In this post, I break down how to know if you’ve plateaued, and different strategies to avoid being stuck. Not everyone is going to have the same journey, and no two persons will take the same approach. Above all, be patient, don’t beat yourself up, and try these tips out to see if you can get over the hump!
Are You Experiencing a Fat Loss Plateau?
I get this question/concern a lot. A message hits my inbox , “I think I may have plateaued, what should I do?” Well… that depends.
We first have to figure out what your goals are, and if you should keep doing what you’re doing. Most people want to rush results and give up before they build the habits, and consistency necessary for success. They haven’t plateaued yet, they’re just impatient, and inconsistent.
Fricken be patient for frick sakes.
I WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING ABUNDANTLY CLEAR.
When it comes to weight loss, or fat loss to be more specific, all you need is to be in a calorie deficit. But, there is a right and a better way to do this, it all boils down to energy balance and moderation. I rarely ever encourage an extreme deficit, 750 – 1000 calories or more, keep reading for why.
Lets Get into it.
What you will Learn
- How to identify if you have plateaued in the first place. When it comes to your fitness goals, there are different types of plateaus, based on your goal.
- Not losing weight (most common complaint)
- Not getting stronger, or building muscle.
- Not improving endurance.
- This article will go over how to beat each plateau.
- You can start on these tips this week and start seeing results again.
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FIRST THINGS FIRST: ARE YOU EVEN PLATEAUING?
As you read you will learn that sometimes things are not as they seem when it comes to weight loss. Obvious plateaus are not getting stronger, faster, or able to run longer, but, believe it or not, when the scale doesn’t budge it doesn’t necessarily mean you haven’t lost body fat.
It’s true, really
Here’s the thing, we are all built different.
We are all unique, our bodies gain muscle and lose body fat at different rates. It can be especially confusing when the weight has crept up on you, and you now find yourself 20-30 pounds heavier when you feel like you’ve had pretty good eating habits and are still active, maybe not like the old days, but you still try to lead a healthy and active life.
|As was the case of my previous college athlete client Dana.|
Here is proof that the scale doesn’t tell the whole story. She’s the same weight in both these photos, but obviously she looks healthier and fitter now. She lost body fat and gained back muscle, the result, she’s leaner but weighs the same.
This isn’t always the case, but it happens, and it can be super frustrating not seeing the scale change. But, this is exactly why we look for other signs of progress.
|Other signs of progress: Measurements going down, energy going up, mood improving, getting stronger, having less aches and pains, and able to keep up with your children.|
There are many reasons your weight-loss is stalling, here are 5 common ones.
1. You are losing weight in the form of fat, but you have also gained a bit of muscle.
2. You are losing fat, but newly trained muscles are retaining water and glycogen in order to recover and repair.
Try weighing yourself before your next workout once 24 – 36 hours have passed.
3. You think you’re in a deficit but you’re actually not. Daily snacking has caused you to exceed your calorie deficit.
4. You’re not sleeping enough, this in turn is causing you to snack more.
Also, poor sleep results in poor results due to reduced ability to recover between workouts. Studies show those who fail to get a 7-8.5 hours of sleep are unable to build muscle, which stunts their metabolism and the major benefit from lifting weights in the first place. You need your sleep to recover properly, prioritize sleep for your results.
Not Losing Weight
If you’re already lifting weights, or not killing yourself in cardio intensive sessions. Consider upping your activity, with something fun! BTW, being stressed could be a reason for stalled weight loss goals (get your sleep, and make sure you schedule in some fun activities).
Option 1: Increase activity by including something you love that is going to make you sweat.
Whether that’s walking, going for hike, swimming, cross country skiing (I joke, unless you actually like that… 😲), or getting down taking a dance class.
Whatever it is try to do it at least 2 times a week on top of your workouts.
Additionally you can look at where you can increase activity throughout the day, like taking the stairs at work or in your condo, riding your bike to work, walking during lunch break, even just getting up from your desk every hour to do 10 squats. Adding something so minimal such as 5-10 squats every hour could be a nice little hack to keep yourself awake and burning additional calories.
Option 2: Decrease your calories more.
There’s a chance you’re not actually in a deficit anymore, as you lose weight, your metabolism will decrease simply because there’s less of you to maintain. Understand this, if you over eat and gain weight, your metabolism increases and your going to be more hungry. As you lose weight, your metabolism lowers as well. So if you’re on a diet that you have not adjusted it could be that you’re caloric intake now matches your caloric needs to maintain your new lower body weight you’re stuck at (we call that maintenance calories). So you now would want to decrease your caloric intake by 250 to 500 calories to kick start weight loss again.
BUT! Be careful not to reduce your calories too much or you’ll eventually become ravenous and undo a week of super unfun strict dieting. And we know you aren’t going to be tearing into a head of lettuce to keep the calories down.
This is just one reason why you should be careful about restricting calories. One the flip side, if you’re having difficulty gaining muscle or building strength, it could be due to your caloric intake being too low.
Option 3: Start lifting weights more regularly.
Ok, so your metabolism decreases with your waistline when you lose weight, you might think that’s unfair – how can I lose more if I have to keep decreasing calories? – I don’t wanna!
This is where making the mindset shift from purely losing bodyfat to thinking about changing your body composition and getting stronger pays off. When you start lifting weights you build muscle, so you won’t have to diet yourself down to nothing in order to get as skinny as you want. Adding muscle allows you to keep your calories a bit higher than they would have otherwise, and eating one slice (JUST ONE! I DON’T CARE HOW BAD YOUR BREAK UP WAS – PUT THAT FORK DOWN!), of the occasional piece of cake non detrimental to maintaining your progress.
Option 4 (Actually a tip): Get more sleep.
Maybe you have the dieting down, and you’re giving your all in your workouts, and are consistent, but you’re still not seeing progress. Poor sleep could be the reason for that stalled progress. Inadequate sleep is going to stack all sorts of additional obstacles against you, such as increased cravings for comfort food because you’re moody, grumpy, or just plain tired and feel you need sugar to wake you up. It’s going to lead to all kinds of poor nutrition choices, and since you’re up longer than you should be you’ll tend to end up eating more. Another disadvantageous result of poor sleep is poor recovery, and poor energy. Your workouts will stop being effective because you don’t have the energy to power through, and your body isn’t getting the adequate rest to repair, rebuild, and recover between workout days. Poor sleep can literally stall your progress or even cause you to go backwards due to poor food choices, eating more than you would have, and losing any benefits you could have had from your strength training or cardio sessions.
If you ever started a workout routine with some friends and found that you weren’t seeing the same kind of results, it very well could be that they’re getting on average a much better nights sleep then you. One 2010 study found some very significant differences between two groups. One group slept 8.5 hours a night, the other group slept 5.5 hours and did the same strength training routine and ate within the same caloric deficit.
The findings are pretty shocking.
In the end of the 2 week period, participants in the sleep deprived group lost 55% less fat than the sleeping beauties, and also lost 60% more muscle mass. Interestingly, both groups lost the same amount of weight overall, but one group retained muscle and lost more fat, while the other group lost muscle and retained more fat. This is what is meant by skinny fat as the diagrams illustrates.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE SLEEPING ENOUGH
If you’re having difficulty sleeping there’s some things you can start doing to help. Most people don’t get enough sleep simply because they don’t prioritize it. It will take some sacrificing, but in the end it could change your life for the better. I understand this can be extra challenging for parents as you need your me time and children pretty much eat all that up. But, the worst thing you can do is watch tv once the kids have gone to bed. A mini media detox before bed time will help you get to sleep faster. If you have a favorite tv show you love to watch and unwind with once the kids are to bed you might want to consider shifting your routine and watching the show first thing in the morning.
Another issue people tend to have is over thinking. This is where practicing gratitude and breathwork can come in.
Here’s a night time routine you can try.
CALM YO SELF
- Begin dimming your lights after dinner, dim them gradually more the closer to your planned bed time.
- Turn off all electronics 45 min to an hour before your planned sleep.
- Do something calming or relaxing, like taking a bath or reading a book, or both.
- Write in a gratitude journal – write out what or who you’re grateful for.
- Write out your goals or what you want to accomplish tomorrow – organize your thoughts and game plan for tomorrow.
- Do 3-5 minutes of deep breathing, focusing on your breath, try to keep a clear mind, counting each exhale helps. Breath in through the nose and out through the nose twice as long as the inhale.
Not Getting Stronger / Building Muscle
Here’s the issue with building muscle, there are a ton of variables. As a beginner, being in a deficit is completely fine. You’ll build muscle as you drop fat, but, if you’ve stalled and are no longer seeing results you may need to actually increase calories. For more experienced lifters, if you’re trying to build muscle you need to be in a calorie surplus, or at the very least eating at maintenance.
It is unwise to just eat whatever in the name of building muscle, you may end up gaining too fast too soon before you realize what you’ve done.
Don’t be a maniac, if you’re not gaining, start by increasing calories by 100-200 above maintenance for two weeks. If you gain a pound and would like to gain faster, consider increasing another 100-200 calories.
Be smart, plan it out, be a bit strategic about it and determine ahead of time where you would like those additional 100 – 200 calories to come from, be consistent. If you don’t you may just find yourself 10 pounds heavier than you started in 2 weeks.
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