How To Break Fat Loss Plateaus
When it comes to fat loss we have been lead to believe it is a straight line towards your ideal body. Just change how you eat, sleep and exercise to look like the cover model, right ?
Changing how you eat,sleep and exercise will absolutely lead to initial fat loss, but adjustments will need to be made.
At some point fat loss will stall, and what worked previously will no longer work. At this point it is time to make changes, not abandon ship altogether. Fat loss is a zig zag for most, not a straight line.
In response to stalls in fat loss many people begin to feel frustration and desperation. When you feel this way it is easy to look at common advice to just diet harder and exercise more.
Because a moderate amount of something works well doesn’t mean that more is better, this can apply to exercise and caloric deficits as well.
When it comes to reducing food intake the body is intelligent, and attempts to keep energy balanced. Less calories in means less calories out.
This translates into a slowing of the metabolism, and less fat being burned. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and running to the next diet, we are going to tinker in the margins and make some smart modifications.
Here are some areas I have people get honest about where they are currently are:
Eating too few or too many calories
Not getting adequate protein intake
The amount of stress in your life (sleep, calories and exercise can all be stressors)
The amount of sleep you are getting consistently (8-9 hours, black room)
Lifting heavy and sprinting a few times a week
Frustration with fat loss and scale obsession
Track your food intake for a few days and double check your numbers
Daily non training activity (walking,hiking, mobility, yoga)
Stress reduction practice
After looking the above areas over, and being honest about where you are at if there is one you are not currently doing work on that before adopting the habits later in the post. The above areas will need to be addressed before moving forward.
For those who have a check mark next to each area above I am going to give some basic recommendations on where to start to help you get back on the fat loss train.
I do not know what will work for you you individually so you will have to tinker and see what fits, and what doesn’t. I am here to offer the ideas and what has worked for my clients.
Do not try to adopt all these habits at once, that is going to be another added stress. Pick a few that seem like they fit and work on them until fat loss picks up again.
Zig Zag Calories:I know it seems counterintuitive to increase the calories, but when you have been in a caloric deficit for a long period of time the body adapts to burn fewer calories, because less are coming in.
Start increasing your calories by 100 the first week. Next Week bump up the calories by another 50-150 calories making sure that you're not gaining significant weight.
You should begin to progressively lower calories again after 8-12 weeks of more calories, or if fat loss begins again.
Protein Priority: With the increased activity and training your need for protein will also increase. Most people do well in the one gram per pound of bodyweight.
A simple action step is to have 1-2 palm sized portions of protein at each meal. An added benefit is that protein is a high satiety food keeping you feeling fuller for longer.
Protein also requires more energy for the breakdown and absorption than fats and carbohydrates, this is known as the thermic effect.
Chew Your Calories: Look at what you are putting in your coffee, alcoholic drinks per week or the green smoothie you are drinking three times a week.
Calories that we drink add up very quickly without us realizing it. This includes the green juices from health food stores, look at the calories, sugar and carbs it contain. When anyone is looking to reduce body fat or break a plateau I have them chew all their calories. Simple and easy!
Carbs post workout: I’m not talking about the doughnut and ice cream pints you see on instagram. A few potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro or a bowl of fruit post workout will help with recovery , but also by lowering cortisol you will be able to burn a little more body fat.
I would encourage someone to increase post workout carbs by 25-30 grams until you notice progress again. Everyone has a different tolerance to carbohydrates and a great guide to help is Mark’s Daily Apple carb curve.
Take A Deload Week: Instead of being completely inactive for this deload week I like to see folks walking 45-60 minutes a day or going for a few hikes.
Get outside, play and have fun! Dedicate 15-20 minutes to mobility and restoration. This would be a time to address any nagging injuries or mobility issues. Take the dog for an extra walk every day or decide you are finally going to learn slack lining.
Relax : Stress is a true killer of both building muscle and losing fat. Start by dedicating 5-10 minutes to some form of stress reduction. This could be a morning walk, yoga, or meditating.
There is a great guided meditation app for the iphone named Head Space that takes about 10 minutes and is perfect for beginners.
Make Sleep A Priority: 8-9 hours in a pitch black and mildly cold room. Guard it religiously and develop a routine around it. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep read my post on ways to improve your sleep.
Avoid Chronic Cardio: I’m not talking about a few short 20-30 minute recovery runs, but the folks who slog away on the treadmill for 60+ minutes in an attempt to burn more calories.
While you will burn calories you are also pumping out the stress hormone cortisol which causes fluid retention and inflammation.
This long distance running will also dramatically increase appetite, especially for those denser carbs that you burn running.
Sprints: Once you have returned from your deload week begin incorporating 1-2 sprint sessions per week. These are ideally done on the same day as a weight training session.
You can hit a track, hill, rower, exercise bike or prowler for these sprint sessions. They should be 30 seconds of all out max effort combined with active rest for about one minute. Start with 5-7 rounds of sprints per session and increase as you adapt.
Consider Intermittent Fasting: Intermittent fasting (IF) does not work well for everyone, however there many folks that it seems to kick start their fat loss.
IF is purposely engaging in periods where no calories are consumed and eating your food within a certain time frame. It can be especially helpful for those who are stuck in a fat loss plateau.
There are a number of methods to choose from but most include not eating for a period of 16-24 hours. This time includes when you are asleep.
Typically people stop eating after dinner around 8pm and go to sleep.When you wake instead of eating breakfast have coffee or tea and eat for the first meal of the day at lunch.
This would be the normal 16-18 hour fast. Other folks go a full 24 hours without eating, this could be a 2pm Tuesday to 2pm Wednesday fast that allows you to fast for 24 hours, but still eat every day
The above tips are a great start for anyone who has a good start on fat loss but it has since hit a wall with fat loss.
Remember that the common idea that you are not working hard enough and need to restrict calories further and exercise more, not only doesn’t work but can wreck your metabolism as well.
By slowing down the metabolism it will make breaking your next fat loss plateau even more difficult.
Instead choose to tinker in the margins and make sure your body is nourished and healthy enough to begin losing fat again.
Once someone approaches their ideal body composition it will require a lot more work and exact science to hit certain marks.
Before you get too down on yourself for not being as lean as you want ask if you have been putting in the work to get there ?
If not, realize that fat loss is not always easy and like anything worth while take consistency and dedication. To achieve sustainable fat loss you need to adopt sustainable habits to get you there.