There must only be half a dozen steps from where I stand to where I want to go. So why does it feel like a million? Am I nervous, scared, excited…I can’t decide.
I do this every day yet recently it’s been feeling different in a way that I can’t quite decipher. Is it the end of something or is it the beginning? A million things run through my head as I take the first of only a handful of steps. Thoughts are racing around my brain at a million miles an hour, merging and fragmenting as they collide with one another, over and over again.
It’s difficult to concentrate.
I begin to realise, that as I take the next step that, whether I like it or not there is a lot riding on this moment. Unable to decide if I’m tempering my expectations, being thorough or just finding excuses, I try to organise my thoughts into something that makes sense.
I feel like today will be a turning point, a line in the sand that for better or for worse that will change things in a way that I might not recover from.
This is make or break.
Inching forwards I finally reach the scales and step on, looking down I see that, yet again my weight has not changed. It’s been like this for nearly 3 weeks now and like any rationale human being I’ve been ignoring it and hoping it will fix itself.
Clear my strategy isn’t working.
I make a note and step off the scales. Feeling frustrated I think I’m doing everything right. I’m eating well and training hard but the scales just won’t budge. I’m beginning to feel cheated, shorted changed and lied to.
Have you ever felt like this?
I can guarantee that if you have you’re not alone. Fat loss is amazing when it’s going well but can be a murky pool of doubt and confusion when it’s not.
Today we’ll look at what a fat loss plateau is, how to overcome it and what circumstances can cause the appearance of fat loss plateau. By the end of this post you’ll be fully equipped to smash through any fat loss plateau you hit.
What Is A Fat Loss Plateau & Why Are You Not Losing Fat?
A fat loss plateau is when your weight loss has stalled and remains unchanged for 2 weeks or more. The reason you want to wait for 2 -3 weeks is because when losing weight, you’re actually losing a combination of muscle, fat and water.
For this reason, seeing no difference over the period of a week could just mean you’ve lost some fat but retained a little extra water and it’s only when it remains unchanged for a longer period that you should take action.
To minimise false readings when dieting to lose weight you should aim to minimise the loss of muscle mass, whilst maximising fat loss and keeping hydration levels normal. After dieting to lose fat for a while its’s inevitable that you reach a fat loss plateau and it’s completely normal, in fact it means you’re doing things right.
Before we dive into how to overcome a fat loss plateau let’s look at how to tell if you’ve actually hit a plateau or if there is another reason for the stall in weight loss.
How Do You Know If You've Hit A Fat Loss Plateau?
The primary indicator of a fat loss plateau is that your weight has remained unchanged for 2 weeks or more. However, you must be aware of a variety of factors that can influence your scale weight.
Any of these factors can mess with the readings on your scale leading to false conclusions about your weight. You must first address each of these factors before acting on a fat loss plateau.
Are You Tracking Your Calories Properly?
Do you actual know how much you’re eating every day? If not then it’s very likely you are inadvertently eating closer to your maintenance which would also cause your weight to remain constant.
Take a week to closely log everything you eat and drink and make sure you’re not taking in any extra calories above your daily target.
Are You As Active As You Think You Are?
If you calculated your fat loss calorie goal based on your activity levels and those activity levels have since changed then chances are you’re eating more calories than you need to effectively lose fat.
Are You Mistaking Slow Progress For No Progress?
When you first start working out progress will come thick and fast, particularly if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose, in which case you may lose 3 lbs a week to begin with. However, as your body adjusts things will ultimately slow down, even eventually dropping to 0.5 lb a week for advanced trainers who are sub 10% body fat.
The point is things will naturally slow down but just because they have slowed it does not mean you’re not making progress anymore.
Having answered all these questions, I know you should be on track and have truly hit a fat loss plateau. I decide it’s time to use one of the following 3 strategies to smash through my fat loss plateau and continue my journey down to single digit body fat.
3 Strategies Overcome A Fat Loss Plateau & Kickstart Fat Loss Again
Inevitably when eating for weight loss with primary goal being fat loss and muscle retention you will reach a point where due to metabolic changes, namely adaptive thermogenesis and a change in total body weight your progress will stall.
When it remains stalled for 2 – 3 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 have actually hit a weight loss plateau. Don’t freak out, this is a normal part of weight loss and increasingly common the closer you get to 10% or sub 10% body fat.
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:
- Recalculate your calories
- Incorporate refeeds into your diet
- Take a diet break
We already know that a change in body weight and adaptive thermogenesis has created a reduction in your daily caloric needs and stalled your weight loss efforts, at this point you could simply recalculate your calories needs and stop here.
However, 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, cravings, reduced activity and adherence.
Re-calculating your calorie goal is a very simple process but it is often overlooked.
As you lose fat your bodyweight obviously decreases which means your caloric needs change. This becomes more and more pronounced the more weight you lose particularly if you were starting from a high weight.
If you’ve addressed all of the factors that can influence your weight, have tried one or both (at separate times of course) of the strategies above and you’re still stuck, then maybe it’s time to re-calculate your daily calorie needs.
To do this use the following equation:
Take your new bodyweight in lbs x 12 = new fat loss calories
To get your new bodyweight I recommend you weigh yourself daily in the same conditions and take a weekly average.
Whilst implementing this new calorie goal you can also take the time to ensure no hidden calories are sneaking in and that you’re hitting your macronutrients goals as closely as possible.
Do this and you’ll soon see your weight loss start up again.
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.
The first step is to determine how often you should refeed.
If you are 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. (1) Also, referred to as adaptive thermogenesis, (2) this is the decrease in energy expenditure primarily as a result of a decrease in activity levels as a result of eating in a calorie deficit. (3)
If this describes you then start with one refeed day a week.
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.
To set yourself up for the refeed you want to raise your calories to maintenance level and 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.
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, you 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. (4) 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 you muscle glycogen stores will refill and when they do they will draw in water giving you a fuller, leaner look.
Calculating Maintenance Calories
Bodyweight in lbs x 14 = maintenance calories
Setting 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.