How to Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau

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What is a Weight Plateau?

A common problem that people face every day is the dreaded weight plateau. This means that your body has become immune to losing further weight, typically because your metabolism has adapted to your diet and exercise routine.

It should not be confused with losing less weight than you were initially at the beginning of your weight loss journey. For example, a 100kg person losing 1kg a week is realistic as they are only losing 1% of their total body weight. Hypothetically, if this person reached 60kg, losing 1kg per week becomes that much harder as it represents 1.7% of his total body weight.

Think of your metabolism as a rubber band. The stress that you apply to the rubber band can be in the form of different types of exercise and diet. If you don’t stress the rubber band hard enough, your weight will be static. If you stress it too hard, the rubber band will snap and your body will react negatively. The key is stressing your metabolism just enough such that you are still losing weight but in a sustainable way.

Why does this happen?

Our genetic evolution has not evolved much since the days of our ancestors who often “feasted” for days after a hunt and was hungry for weeks after that. This led to a genotype called the thrift gene to be favoured and thus, during times of “feasting” our bodies store excess calories as fat as a survival mechanism. This fat would be burnt later for energy during our times of “famine”.

To put this in a modern day context, a typical diet of imposing a calorie deficit would result in your body reacting to a “famine” and would thus retain as much fat as possible to ensure survival. Furthermore, studies have shown there to be increased mitochondrial efficiency (less calories burned to produce the same amount of energy), decreased metabolic rate and elevation in hormones that promote hunger. In fact, studies have shown that your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) can be reduced anywhere between 300-500 calories once your body has adapted. These are all significant barriers to further weight loss.

What do I do?

Going back to the rubber band analogy, the key to overcoming a weight loss plateau is to adjust the stresses you place on the rubber band i.e. diet and exercise. This can be done in the form of:

Reducing Exercise Periodically

This may seem counterintuitive and often people go the other way when they hit a weight plateau but try, for example to cut your exercise in half every two weeks and continue to monitor results. During those periods of reduced exercise, make sure you incorporate strength training to ensure you maintain your lean body mass. This is because your muscle contributes far more to your basal metabolic rate (number of calories burnt to keep your body functioning at rest) than fat does.

Re-evaluate Calorie Intake

As you lose more weight, your calorie intake requirements will be different. For example, a 100kg person will need far more calories to sustain themselves than a 50kg person. You may have lost enough weight such that you are ingesting more calories than your body needs and are therefore not in a calorie deficit anymore. Adjust your calorie intake for every 2-3kg lost to ensure progress in your weight loss journey.

Do ensure, however, that your calorie deficit never exceeds 500 a day because that will trigger your body to enter “famine” mode and will release hormones to slow your metabolism as well as storing fat. 

Control Calorie Creeping

It is natural for motivation to wane the longer you diet but it is imperative that you still stay strict with yourself. For example, common mistakes people make are snacking and ordering the wrong food and drinks at restaurants. In a study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, they found that restaurant food is almost as bad as fast food. A staggering 92% of meals from restaurants both small and large have more calories than what is recommended for an average person with the average being 1,205 calories per meal. Therefore, be mindful of what food and drink you order at restaurants and aim for fresh organic vegetables, lean meats and whole grains while avoiding alcohol. 

If All Else Fails

Try switching your diet to intermittent fasting. Subscribe to our newsletter to find out more.