Have you ever found yourself stuck at a weight loss plateau?
And no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to shift those last stubborn 10 or 15 pounds of fat?
You’ve been doing hours of cardio every week for months on end.
You’re eating what you think are all the right things.
All the online calculators say that you’re in a calorie deficit, and that you should be losing fat.
But you’re not.
You’ve hit a weight loss plateau, and you can’t get past it no matter how hard you try.
You’re hungry all the time and can’t stop thinking about food.
The thought of carrying on like this just to maintain your current weight is about as appealing as packing up all your belongings and moving to Syria.
So, what’s going on?
Losing weight is supposed to be simple.
In theory, all it takes is a little less food and a bit more exercise.
During the first few weeks, the weight seems to come off relatively quickly.
But, sooner or later, your progress slows to a crawl.
It’s easy to think the problem lies with you.
Is it because your metabolism is slow? Are you getting older and burning fewer calories? Is it in your genes?
It worked before, so why isn’t it working now? What’s going on?
And, more importantly, how do you fix it? Can it even BE fixed?
In this handbook, I’m going to explain exactly what causes a weight loss plateau, and what to do when it happens.
Not everyone hits a weight loss plateau for the same reasons, and different people will need to employ different strategies to break the plateau.
More on that subject later.
First, I want to take a closer look at the reasons why your weight loss has stalled.
Weight Loss Plateau Reason 1: You’ve Lost Weight
The number of calories your body burns both at rest and during physical activity is linked to your weight.
When you lose weight, your body is smaller. And a smaller body has smaller energy requirements than a larger one.
If you lose 20 pounds of fat, you have 20 pounds less weight to carry around with you. So it takes less energy to walk up the stairs, run on the treadmill or whatever else it is that you’re doing.
The loss of fat also has a small but measurable impact on your metabolism.In days gone by, body fat was seen as a lifeless source of energy. However, the discovery of leptin in the 1990’s led to a radical change in perspective.
Scientists realized that fat was not simply a “dead” tissue. It secretes hormones and other substances, which can affect your metabolism.
In fact, some researchers now think of fat as an endocrine gland — an “organ” that responds to signals from hormones and the central nervous system .
At rest, one pound of fat burns around two calories per day. Lose 20 pounds of fat, and your resting energy expenditure will drop by around 40 calories per day.
What happens if you lose fat and gain some muscle at the same time?
Let’s say you lose 15 pounds of fat and gain five pounds of muscle.
The loss of fat means that you’re now burning around 30 fewer calories per day at rest. But you’ve gained five pounds of muscle, which also has an energy cost of around 30 calories per day.
The effect that the loss of fat would have had on your resting metabolism has been offset by the amount of muscle you’ve gained.
However, you’re also 10 pounds lighter, so it still takes less energy to move your body around that it did before.
In other words, even though you’ve lost fat and gained some muscle, the amount of energy your body needs is still lower than it was before you lost the weight.
But even those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Weight Loss Plateau Reason 2: Your Metabolism Has Adapted
There is also a drop in energy expenditure that’s not accounted for by changes in weight and body composition.
Based on the amount of weight someone loses, you might expect to see their resting metabolic rate drop by 10%. But when it’s actually measured, the drop turns out to be closer to 15%.
The difference between the predicted drop in metabolic rate and the actual metabolic rate is known as adaptive thermogenesis.
In scientific lingo, it’s defined as the “decrease in energy expenditure beyond what can be predicted from body weight or its components under conditions of standardized physical activity in response to a decrease in energy intake.”
Sensing a reduction in the availability of food, your body turns down the rate of heat production in order to conserve energy.
You might also see it called a metabolic shift… metabolic adaptation… metabolic dysregulation… metabolic damage… or some other variation on the theme.
In short, what it means is that the number of calories your body burns at rest is going to fall.
When observed, this drop has been found to range from as little as 79 to as much as 504 calories per day beyond what is predicted from the amount of weight lost .
The size of the drop seems to vary depending on how large the calorie deficit is, how long the diet lasts, how much fat someone has when they start the diet, genetics and so on.
In fact, the extent to which it drops can vary widely from person to person
In one study, researchers from Rockefeller University Hospital and The New York Presbyterian Medical Center looked at how the metabolism changes in response to weight loss .
The drop in resting metabolic rate beyond what was predicted based on changes in body composition alone averaged around 150 calories per day.
However, the group average masks a large difference in results from person to person.
In other words, some people will go on a diet and see very little change in their resting metabolic rate.
For others, the drop is large enough to offset a sizeable chunk of the calorie deficit created by that diet.