How to beat a weight loss plateau
You’re doing everything right but your weight loss has come to a grinding halt? We asked nutritionist, trainer and founder of Balance Fitness & Nutrition to share her insights on how to get results again.
Weight loss plateaus can be frustrating, particularly if you are closely following your nutrition and training plan. Despite eating and moving well, signs of a dieting plateau include:
» Weight loss stalled or an increase in weight
» Feeling hungrier
» Low energy levels
» Poor recovery and/or sleep quality
Essentially, dieting plateaus are caused by our body’s ability to adapt to the way they are fuelled and moved. Usually plateaus occur due to:
» Undereating and/or inappropriate macronutrient profile to meet your training and daily energy requirements.
» Overtraining and/or consistently moving your body in the same
» Inadequate rest, recovery and stress: when we don’t get enough sleep our bodies produce cortisol, which leads to fat retention and storage, lethargy and irritability.
During weight loss you impose a caloric deficit, either by increasing exercise or decreasing food intake. Through this deficit you begin to lose body mass – and when muscle mass declines, so too does your metabolism. These are indicators that energy supply is low and your body adapts to energy restrictions accordingly: there is a decrease in hormones that promotes anabolism, energy expenditure and satiety (fullness) and a rise in hormones that promotes catabolism and hunger.
How to get results again:
Keeping your body guessing is key, as our bodies crave efficiency.
Mix up your meals. Do you have the same meal at the same time every day? Try carbohydrate and/or calorie cycling of higher, moderate and lower days. Opt for a higher carb day when you train legs or perform HIIT and lower carbs, higher fats on LISS/rest days. Rotating food choices helps ensure your metabolism doesn’t adjust to a specific diet regimen; because there is no sustained calorie restriction, your body doesn’t adjust its metabolism or start catabolising lean muscle tissue as it would on a sustained low-calorie diet.
Increase your calories: A calorie deficit is generally needed to lose weight, but not in all cases. You may actually need to increase your overall calories to continue burning them in order to preserve muscle mass and your metabolism. Your body will learn that food is abundant and won’t try to hoard it for starvation mode.
Prioritise protein: Up your protein intake or incorporate a source of protein into each meal. This macronutrient has a higher thermic effect than fats and carbs, so your body has to work harder to digest it. Protein assists in the retention of lean muscle mass (metabolism), protein synthesis, satiety between meals and muscle recovery.
Training – shake & strengthen it up: Studies have found that strength training helps people shed more fat than cardio while boosting their metabolism by increasing muscle mass. Aim for a minimum of two to three strength sessions each week. If you already strength train, mix it up by using a combination of supersets, tri-sets and circuits to keep the intensity of the sessions high. Overall duration should be short to moderate and serve as a HIIT-style resistance workout. If you run 5km every day, try adding in a day of sprints. Keeping your sessions short but intense helps to utilise your anaerobic training zones and leads to greater excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
Rest and recovery: If overtraining is the cause of your plateau, it may be time to add in a taper week or two. Prioritising sleep will help balance insulin resistance, regulate cortisol, and decrease leptin.
Check your portions: Are you really consuming the serving sizes you thought? Try and be more mindful of how much you are putting on your plate.
Plateau or happy place?
Lastly, consider whether you have REALLY plateaued and whether your training and nutrition has been as good as you say it has. If you feel you’ve reached one, take time to reflect, but also consider whether it is a plateau or, rather, your ideal weight. The numbers on the scales may have stalled, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t improving on areas of your strength, fitness and mindset. Try using a combination of how your clothes fit, measurements and fitness checks (60 second max tests or a simple 3 minute AMRAP) to track and re-check your progress. After all, the scales are just a number.