How to Break Through Your Weight Loss Plateau and Jumpstart Your Results

Published on August 9th 2017
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How to Break Through Your Weight Loss Plateau

We’ve all been there. You started off strong with consistent weight loss but now the numbers on your scale won’t budge. It seems like no matter what you do, your weight loss efforts continue to be fruitless. While weight fluctuations are totally normal, continuous stalled progress can leave you feeling frustrated and defeated. You might even be tempted to throw in the towel altogether. But hang in there. You might find yourself in this predicament for many different reasons. Let’s review how to break through your weight loss plateau and jumpstart your results.

Problem: You Went Low Carb

Many believe that forcing your body into ketosis by eating a diet very low in carbohydrates (usually considered less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day) will expedite fat loss. I won’t get into the science, pros, or cons, behind the “Keto Diet” here, but don’t worry it is on the top of my blog “to do” list. Back to low carb and weight plateaus. So yes, your initial five to ten pounds will “fall off”. However, after that five to ten pounds, it is not uncommon for the weight loss to stop. Unbeknownst to most low-carbers is that while they will initially experience rapid weight loss, very little of that weight is actually fat. The pounds that they are losing are due to the body utilizing glycogen storage for fuel in the absence of dietary carbohydrates. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates that reside in the liver and muscle. The human body stores approximately 500 grams of glycogen in the muscle and liver and each gram of glycogen holds about three grams of water. This means that the first five pounds of weight loss you see is not fat melting off your body but a reflection of fluid status. Larger people can see up to ten pounds of weight loss solely from glycogen depletion and diuresis. Not only is this not the type of weight loss you were looking for, but you can expect to see those numbers on the scale fly right back up once you are no longer depriving your body of carbohydrates.

Solution: Eat a Balanced Diet at a Caloric Deficit

Trade in your low carb diet for a diet of primarily whole foods, containing adequate carbohydrates, protein, and fat. While many people are very successful on low carbohydrate diets (again, this is a topic that will be discussed in a future article) the success comes primarily from the caloric deficit that is associated with the carbohydrate restriction. Your body functions the best with adequate amounts of all three macronutrients as it supports muscle mass and hormonal regulation while preventing nutrient deficiencies. Dial your calories back to 250-500 kilocalories per day under your maintenance while including physical activity most days of the week to promote sustainable weight loss.

Problem: You’re Eating too Much

If you have been following a well balanced, calorie restrictive diet for some time you might notice that your weight loss has slowed or even stalled out completely. There are many reasons for why this might happen. For starters, whenever you lose weight a portion of that weight is lean body mass (muscle). When your muscle mass has decreased your body requires less energy, (AKA: Calories). Research has shown that your resting metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns at rest) can decrease as much as 15% in as little as two weeks of weight loss. Not only does your body require fewer calories in general but because you are smaller your body also utilizes fewer calories when you exercise.

Solution: Shake Up Your Nutrition and Fitness Plan

Increase your metabolic rate and accelerate your fat loss by picking up a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell and adding weight training into your exercise regimen. Many women are afraid to lift weights because they do not want to get “bulky”. In reality, women do not have enough testosterone to significantly increase muscle size. Lifting weights will not make women bulky but it will improve fat loss potential by maintaining and improving metabolically active muscle mass.

If weight training is already part of your fitness routine, it is time to look at what and how much you are eating. Keeping a food diary for a few days will give you the information you need to dial in your nutrition. Before you decrease your calories, ensure that you are eating enough of all three macronutrients from primarily whole food sources. The general goal is to eat at least 40% of your calories from carbohydrates (up to 65% if you are very active), 20-30% protein and 25-30% fat. While all three macronutrients are important it is specifically important that your protein intake is optimized to support muscle mass maintenance and improve satiety.
Once your nutrition quality is addressed, make sure that you are in a large enough caloric deficit between diet and exercise to support 0.5-1 lb weight loss per week (~250-500 kilocalories per day).

Problem: You’re Not Sleeping Well

You’re eating right, you’re putting in the time at the gym but you are still not seeing results. If you are not logging at least 7 hours of sleep per night you may be suffering from chronic sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep can put a severe kibosh on your weight loss efforts as it greatly alters hormonal activity that impairs glucose metabolism and increases appetite. The research shows that as little as one night of poor sleep can significantly increase the level of the “hunger hormone”, ghrelin, in your body. Cortisol, the well-known stress hormone, is also increased during periods of poor sleep. Higher levels of cortisol increase blood sugar by pulling from protein stores. At the same time, lack of sleep suppresses insulin sensitivity (the hormone that moves sugar from the blood into storage). Very long story short, this process makes your cells think they are starving which translates to you as ravenous hunger. Cortisol has also been shown to interact with the hypothalamus of the brain which leads to increased appetite and food cravings. As we also learned in my last post, Calories in Versus Calories Out (https://www.resultsdietetics.com/calories-in-versus-calories-out/) thryoid function is also supressed as a results of chronic cortisol production which can greatly impact your weight loss goals. For many people, the route of their inadequate slumber is from physical and environmental stressors. This means, a vicious cycle of cortisol production and impeded weight loss.

Solution: Get at Least Seven Hours of Sleep Each Night

There are many reasons your sleep quality or quantity may be suffering. Many struggle with stress or time management which will affect adequate sleep. While the source of poor sleep varies, here are a few tips to try to get you back on the right track. 1. Take a look at your caffeine intake. If you are drinking coffee throughout the day to compensate for the lack of sleep from last night, you are just perpetuating the cycle of sleeplessness. One sleepy day of less caffeine might be what it takes to get you a good night’s rest. 2. Give yourself a bedtime and stick to it. Just like your work and gym schedule, making an “appointment” for your sleep will make you accountable to getting some shut eye. 3. Shut down all electronics and make sure your bedroom is dark. The light from electronics has been shown to impede sleep.

If you have identified stress as a primary reason for your poor sleep, try to calm your anxieties using one (or more) of the following strategies. 1. Practice meditation before you go to sleep to calm your thoughts and clear your head 2. Write down all of your thoughts and worries that are keeping you up at night before trying to sleep 3. Use lavender essential oil in a scent diffuser to calm your nerves.

One Final Thought

While this article focuses on weight plateaus, keep in mind that the scale is not the end all be all in fat loss monitoring. Muscle takes up less space on your body but weighs more than fat. Therefore, the scale can only be a useful tool if used alongside other indicators of progress such as body measurements and progress photos. Periodically taking body measurements with a tape measure will provide you with information on how your body composition is changing; which needless to say, is much more telling of your progress than the numbers on the scale. If you would like a personalized plan and expert coaching visit https://www.resultsdietetics.com/services/ to book an appointment today!

Resources: Fernández-Elías, V. E., Ortega, J. F., Nelson, R. K., & Mora-Rodriguez, R. (2015, September). Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise in the heat in humans. Retrieved July 05, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2591163 http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/56/1/292S.abstract https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3248697/ http://advances.nutrition.org/content/6/3/302S.full https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3225890/ http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00662.x/full http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1087079207000202 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212877816301934 https://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v38/n3/abs/ijo2013114a.html