Why you stopped losing weight and how to overcome weight loss plateaus
Being overweight or obese is a serious issue of the century we live in. There is no question about it. More than 2 out of 3 people in the world have weight issues and even though many of them start dieting at some point in their life and actually start losing weight, studies have shown that up to 70% of them end up not sticking with the diet because:
- It’s too hard to follow
- They stop losing weight after a while.
If you’ve been reading the blog you may have noticed that I already covered in the past the most common reasons while people can’t stick with a diet and in this post I want to touch another very common reason that I left out and I just couldn’t let it slide. That reason is not seeing any progress or hitting a plateau which you just can’t break through no matter how hard you try.
If you’ve been working your ass off all week in the gym, stayed on top of your diet, counted calories each meal and on your weigh in day you don’t see the scale going down at all you will be a little bit let down, to say the least. And this is one of the reasons people stop dieting or stop working out – because they put in the effort and don’t see the results. It’s very daunting, I’ll give you that.
I know the feeling because I was there myself not too long ago. Getting down from 240+ pounds to 195 pounds was an easy job for me and went very smooth. I was seeing steady progress each week; everything was going really well, until I hit 195 pounds and stayed there for months. No matter what I did I just couldn’t lose one more pound. Fortunately for me I didn’t give up and I managed to break through.
How do you know you have hit a weight loss plateau
Before we get into the actual ways to break through a weight loss plateaus, let’s start with the beginning and make sure we are all talking about the same thing here. Let me try to define the term “weight loss plateau”. Here it is:
“A weight loss plateau is when your body stops losing weight as a result to a diet and/or training plan, for at least 2 weeks.”
I know it doesn’t sound like a one of those Ph.D. definitions you see in the science books but hopefully it’s acceptable for you. The important thing to keep in mind here is the timeframe. Two weeks (give or take a few days, the term is not that strict) should be enough time for anyone in any circumstances to really tell if he or she hit a weight loss plateau, no matter at what level of body weight or body fat you are.
Keep in mind that the more weight you lose the harder it will become to lose more. Weight loss it’s a process that slows down overtime, so give about 2 weeks before you call it a plateau.
Why you stopped losing weight
Generally there are two major reasons you are not losing any more weight:
You are not doing things the right way
Your body has adapted to your diet and/or training
We will go into more details below and see how you can break through the plateau.
How to overcome a weight loss plateau
Out of the two reasons above, the first one is the most common one. Usually we are stuck at a certain weight because we are messing things up with our diet, our training or with our lifestyle. Let’s break things down a little bit more.
- Revisit the calories and macros
As I said before losing weight is as simple as calories in versus calories out. Not losing any more weight means that the caloric balance is positive or neutral. Whenever you are cutting you should be in a caloric deficit that will allow you to lose 1-2 pounds each week, provided that you are between 10 and 25 % body fat. If you are over 20-25% body fat you should be able to lose weight at a faster rate and if you are under 10% it should be very difficult to see 1-2 pounds less on the scale each week.
Anyways, getting back to calories, the first thing you need to do when you’ve stopped losing fat is to double check that you are counting your calories (and macros) correctly. Look at everything you eat and track your stuff right. Don’t forget to track drinks as well.
- Make sure the workouts are in check
Apart from the energy your body consumes in order to stay alive basically – which is more or less the same each day, we also consume a significant amount of energy during our training – which is the variable part – because you can’t literally train the same during each workout. We are not machines. Today you may do 15 sets, tomorrow you may do 20 or 30 sets.
You can keep track of your calories you are taking in, but you can’t actually tell if you’re in a deficit or a surplus unless you have a general idea about the calories you are burning. Now, you can’t know for sure how many calories you’re burning by doing 5 sets of 10 reps on the incline bench press with the 225, but if you are consistent with your training and keep track of the volume you are doing, you will generally know if your caloric consumption has gone down, stayed the same or gone up.
Let me give you an example and show you how not being consistent with your training can prevent you from losing weight by messing up your caloric balance even if you take in the same amount of calories.
In scenario 1 we have a perfect deficit – your training puts you at 200 kcal below the maintenance level which is great in my opinion. This is where you lose fat.
In scenario 2 even though you’re eating the same, the caloric balance will be neutral because the cardio is missing from the workout routine. You will not lose any weight here.
In scenario 3 the diet stays the same but for some reason you are not able to get in a good workout and the caloric balance ends up being positive. In this scenario you will gain weight.
My point here is that being consistent with your diet and tracking your calories is not enough. You need to be tracking your training volume as well in order to be able to troubleshoot why you are stuck and not losing more weight.
- Sleeping and recovery
Several studies have associated weight issues with sleeping issues. To be honest I don’t know how important this factor is in the context we are discussion in this post, but I know for sure that not getting enough sleep will affect your performance in the gym.
This means that you will have bad workouts when you sleep less. Bad workouts mean less volume, less intensity, therefore less calories burned. Less calories burned will mean you may not be able to place yourself in a deficit anymore, therefore: bye, bye losing weight.
Personally I perform very well with 7 hours of sleep, but everybody’s different. Some people need to get up to 8-9 hours of sleep, while others are fine with just 6 hours. The take away here is to get enough rest, allow your body to recover after your day to day activities. Don’t let sleep get in the way of your tasks and goals.
- Increase the cardio training
Cardiovascular training is a well-known weight loss method that you should definitely focus on especially when you hit a plateau that you don’t seem to get pass through. The problem that I had with cardio is that the body gets used to it eventually and you need to constantly increase the intensity or the time.
If you’ve been doing 3 cardio trainings a week, 30 minutes each and noticed that you are not losing weight anymore, increase that to 5 times a week, 40 minutes each session. I know, it becomes very time consuming at some point, but that is a compromise you either want to make or not.
Usually, long cardio sessions are needed only when you get down to low body fat percentages such 10-12% or below.
I’ve lost over 50 pounds by doing cardio and weigh training, so I can definitely resonate with the idea that cardio is a great fat loss tool, that will make it easier for you to get into a caloric deficit and start losing fat again.
If you are not into cardio that much read this article right here for alternatives.
- Increase the weight training volume
If you are not a big fan of cardio or you don’t want to put that much time and effort into it another option you have is to increase the number of calories you burn in the gym by doing really high volume workouts. This is what I do right now.
I am doing as much as 30 sets per workout with no cardio and constantly losing 1-2 pounds of fat per week. If you decide to take this path make sure you are on an appropriate training split that will allow your muscles to recover until the next workout. Be careful not to over-train.
- Do a “factory reset”
I think a complete reset of your system is needed from time to time. As a solution of last resort, if nothing else you have tried worked, just take some time off from the diet, take some time off from the weights and the treadmill. Get yourself a nice vacation, have a good time, enjoy yourself for a week or two, just forget about everything, and start fresh when you are ready to do so.
I personally found this to be helpful. Just take a break from it all and come back with a new mind set, a new approach maybe. Change up your training routine, change up your diet a little bit, try different things that you did before and see how that works for you.