lower motivation

Refeeds do this by boosting leptin levels.

If you want to use a refeed the first step is to determine how you need to incorporate ‘refeed days’ into your current diet plan.

Scenario One

If you are already pretty lean (10%) or have been eating at a deficit for a long time, then you are more likely to be suffering from metabolic adaptation. (2)

If this describes you then start with one refeed day a week.

Scenario Two

If, however, you’re above 10% body fat or in the early stages of your fat loss diet then start with a refeed once every 2 weeks and adjust from there depending on your response.

Setting Up Your Refeed

To set yourself up for the refeed you want to raise your calories to maintenance level;

  • Bodyweight in lbs x 14 = maintenance calories

Then set up your macronutrients as follows:

  • Protein = 0.8 – 1g per lb of bodyweight

  • Fats = as low as possible (20-30g is what’s largely recommended)

  • Carbs = everything else goes to carbs

It’s as simple as that.

Keep your protein constant, fats low, carbohydrates high and refeed your way to leanness.


#3 - Take A Diet Break

 A diet break is exactly as it sounds, it’s a 1 – 2-week break from your fat loss diet where you eat at maintenance calories.

This helps you in 3 main ways:

  • It gives you some mental reprieve

  • It restores your leptin levels

  • It has the added bonus of making your muscles look fuller

Firstly, when you’ve been eating in a calorie deficit for a while (4 – 8 weeks) it can be tough just to keep going, your energy levels go down, your motivation wanes and you find yourself getting hangrier and hangrier (hungry & angry).

By taking a 1 or 2 week break you give yourself the headspace to quite frankly recharge and start giving a shit again.

Secondly, this break gives your body a chance to raises its Leptin levels.

Leptin is the hormone responsible for regulating energy expenditure and food intake. Basically, it works to let you know when you’re full based on your available energy, so you don’t overeat.

You can think of Leptin as an appetite suppressor. (3)

As you lose body fat the amount of Leptin reduces which is why you get hungrier and find it more difficult to regulate your hunger as you lose more fat.

Taking a diet break will allow you Leptin levels to rise again so you can go back to eating in a calorie deficit and losing weight again without feeling ravenous all the time.

Thirdly, increasing your calories to maintenance level is enough to gain the benefits you need but not so high that you’ll gain any weight.

In addition, with the increase in carbohydrate, your muscle glycogen stores will refill and when they do they will draw in water giving you a fuller, leaner look.

Set Up Your Diet Break

The first step is to  calculate your maintenance calories;

  • Bodyweight in lbs x 14 = maintenance calories

Set Your Macronutrient Ratios

  • Protein = 0.8 – 1g per lb of bodyweight

  • Fat = 25 – 30% of daily calorie goal

  • Carbohydrate = remainder of daily calorie goal

After the 2-week break you will be primed and ready to go back to eating in a calorie deficit and continue losing fat.

You can cycle between lower periods of a 6 – 8 weeks combined with 2-week breaks until you reach your desired weight.


Takeaway Point

Fat loss plateaus are a common part of the fat loss process that occurs primarily due to changes in body weight in combination with adaptive thermogenesis and are not something to be overly concerned with. (Click to tweet this)

When this happens, you have 3 ways to reverse the plateau and re-start fat loss;

  1. Recalculate your fat loss calories

  2. Incorporate refeed days

  3. Take a diet break

Fat Loss, Made Simple

Learn exactly how to lose your fat, not your muscle whilst still eating the foods you like, training only 3 days a week and living a full life.

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