Weight loss isn’t easy to achieve, and if you are undertaking that journey, it may feel as though you’re fighting against your body’s every natural instinct. Weight loss plateaus often occur despite rigorously following an improved eating plan. That may not inspire much motivation, but there is an explanation for this phenomenon, and it can be counteracted fairly easily. It’s all related to our metabolism and the way in which our energy-storing systems work to help us survive.
The Role of the Metabolism
The role of our metabolism is to regulate energy expenditure and prevent deficits, ensuring there is enough to go around and keep the most important functions “funded” with energy. A deficit is achieved when incoming calories are fewer than outgoing calories, resulting in weight loss. This can be achieved by manipulating the intensity or amount of exercise you do, or by decreasing the number of calories you consume per day. In order to maintain balance (homeostasis), our metabolism will adapt our energy expenditure to match the number of calories we consume. That means, we have enough energy to perform our essential functions. It’s useful for survival, but not if you’re trying to reduce your body weight.
How the Weight Loss Plateau Occurs
Your body’s innate ability to adapt is a trait that enables your survival. However, it also means that when you reduce your daily calories from (as an example) 2000 down to 1700 to give you a deficit of 300, you’re conditioning your body to make 1700 your new set point. What is a set point? It is the point at which your body sets its daily expenditure budget – meaning, it won’t burn more than its set point.
If your body requires 2000 calories to remain as is, based on your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and you drop them down to 1700, you have created a slight calorie deficit in order for you to lose fat. However, over time, whether it be three months, six months a year etc., your body adapts to the calories you are giving it by slowing down to match it. Your energy expenditure will decrease and your metabolism will slow so you are only burning 1700 calories per day. This is where the weight loss plateau occurs, as that deficit of 1700 calories is no longer a deficit because your body has adapted by becoming more efficient as its way of conserving energy.
What tends to happen here is that people assume that in order to keep losing weight they need to drop their calories further and further. Though every time you drop, your body adapts. So the danger here is that people drop to extremely low calories, sometimes below 1200 per day, and this is where you can start running into problems such as changes in menstrual cycles, feeling tired and lethargic, increased risk of injury, hungry, moody, your heart rate will decrease, and you may start to feel colder. You’ll also find that you’ll pile on weight much faster than you previously did. These symptoms probably sound familiar to the vast majority of adults who have battled with their weight in the past. This phenomenon also results in a lack of motivation, people who are constantly tired and seem to gain weight faster than they lose it feel more inclined to give up.
How Can you Achieve your Goal Weight and Maintain it?
It is absolutely possible to achieve your goal weight and maintain it without feeling hungry and tired. There’s no need to suffer your way to success! Through experience and observation, we have seen the most successful journeys being those that are gradual and embrace long term results rather than overnight transformations. It is often said that few people understand how good the human body was designed to feel. These are positive steps to take which will help you to avoid that weight loss plateau when you start on your new eating regimen;
- Do restrictions gradually – try to change your “set point” in stages so this adaptation is not so severe. As your body adapts slowly, there’s less metabolic halting, which will help to avoid weight regain.
- “Refeed” the body so you are not always in a constant deficit. That could mean having “on” cycles and “off” cycles. An “on” cycle might include more daily calories alongside more rigorous weight training, training your body to utilise the energy you consume towards building lean muscle. This will also increase the number of calories you burn in a day while you are resting. An “off” cycle might contain fewer calories and more cardio – but it is important to seek help in building the correct cycle for your body and your goals. The idea here is to prevent an eating pattern your body can get used to, which leads to that weight loss plateau.
- Realise that a deficit does not always mean going DOWN. Your BMR can both increase and decrease, and this is where slowly building up your calories can be more beneficial in the long run to prevent weight regain when you drop them to a deficit.
- Prevent hunger by eating quality calories. One small portion of fat might equal the same nutrient density as a massive portion of lean protein. That means, you can technically eat more food, feeling fuller and more energetic than you would normally. Larger portions of nutritious foods that are tasty will leave you more satisfied while you are still at a slight calorie deficit. However, the quality of the calories means your body is able to utilise it more effectively. For example, a candy bar contains no vitamins, minerals, or any useful compounds, meaning it’s more likely to be stored than a fruit which contains the same caloric value but is filled with enzymes that help to repair tissue and fuel essential functions, meaning it’s more likely to be “burned”.
Preventing Weight Loss Plateaus and Achieving Great Health
Achieving weight loss should not be painful, tiring, or stressful. At the start, it is usually a challenge to change your mindset and reprogram what you consider to be good food choices and wise fitness moves. It is also a process of adaptation for your tastebuds to adjust to new flavours and lowered fat levels.
The self-care that goes into a physical transformation needs to be exactly that, care. There’s no pushing, forcing, or starving necessary. Once you have become habituated to your new mindset, you can start to listen to your body and respect days when your body would truly value rest rather than exertion, or larger intake of nutritious calories on a particular day. It is all about learning to identify your body’s needs and meeting them. At that point, you will not only achieve your goal weight and maintain it, but you will be energetic and radiant, too.
If you would like more guidance around preventing weight loss plateau, contact our studio today.