So, you've been cutting down on your calorie intake and hitting the gym consistently for the past few months. 🥵
And for a while, it seemed like your efforts were paying off–the numbers on the scale keep creeping down, your jeans feel looser, and everyone around you is noticing the progress you've made. But all of a sudden, it stops. Even though you haven't changed a thing about your nutrition, nor your training, it's frustrating. I know because I've been there.
Thankfully, though, there are a few things you can do to break out of this pesky weight loss plateau you’re stuck in. Let’s get right to it.
Re-evaluate your calorie intake
If you’ve been losing weight successfully, the number of calories you need daily has probably started decreasing along with it. The less you weigh, the less energy your body needs to sustain itself for all its activities (e.g. respiration, digestion, etc.) So here’s what you need to do. Go back and re-calculate your maintenance calories–aka the number of calories you need to stay at the same weight–using your current stats.
And then readjust your daily calorie intake such that you’re creating a deficit with this new number. You just might be surprised at how much you’ve been overeating. Thus, explaining your supposed ‘weight loss plateau.’
Track your calorie intake (like for real)
Now, what if you've re-calculated your daily calorie intake, but you find that it's still roughly the same as your previous number? In this case, be honest with yourself. Is it at all possible that you're underestimating the number of calories you're eating in a day? Do you even know how many calories you're eating in a day?
The sad truth is that many of us fail to recognize just how many calories we’re unknowingly putting in our mouths throughout the day!
Take, for example, this paperpublished in the British Journal of Nutrition, which looked at a group of women struggling to lose weight. According to their self-reports, they believed that they were only eating 1,340 calories a day. But guess what? After careful tracking, the researchers found out that they were eating close to 2,500 calories a day! That's nearly double what they thought they ate.
Think this might be you? Then there are two things you’ll need to do: buy a food scale and use a food tracking app, like MyFitnessPal. Start weighing every single thing you’re eating and find out just how many calories you’re eating over the day. Are you eating at a calorie deficit?
If you aren’t, great–you’ve found the reason as to why you're not losing weight despite 'doing everything right.' But if you are eating in a calorie deficit, read on for the next point.
Recognize that you may be going through ‘body recomp’
If you’re eating in a calorie deficit, training hard in the gym, and your weight remains the same, well, you could be going through ‘body recomp.’ What’s that, you ask? Body recomposition is where you build muscle and lose fat at the same time. While it's a good thing, you can't see it from the scale!
See, someone who weighs 70kg, with 12% body fat, would look a lot more ripped than someone who’s 70kg, but with 25% body fat. Both persons weigh the same, but I’m quite sure you’ll want to look like the first, instead of the second.
So how would you know if you’re indeed going through a body recomp?
Simple. Take progress pictures! Look at how your body is changing, in addition to the number on the scale. Better yet, track your performance in the gym with the GymStreak app (wink). Are you now able to lift more despite staying at the same weight? That’s a sure sign that you’ve put on more muscle mass, which can only mean that you’ve lost fat–given that your weight hasn’t changed!
Take a break from your diet
No, really. You need to take a break from your diet! More specifically, you're going to want to increase your calorie intake beyond your maintenance calories–especially if you've been dieting for a while now.
Physiological adaptations from long-term dieting
Your body doesn't like to lose weight. It wants to stay exactly where it is right now because it's comfortable. And so, as you start losing more and more weight, your body starts fighting back by decreasing your:
· Leptin hormone levels, which then increases your hunger levels (causing you to eat more)
· Energy expenditure by causing you to move less and, therefore, needing fewer calories for day-to-day activities (leading to a lower than expected maintenance calorie number)
· Muscle glycogen levels, which leads to you having ‘tougher’ workouts and decrements in your performance (lowering the number of calories you burn through exercise)
And this is where including diet breaks can help you out–they can help reverse the above-mentioned physiological adaptations that your body has made in response to sustained weight loss.
Just take a look at the difference between those who’d implemented diet breaks, and those who hadn’t in a 2017 paper (despite being in a calorie deficit for the same amount of time):
Individuals who’d dieted continuously for 16 weeks
o Lost 50% less fat
o Experienced a more significant decrease in metabolism
Individuals who've taken a 2-week diet break after every 2 weeks of dieting
o Lost 50% more fat
o Experienced a smaller decrease in metabolism
Applying diet breaks to your situation
So, how can you apply diet breaks to your situation? While it can be tempting to follow the exact protocol of the study mentioned (2-week diet, followed by a 2-week break), you shouldn't because you'll lengthen the time needed for you to get to your goal weight.
Instead, only take a break from your diet every 4 to 6 weeks of dieting. This will help counter the adverse physiological adaptations at play (read: boost metabolism) while keeping your dieting period down to the minimum length.
With the right adjustments to your calorie intake and dieting program, you’ll start seeing the numbers decreasing again. That said, you’ll have to continue training hard in the gym to see results. And what better companion is there than the GymStreak app, the smart AI-powered personal trainer you can fit in your pocket? We do all the work, so you get all the gains.
Accuracy of Self-Reported Energy Intake in Weight-Restored Patients with Anorexia Nervosa Compared with Obese and Normal Weight Individuals. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4469285/
Do intermittent diets provide physiological benefits over continuous diets for weight loss? A systematic review of clinical trials. - PubMed—NCBI. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26384657
Energy metabolism in free-living, “large-eating” and “small-eating” women: Studies using 2H2(18)O. - PubMed—NCBI. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7918325
Intermittent Dieting: Theoretical Considerations for the Athlete. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6359485/
Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: The MATADOR study. - PubMed—NCBI. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28925405