- Most of the time you won’t be in a weight loss plateau, something is slipping
- Weight loss plateaus are not from a broken metabolism
- Reducing calories or increasing cardio are last ditch efforts
Weight loss plateaus are a kick in the nuts.
You think you’re doing everything right but the weight isn’t coming off.
Is your metabolism broken?
Are you too old to lose weight?
Are you eating too many carbs?
Odds are none of these are true.
In this article I’m going to help you determine if you are ACTUALLY in a weight loss plateau, common causes and best of all, how to break through and start losing weight again.
Are You Actually In A Plateau
Remember when Maurie Povich used to have those paternity test shows?
Well I’m going to pull a Maurie here and tell you when you fathered a weight loss plateau or not.
No sense in dropping calories, increasing cardio or completely flipping your diet when the best course of action would be to stick to the original plan.
When doing Aesthetic Physiques Coaching Program member check-ins here are the questions I ask myself to prove a plateau.
Are Measurements down?
For my entire 16 week photoshoot prep back in 2020 my weight went from 180-> 173 at the lowest. Most weeks there was no weight movement. A big ole Kardashian BUT there, my measurements went down consistently.
If your measurements are trending down then you are not in a plateau and proceed without changing anything.
Measurement progress is still the progress you want.
When it comes to weight loss, measurements are a better indicator of progress than the scale, like in the case of my photoshoot prep. Which is why I have members take weekly measurements across a few different areas.
With some of my clients, they are coming from a background of non-structured training, so combining a structured plan with progressive overload results in muscle gain. Muscle which weighs something.
When this happens the scale won’t reflect the change happening under the hood. This is just to reiterate why measurements are a better indicator than your weight.
If you are seeing weekly measurement drops of ¼” over multiple measurement sites, you are not in a plateau.
Have You Lost Weight In The Last Month?
In crypto, when the market drops the phrase around the internet is “When in doubt, zoom out.”
This is exactly what you should do when looking at your weight.
Your weight can vary a lot depending on water retention, sodium intake and if you had a late meal before weighing in.
Look at the weekly and monthly trends. Are they going down? Then you aren’t in a plateau.
And like I just mentioned that often I see members lose weight or measurements drop so if you didn’t lose weight for a day or a week, look at the trend.
On average a good rate of loss is 0.5-1% of bodyweight per week.
Some weeks aren’t going to be in that range, but over the long term you should see that rate of loss. So keep expectations in that range.
How Is Hunger?
We all know hunger is a side effect of dieting and it’s a good indicator that someone is in a calorie deficit.
Hunger will decrease over the course of a diet, however, it is a slow process that we can see coming as the rate of loss slows down.
It is not an overnight thing.
If you go from a mild hunger one week to not hungry at all without adding in more protein or high satiating foods the next, that’s a good indication you are slipping in extra calories somewhere or your movement has gone down.
If hunger stopped seemingly overnight, be honest with yourself about your calorie tracking and if you are hitting your calorie/macro targets.
If either your movement or calorie tracking has slipped, you are not in a plateau.
When Was Your Last Calorie/Macro Adjustment
When I change my diet it takes 4-5 days before I see the scale move. I found the same thing with some of the members.
Here’s my weight on my first week of my diet that I just started.
If you just adjusted calories or macros then give it 2 weeks before changing anything.
It would suck if you dropped calories and then dropped calories again the next week because you didn’t see a weight drop.
If you waited 2 weeks to let your body adjust then you could have had those extra calories to help with some of the hunger.
If you adjusted calories within the last two weeks, you are not in a plateau.
Weight Loss Plateau Myths and What It’s Not
Before we jump to any causes and solutions we need to be clear of what this plateau isn’t.
It’s not a broken metabolism.
Your body doesn’t work that way.
Your metabolism slows down or speeds up, slightly, depending on if you are getting less or more calories but it doesn’t break.
If you aren’t losing weight, 99% of the time you are eating too much. The other 1% is for people that have been dieting for too long and your metabolism slowed down. A diet break would solve that issue.
Carbs are also not the sole reason either. No macro holds the smoking gun.
Somewhere in the boat that is your diet, there are some leaks.
We need to fix those leaks.
Causes Of A Weight Loss Plateau
Ok, we established you are in a plateau, so what da fuq gives.
Why is it happening?
This is where you need to get honest with yourself. The best of us slip from time to time and it literally makes no sense to have an ego on this part because you’ll just be screwing yourself.
Calories Sneaking Back In
A vast majority of the time it comes down to tracking calories.
Somewhere there are unaccounted for calories.
Sauces, snacking, nibbles, general measurements (i.e. large apple), too many flexible foods and eating things that are hard to track can add hundreds of unaccountable extra calories to your day.
You Stopped Moving
About 30% of your calories burned comes down to NEAT aka Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
For some people when they are in a calorie deficit, NEAT slows down.
Less blinking, less foot tapping, walking, and less movement overall. This lack of movement is your body’s way of regulating how many calories are burned to what you are taking in.
Your Calories Aren’t Working For You Anymore
At some point when you lose weight, the deficit you started off with will not be enough to keep losing weight.
The less mass you have combined with the lack of movement equals less calories burned by you.
Think about dumping water from a glass. If you start dumping the glass eventually you’ll have to increase the angle of the glass to get the last bit of water out.
At some point you’ll have to tip the glass of your calorie deficit just a little more.
Weight Loss Plateau Solutions
Now that we highlighted the problems, let’s solve this shit once and for all.
I’m going to put these in order you should be tackling them. Once you can honestly say this is not an issue, move on to the next one.
Weigh Yourself Multiple Times A Week
I always tell my clients to weigh themselves at least 3 times per week and then we average it and compare the averages.
This way we can see the trend over the week and it smooths out those weight spikes and drops better than taking your weight once a week.
Also, there might be certain days where you weigh more than others. My day is Monday. I am always heavier on Monday than any other day of the week. This is due to my wife and I getting take out on Saturday and all the salt, carbs and different foods hitting my system so I hold onto more water.
Sometimes better data is all you need.
Track Calories As Accurately As Possible
I know it’s a pain in the ass… but not as much as kinda tracking for months and never getting results, right?
Don’t track using metrics like: small/medium/large. One medium banana. One large avocado. ½ bowl of rice. 1 steak. This leaves a lot of room for error.
Weight measurements (in grams) are by far the most accurate. Weigh as much as possible with a food scale. Measure the rest with cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons.
Weigh your meats raw (but thawed) and track them as such.
Cooking oils – Even if you don’t apply it directly to your food, but rather line the pan with it, it still gets absorbed. This can add up to hundreds of untracked calories
Dressings, toppings, and condiments – The two biggest culprits here are salad dressings and condiments like BBQ sauce. Both are sneaky high in calories, and all too easy to forget to track or overdo.
Estimating instead of measuring – lots of room for error and error in this case means more calories.
Ease Up On Flexible And Mixed Foods
Look at your food choices in MyFitnessPal. Is there a lot of flexible foods or mixed foods making it harder to track accurately?
If so, ease up on these or weigh things out separately or stick to more Bro Foods.
For example I make a Bolognese quite a bit…ya know, being Italian = pasta.
So rather than mixing the sauce, pasta, and ground beef together in the pan and scooping what I can only guess is 6oz of ground beef I separate them and combine them in my bowl.
First, I’ll add the pasta to the bowl.
Zero the scale.
Add the beef.
Zero the scale and finally add the sauce using a measuring cup.
I still get all the deliciousness of the bolognese with the accuracy of tracking that I need.
And to answer your question, Bro Foods are the typical bodybuilder foods; chicken breast, rice, potatoes etc. Everything is easy to weigh and therefore more accurate to track.
More Protein, Less Fat
Remember when celery was dubbed a “negative calorie food” because it took more calories to digest it than it contained?
Well that’s kinda where I’m going with this.
It’s all about the Thermal Effect of Food (TEF).
The TEF Cliff Notes version is each macro requires calories to digest. Of all three, protein has the highest TEF.
Protein: 20-35% of the calories you consume are burned off during digestion
Carbs: 5-15% of the calories you consume are burned
Fats: 0-5% of the calories you consume are burned off
So if you ate 100 calories of protein, anywhere from 20-35 calories of that would be used for the digestion of said protein.
By keeping calories the same and increasing protein (in turn lowering carbs and fats) you’ll be using more calories to digest. You’ll be increasing your calorie deficit eating the same amount of calories.
Good rule of thumb is to eat 0.8-1.2g of protein per pound of bodyweight.
A lot of us are dealing with tons of stress from work, kids, a freakin pandemic. All that shit adds up.
If you find yourself waking up before your alarm and staring at the ceiling for hours or have a hard time falling asleep, more than likely your stress is a bit high.
Stress releases a hormone cortisol that promotes body fat and makes it harder to lose weight, especially around the middle.
Cravings increase and willpower decreases. What’s the go-to after a tough week? Alcohol. Carbs. Processed foods. Anything to help someone escape for a few minutes.
Prolonged high stress can make your food choices less than optimal and harder to track.
Find ways to destress. Finding the root cause of your stress and addressing that, along with journaling, meditation, getting into a hobby and sleeping are all great ways to destress.
Have A Movement Goal
The best way to combat your body from reducing NEAT is to have a movement goal.
In the Aesthetic Physiques Online Coaching program we track steps.
If you can constantly hit the step goal, you can avoid the NEAT downregulation or at very least see when your NEAT is dropping.
Having a goal of 7-10k steps per day and maintaining that through a diet can help ensure you are moving enough to keep NEAT up.
If you don’t have a goal, set one.
Reduce Calories or Increase Cardio
I’m putting these together because it all depends on your situation and what you can be most consistent with.
The goal with dieting is to get the best results on as MANY calories as you can.
There’s no hero award and no one gives a shit that you dieted on 1100 calories.
You should only reduce calories or add cardio as a last ditch effort…which is why it is last on the list of solutions.
If you have time to add in daily cardio, add in 30-70 minutes of extra movement per week i.e. 3×20 minute walks/ runs.
Drop calories by 5-10%. Take this reduction from carbs and/or fats.
Reduce the urge to go all American here, more is not better.