BURN THE FAT, BUILD THE MUSCLE
We have all been there, myself included. We work really hard for a few weeks to shed some fat, but can’t seem to get that last 5lbs off. In fact, that last 5lbs seems to be harder than the first 10-15lbs. It happens to everyone; but the way you deal with it is going to dictate whether or not you continue losing fat or you stall and start climbing back up the scale again. Here are my top tips for breaking through a fat loss plateau.
What is a Plateau?
A plateau? “An area of relatively flat ground.” Wait, that is not the kind of plateau I am talking about. I am talking about the plateau you reach after a period of progression..where you basically stop in your tracks for a few weeks and get crazy frustrated. Sometimes we can realize it, and sometimes we don’t. The important thing is that we realize it is happening, wait a few weeks to see if progression start up again, and then reassess our approach. A plateau is usually nothing you are doing wrong, but rather your body either becoming adapted to your approach, or fighting against you.
Remember, you cannot ONLY use a scale to measure fat loss. There are way to many factors that go into total body weight from day to day. Go back and read my blog about tracking progress effectively.
a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.
Why Does Fat Loss Stall?
Because like anything else, you get used to it. It’s like practicing a skill. You do it over and over again everyday and eventually, you get really good at it. And sometimes, when you get really good at something and do it everyday for months, you get bored with it and try something new.
The same goes for your body. You do the same thing day after day and eventually, your body adapts. Your metabolism/system does NOT want to be under stress. It is going to work against you as much as it can because it prefers to be in a state of homeostasis rather than a changing state. This is called metabolic adaptation.
This is why you need to constantly be changing your approach up.
Now, this does not mean you will continue to lose weight in a linear fashion down until all of a sudden you hit a plateau and need to change something. Fat loss is a roller coaster. It is going to go up and down and up and down, usually still in the downward fashion, but nonetheless it is never a straight line down.
Plateaus can happen at different times, and for different reasons. Are you overestimating calories in and underestimating calories out? Are you tracking your food? Are you eating a balanced diet? Are you getting enough rest? Are you stressed out? How long have you been in a deficit? What do your hormones look like? Are you mistaking slow progress for no progress? These are all factors in fat loss plateaus, so let’s talk about a few ways to overcome these.
How To Break Through a Plateau
• Diet Break
We can do A LOT of damage to our body, metabolism and hormones by staying in a caloric deficit for too long. This means you are eating faaaaar less than your expenditure in energy throughout the day. Most people have a really hard time wrapping their heads around this…you cannot just cut calories more and more and assume you will see results. Your body needs FUEL, but it also needs the perfect amount of fuel…not too much, and not too little. So if you have been in a deficit for 2-3 months and have hit a plateau, try taking a week off. No food tracking or stressing, just eat when you’re hungry and then start back up again in a week. You can also just try taking 1 day off, and really refueling your body. When you give yourself a bunch of energy at once, sometimes your body will thank you and go into overdrive after using those calories, to burn more in a sense. Sometimes people actually find themselves LOSING more weight during this time because your body can rest and recover. This also does NOT mean adding crazy amounts of exercise. Keep that variable the same, eat food when you’re hungry and give yourself a break!
• Rest and Relax
What is your stress level like? What about your activity level? Activity IS in fact a stressor on the body. It can be good, when done to give you energy or it can be bad, when done in an overworking matter. Again, find that balance. Make sure you listen to your body and take a day off when you need it. Ideally, you should take at least 1 day off from exercise/week to let your body calm itself down. If you are also stressed in your daily life, that too can take a toll on fat loss. A few other things under the recovery umbrella are drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. These are both incredibly important at leveling out stress and keeping the body functioning at full capacity. So if you find yourself at a plateau, ask yourself when the last time you really rested and relaxed….got a massage? Took a nap? Went for a long, easy walk? Whatever helps you settle down and feel refreshed…do that.
• Re-calculate calories/macros
Your plateau may be a result of your calorie intake. As you begin exercising, your body starts to increase its threshold. Which means the exercise you did at the beginning of your journey might not be as effective, or difficult, as it is now. This also means that you are building lean muscle tissue, and therefore burning more calories at rest. So if we are working harder and burning more, our BMR (basal metabolic rate; calories burned by normal body functions) is going to increase. Which means we need MORE food to fuel our day to day activities. So re-calculate your calories/macros. You might be eating too little now, or you could still be eating too much. You always want to try to make little tweaks and adjustments to your intake because you again, become adapted to what you are doing. And THAT causes the plateau.
• Change your exercise routine: more weights? More intensity? Less intensity?
Let’s look at your exercise routine now. Are you doing the same thing day after day, hoping for the same results. Because we all know a famous quote by Tony Robbins that says something about that. I would make sure you are doing a mixture of everything; some steady state cardio, resistance training, high intensity interval training etc. It is important to keep the body guessing and introducing new stressers. So increasing those weights, pushing a little harder, moving a little faster! You also don’t want to go overboard. So if you are doing 60-90 minutes of cardio a day, my guess is that you are over-stressing your body and now have some hormone imbalances. So be careful, more is not always better. You want to workout smarter, no longer!
• Get all hormone/blood levels checked to be sure
And the last variable i would look to is your internal health. Get your blood and hormones tested to make sure there is not some other underlying issue going on. Things like your thyroid, adrenals, testosterone, cortisol, resting glucose etc. And notice how this is not the FIRST thing you go to. Whenever we stall in fat loss we always assume there is someone, or something to blame. So look at your variables you can control first. And if you run out of options and are still stalling, or retreating, then i would get your levels tested. I have dealt with this first hand. I overstressed my body and put myself in a deficit for too long, and did some damage to my hormones. At that point it takes A LOT of rest, recovery and balancing to get everything back to where it should be. And trust me, it is not fun. So be smart with your training and diet, because otherwise it causes you to take a lot more time off than ideal.
What NOT to do When You Plateau
Do not start googling a bunch of stuff and take advice from just anyone. There are a lot of online forums out there that will give you a whole load of crap when it comes to plateauing. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for trying different approaches, but you do not need to take extreme measures. One thing to ALWAYS remember, never drop your calories below 1,200kcal (females) or 1,800kcal (males). This can do some serious damage to your metabolism and it will take you months/years to regain. I would also recommend NOT doing the following:
— Cutting all carbs
— Fasting for long periods
— Give up
— Increase your exercise/cardio to extreme amounts
— Increase zero-calorie, fat-free, calorie free foods
— Increase intake of caffeine (this burns out your hormones even more)
— Stress out and freak out
I have been at the plateau point, I think most people have. But it is important not to let it define your success. Re-evaluate your approach and try again. You should NEVER assume you are a failure and give up….plateaus/hard times are what make us stronger and teach us about ourselves. If you want to hear more about my journey through plateaus, over-stressing, hormone imbalances, and digestive issues you can head to my instagram (@_endorphitness) and find my 7 day story or you can contact me! I am always happy to share my story and give as much advice/feedback to you all as I can!
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