So you began your weight loss journey with a bang and started shedding some serious pounds right off the bat. Fat is melting off, your body is changing and you feel on top of the world. Score!!! Then all of the sudden, out of nowhere your weight loss comes to a screeching halt. The workouts and healthy diet just aren't working the way they used to and the scale isn't budging. You have hit… (cue suspenseful scary music) …a PLATEAU. Don’t panic friends! This is a very common problem, and there are ways to get you back on the fast track towards your goal.
First of all… why the hell did this happen?!
One of the many reasons why the body can plateau is this annoying situation called metabolic adaptation. Weight loss happens when we decrease our calorie intake and increase our calorie expenditure. This is why weight loss is easiest when just beginning a new program. Unfortunately, the smooth sailing towards your goal weight usually won’t last long before hitting a little speed bump called metabolic adaptation. Our bodies have this primal instinct to hold onto fat to protect us from starving to death. When we drop our calorie intake for a prolonged period of time, the body will fight back and adapt to the new calorie deficit in order to keep fat on. How does it do this? By SLOWING down the metabolism! All of the sudden, the same diet and exercise plan you have been using will no longer produce the same results as before…(major sigh).
How do I keep this from happening?!
Calorie cycling can be a great way to keep metabolic adaptation from happening. This is done by alternating between high and low calorie days. The higher calorie days keep your metabolism from slowing, and the low days are much easier to deal with because you know you have a “re-feed” day to look forward to. The goal is to still create a calorie deficit at the end of each week. A simple way to start is by eating more on the days you work out and much less on your rest days. Calorie cycling has not been scientifically proven to reverse metabolic adaptation, but I can tell you from personal experience that it has worked for me and many of my clients.
Make sure you check yourself before you wreck yourself...
If you are 5 to 6 months into your weight loss plan and you hit a plateau, I would bet that it is due to the calorie creep. It’s easy to get comfortable, confident and a bit cocky with your new diet when it’s working. Eventually you start thinking that it’s ok to mindlessly munch on extra nuts or “healthy snacks”, and before you know it, you’ve taken in 500 extra calories. All of those extra bites that “won’t kill you” add up and can stop fat loss dead in its tracks! It’s also very easy to underestimate the amount of calories you are consuming when you are at a restaurant. Condiments and sauces can be loaded with hidden sugar and calories, and the portion sizes at a restaurant are often double and triple what you would have if you cooked at home. Too much is too much. Even when it comes to healthy foods. The calorie creep is real and will definitely bring on a plateau if you aren't careful!
How can I avoid the calorie creep?
The best way to make sure you are not sneaking in extra calories is to keep a food journal. Writing down what you eat will help you keep track of those extra bites, and is a great way to hold you accountable to your goals. I recommend that you share the journal with a friend or family member every week. Sometimes having someone else hold you accountable can really motivate you to cut back.
Food journaling and calorie cycling and the scale still stuck?
It's probably time to change up your workout! Just like our bodies adapt to a calorie deficit, they also adapt to exercise. Think about it, the first time you do a spin class it seems really hard and you probably burn a ton of calories. If you wore a calorie tracker, you would notice that by the 5th class you take, it’s easier and your calorie expenditure is less. This is because your body has gotten stronger and your muscles learn how to perform the same task with less energy expended. If you have been doing the same workout, and you have hit a plateau, it’s time to change it up! Try increasing your weights in the gym, incorporating some high intensity interval training, join a new class or take up a new sport. Introduce a new stress to the body that it does not recognize and be consistent with it until the scale has moved.
There you have it my friends. Plateaus are a common bump on the road towards your goal weight, but you don't need to let them defeat you!