How To Break a Weight Loss Plateau – Without Starving Yourself
It is not uncommon to experience a weight loss plateau after a few months of consistently losing weight.
I’ve been there and I know you have too.
You tried your best. You lost weight. You gave it everything and it hurt.
And then it all stopped.
You still went out there and exercised harder. You watched everything you ate.
Adaption is the Main Cause of a Plateau
The human body is incredibly adaptive and will do its level best to maintain equilibrium (homeostasis).
If you are eating the same amount day in a day out, the body will eventually adapt.
The plateauing effect is the biggest motivation-killer there is.
Unfortunately, many popular diet books are strangely quiet on the issue — weight loss plateaus don’t make good testimonials.
Yet they happen to most people.
6 Ways to Break a Weight Loss Plateau
The best single word of advice is to make a change.
Change something. Anything. Do it now.
Don’t make the mistake of doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result (Ben Franklin’s definition of insanity).
You have to switch things up and counteract the adaption that your body has made to your way of eating or your way of exercising.
1. Alter Your Macro-nutrient Intake: Flexible Dieting
Although it sounds complicated, once again, the idea is to change what you are eating.
If (for example) you are eating a moderate diet that is higher in carbohydrates – try eating less carbs and more protein. There is no need to get super-technical over the whole thing.
If you have a carbohydrate snack every day at morning tea time – change it to a protein snack.
This is known as flexible dieting or If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM), which tracks macros instead of just calories. People like it because it isn’t restrictive and encourages people to eat according to what their body needs instead of just a generic calorie amount such as 1200 or 1500.
Eating too little can actually stall your weight loss. If you have been eating only 1200 calories for a long time, start eating more for a few weeks as a way to “reset things”.
- Instead of eating a fruit snack, eat a handful of nuts.
- If your diet is heavily bread-based, try reducing this and increasing the protein (say a tin of tuna, or chicken.)
- Don’t be afraid to eat fat, it’s not the enemy.
Whatever you are doing consistently – try mixing it up a bit. However, if you want to get technical, use our macronutrient weight loss calculator here.
2. Zig-Zag Calorie Intake
Zig-zagging or calorie cycling is the process of varying daily calorie intake while maintaining the same weekly intake.
Instead of consuming (for example) precisely 1800 calories each day – you can mix it up.
Eat 1500 calories one day, and 2100 calories the next. This can be as simple as halving then doubling a portion size, or adding a post-workout shake into the plan.
Here’s something a little more technical, from the Zig-zag calculator.
If your daily calories for fat loss is 1860, a weekly zig-zag would look like this:
This keeps your body guessing and helps keep adaption at bay.
3. Add Strength Training
Many people follow a basic and fairly repetitive routine of walking. This is a great start, but it’s time to add some resistance into the mix.
If you are not doing this as part of your program or lifestyle, then it’s time to start.
Working your muscles will help to strengthen bone tissue, increase lean mass, and ultimately boost metabolic rate.
Many people have increased success with HIIT training.
There are so many things you can do:
- Join a gym and get a trainer to make you a program.
- Follow a bodyweight program. Check this 7-minute program out (here’s the research).
- Get some dumbbells at home and follow along with a Youtube trainer at home.
4. Change Your Exercise Routine
Flowing on from the previous point: You must change something in your exercise routine.
The more you do a particular activity the greater your body adapts and this efficiency equates to less calorie burn.
If you walk a lot, then try jogging, or swimming, or cycling — anything that will change the way your body is working.
If you are doing low-intensity cardio work, then try some high intensity (short duration) exercise.
For example: instead of your normal slow jog – run as fast as you can for 30 seconds then walk for 30 seconds. Do this 4 times in the middle of your jog.
Need More Exercise Ideas?
- Try an Exercise DVD
Some of us happen to like dancing around the room knocking over coffee tables and other assorted furniture.
- Gym Class
Yoga, Pilates, or Zumba to name a few.
High Intensity Interval Training
- Social sports
Join a Volleyball team.
- Meet your friend for a walk
Instead of meeting for coffee.
- Go hiking.
Maybe it’ll help you to relax.
- Get a cool bicycle
And don’t leave it in the garage gathering dust.
- Got Kids? Get on the playground with them instead of sitting on the side.
- Video Games with Movement
Get a Nintendo Wii (or even Xbox with Kinect) and get some good fitness games. Just don’t do the tennis or you’ll end up with tendonitis.
Okay, Mr. and Mrs. Hardcore, these activities probably won’t cut it for you. Especially if you are already quite the fitness fanatic.
The issue here is that you MUST change what you are doing. Keep your body guessing. Notice how quickly you can adapt to a certain exercise.
I used to bicycle a lot, but I’m a lousy swimmer, panting after an embarrassingly small amount of lengths. My body is efficient at one but appalling at the other.
5. Change Meal Frequency
This is contentious and some would argue that it doesn’t matter. But, it has worked for some.
It’s been a technique for bodybuilders: they eat 5+ meals per day. They claim the thermic effect of eating helps to burn fat. There is energy expenditure involved in the body processing food (particularly protein).
Some claim this is myth, yet there is research showing that the Thermic Affect of Food (TEF) is very real. A recent study of gastric bypass patients showed enhanced TEF after surgery.
Gastric bypass patients can only eat small amounts at a time (leading them to a pattern of little and often)
What You Can Do
- If you are eating three square meals a day – start adding snacks in between (which may mean reducing the portion size of the main meals).
- If skipping breakfast has been your thing – maybe it’s time to change that.
- Be careful this doesn’t backfire.
I did this and ended up eating all the time thinking I was being healthy. You still need to make wise choices and not overeat.
6. Some Extra Things To Try
Still not working? Here are some more things that have worked for some people:
- Get more sleep, or figure out what’s affecting your sleep quality.
- Overeat – Might sound counter-intuitive, but after a period of sustained restricted eating, a day or two of big eating might be just the ticket. However, if you are a person that has problems with binging this could backfire – be careful.
- Change your goals – obsessed with the scales? Think about focusing on something else like being able to run 5km or getting stronger.
- Intermittent fasting: Increase your daily fasting window to 12-16 hours and shorten your eating window. Fasting periods burn fat reserves to keep your body going. Here’s an intermittent fasting calculator that can help you get started right.
What Happened to Me…
Some of us seem to have more adaptive bodies than others.
I remember when I was eating a fairly rigid diet. I had meal plans stuck to the fridge. I counted everything I ate.
I was doing three strength training sessions per week, and as much as seven (often intense) cardio sessions a week.
After 3-4 weeks – the fat simply stopped coming off.
The frustration was enough to make me take my meal plans, screw them up and throw them away in disgust. I was furious and disappointed. I felt that I was doing everything “right”.
So what was the answer?
Chill out and back off… I was becoming obsessional. I started eating more, and gradually reduced my cardio levels. I gave my body and mind a break. In the process, I have learned to eat more intuitively.
The funny thing is, even though I went onto lose a bit more fat, I found I no longer cared. It all seemed like vanity to me.
Every person is unique, and we must learn how our individual body responds – and how to work with that.
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