Does this situation sound familiar to you? You’ve noticed you have put on a few extra pounds and decide it is time to lose some weight. You have cut back on calories and have been exercising frequently, and have managed to lose a few pounds. After a while, the numbers on the scale come to a standstill, and although you think you are doing everything right, you aren’t seeing any changes. If you are currently in or have ever found yourself in a similar situation, it is not uncommon among those trying to lose weight to hit a weight loss plateau.
When you start dieting and losing weight, you’re shedding not only fat, but lean muscle as well. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, when it comes to dieting, it is safe to estimate that for every pound lost, 69% of the weight loss will originate from fat, and the remaining 31% originates from muscle.
When muscle mass decreases, metabolism decreases as well. As your metabolism lowers, you burn fewer calories. This decrease in caloric expenditure can lead to a plateau
if there are no further changes to caloric intake (what you eat) or output
(calories expended through activity).
So how can we combat this loss of muscle mass while still eating at a calorie
deficit (eating less calories then what our body expends)? Well, there is good news! Resistance training helps build and maintain lean muscle, and as lean body mass increases, so does metabolism.
A study published in 2014 by the journal Obesity found that strength training helped people shed more fat than cardio. Another 2006 study in Sports Medicine found that resistance training decreased the percent of lean mass lost during a weight loss program and encouraged fat loss, even more so than just cardio or a diet alone. If weight loss is your goal, try to incorporate at least 2 days a week of strength training into your routine.
Maybe you have incorporated strength training into your routine and still aren’t seeing changes! One of the possibilities is that there has been an underestimation of the calories being eaten. Try tracking food or keeping a food journal for a few days to become more mindful of what is being eaten. A study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that when dieters recorded their snacks and meals daily, they lost twice as much weight compared to those who didn’t.
Although calorie trackers can vary slightly in accuracy, they can give a good idea of where daily caloric intake lies among other helpful information, such as if there is enough protein in one’s diet or where sugar and fat intake levels are. Ensure the correct serving size and amount when keeping track, because certain foods can add up quickly if they are underestimated. Apps like these, such as MyFitness Pal or MyPlate’s Super Tracker, can also help estimate daily caloric expenditure.
If a person was to eat around 500 calories below their daily expenditure, then they would lose about one pound per week, as one pound of fat equals approximately 3,500 calories. Half a pound to two pounds lost per week is the suggested healthy range, depending on size, metabolism, gender, etc.
A plateau can also occur if the body is not receiving ENOUGH calories. Many people have the belief that the less they can eat, the more weight they will lose. This is only true to a certain degree. If not enough food is eaten, the body goes into starvation mode, encouraging it to hold on to fat to help preserve it for energy because it thinks it won’t be getting any food.
The Mayo Clinic suggests eating no less than 1,200 calories per day. This is especially important if you are getting heavy workouts in at the gym. Because your body needs to rebuild the muscles you are breaking down, you want to make sure you are nourishing yourself with the right foods. Lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats are all important to keeping your body healthy and functioning properly. Ensure that the body gets enough protein to fuel its muscles, and try to incorporate it into breakfast to help stay satiated throughout the day.
If you have your nutrition and exercise well under control, do not underestimate the role
that stress and inadequate sleep can have on weight loss. Both of these things can encourage fat storage if stress is not managed and sleep duration and quality are insufficient. If weight loss is occurring slowly or not at all, then stress or sleep may be the culprit. Talk with your trainer, health coach, or medical professional to discuss ways to improve sleep and stress management.
If nothing seems to be working to break your weight loss plateau, then there could be an underlying medical condition or problem with your hormone balance. Consult your physician if you think this might be the case.
Again, there are many things that can cause weight loss plateaus to occur, but if these issues are addressed, you will likely see the weight start coming off again!