Progress… At first it was continuous. Your weight was dropping rapidly when you first started dieting and exercising and it was easy! Your motivation was through the roof because you continuously saw that progress and you had a reason to get to the gym regularly and avoid junk food for the most part.
And then…all of a sudden…progress stops.
You tell yourself, “oh, I’m just adding muscle. The scale is a liar. I should just throw it away because it makes me feel bad about myself.” Seriously, we’ve all been there. But you know, just like circumference measurements, progress photos, and the numerous types of body fat testers out there, the scale can be a useful tool. It tells us part of the picture. And if you know you have some fat to lose, you want to see that number drop, at least a little!
So why is it that your progress has stalled? Why have you plateaued? Well, there’s many reasons why this could be happening. It’s important to remember that this is NORMAL. And for the majority of people, this doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your body. Quite the opposite actually. Our bodies are masters at adaptation. They adapt to whatever you throw at them. Our bodies also don’t like to lose fat. They want to store it for times of possible cold and starvation and they’ll do just about anything to avoid losing it. Pretty smart, huh? But that’s not in line with our desire to look hot in a bikini…
I really don’t want to go into the technical and scientific side of things. I’d rather just give you some possible solutions to the problem, as I’m sure that’s also what you’d prefer to read about. So let’s do some troubleshooting…
- You’re eating healthfully, but you don’t know HOW MUCH you’re eating.
Gradually swapping out most junk and processed foods for healthier and more whole foods is generally step one on your journey to a healthier you. But it’s still possible to overeat those whole foods or even add too many additional calories with condiments, sauces, oils and/or butter. Don’t even get me started on natural peanut butter… Just because it’s “natural” and it’s a “healthy fat” doesn’t mean it’s not packed with calories. Fruit is also a very healthy food and should be included in your diet, but it too can have a lot of calories.
Solution: find a way to track, weigh, or measure how much food you’re eating and keep an eye on your overall calorie intake. You may find that you’re easily eating much closer to your maintenance calorie level than you thought. You don’t have to use a food scale (although, it’s my preferred method as it’s more accurate). You can also use measuring cups/spoons, or gauge the amount of food by comparing it to your hand. Just find an accurate system that you can easily stick to and gives you results.
- “Bites, Licks, and Tastes.”
So maybe you are tracking your food intake somehow. You’re weighing… You’re using measuring cups… You’re counting calories… But did you count that handful of grapes you ate while cooking dinner? Did you consider those 5 french fries you stole from your kid’s lunch? What about the leftover peanut butter that you licked off the spoon earlier? I hate to break it to you, but these count! They may seem innocent and minuscule at the time, but over a course of a week they can certainly add up and kick you out of your fat loss deficit (or at least slow down fat loss so much that you can hardly tell you’re losing anything.) What’s even more frustrating is that often these “BLTs” increase as we diet because, well….we’re freaking hungry!
Solution: Unfortunately, there isn’t one solution to this little problem. But here are some ideas for you:
-You can simply become more conscious and mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth. I know… Easier said than done. This is a practice.
-Eat more satisfying meals throughout the day. For example: Load up on those leafy greens at lunch. Include some starchy carbs in your diet. Or even build snacks into your diet that fit within your calorie allotment, but also tend to “take the edge off” for you. This may require some trial and error.
- NEAT Reduction
Okay, maybe your diet is on point, buuuut you’re kind of feeling a little tired from the lack of calories. (This is to be expected, by the way.) Gradually and unknowingly you start to spend a little more time sitting, doing fewer chores, and parking a little bit closer to the store. These normal day-to-day activities are crucial to longterm fat loss and lead to a little phenomenon referred to as NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. While people tend to think that their workouts are key to their weight loss (and yes, they’re still important), you actually burn MORE calories throughout the day through NEAT. Consider this: maybe you exercise for about an hour a few times a week… There’s a whooooole lot more hours during the week that you’re not actually “exercising,” but your body is still using energy as it simply operates and to allows you to go about your day.
Solution: Remain conscious of your overall activity through the day. It might be helpful to invest in a Fitbit or pedometer to make sure that you’re making an effort to maintain movement throughout the day.
- Still Doing the Same Ol’ Same Ol’?
Now I’m a big fan of choosing a program and sticking to it, but as you progress you will need to make some tiny changes to continue to see progress. This could simply mean increasing your intensity by lifting heavier weights, reducing rest times, running faster, or whatever. You could also add in a bit more cardio (A BIT!!!) or slightly reduce your calories. Overall, something needs to change. Like Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”And trust me, dieting the same way and training the same way forever without seeing any results WILL drive you insane! So find a way to change things up to get that fat dropping again!
Solution: Again, just change things up a bit. Don’t overhaul your whole training program or diet. Just make some tweaks (like those listed above) and see if that gets things moving again!
- Maybe you need a break?
This may sound counterintuitive, but if you’ve been dieting for 3-4 months and progress has stalled or slowed (again, NORMAL!), maybe it’s time you give your mind and body a break from dieting. This doesn’t mean to go back to your old ways of eating whatever and not exercising. It just means taking some time off to reset your body so that when you do get back to dieting, your body responds more like it once did when the weight was dropping consistently.
Solution: After 3-4 months of dieting, it’s always a good idea to take a diet break. To do this, you slowwwly raise your calories back up closer to your maintenance calorie intake. Stay there for a month or so (longer if you’ve been dieting for a really long time…). This will give your metabolism a little boost and give your mind a bit of a break from dieting, because let’s be real, dieting can be a bit stressful even when you’re going about it pretty moderately. During this time you can expect your energy and strength levels to increase, your sleep will improve, and some dieters’ moodiness to dissipate. Not bad, huh?
I hope these tips were helpful for you. Plateaus are pretty much guaranteed in fat loss. This is why we don’t start off dieting at 1200 calories and doing an hour of cardio 6-7 days a week. Instead, we incrementally make changes as progress slows. I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to diet on as many calories as possible while doing as little cardio as necessary while losing fat!