So your weight loss has stalled…and you have some questions.
Did you do something wrong?
Are you a failure?
Does this mean the diet isn’t working?
Do you have to reverse out of the diet and maintain before trying again?
Does this mean my metabolism has adapted?
In MOST cases, the answer is NO! The first two is a definite no. The last three questions could be a “yes” but if you’ve been dieting less than 8-12 weeks, then it’s likely a “no”.
Why did your weight loss stall?
You were doing so great. You were losing 1-2% of your bodyweight per week, not too fast, not too slow. Cravings were at bay. Your hunger response was there, but not taking over. You were sleeping and recovering just right.
Then it all stopped…what the hell happened?
Your body simply adjusted!
When you started your cut, you created a deficit. This let your body burn more calories than you were feeding it. When you eat in a deficit, your body then has to resort to other sources for fuel: your fat stores. Your body will rely on stored fat as energy when food isn’t enough. This is the principle for how and why you lose weight when eating in a deficit.
But your body is smarter than you give it credit for. It likes homeostasis…basically a long word for “normalcy”. It doesn’t like change and it doesn’t like discomfort because your body’s #1 priority is survival. YOU may want to lose weight, but it does NOT because your weight loss could potentially be an indication of danger.
So as you start to eat in a deficit and lose weight and burn through your stores of saved up energy, your body will start downregulating by slowing down non-essential bodily processes which will then lower your daily expenditure. It will slow down until it reaches your deficit intake…in which case you’re no longer in a deficit and now have a new “maintenance”. Your body is now burning the food you’re eating and no longer needs to go to fat stores…so weight loss stalls.
Are you done dieting then?
No, not necessarily. If you’ve been dieting for less than 12 weeks, then you’re likely okay. All you need to do is apply one of the plateau-breaking strategies below to create a new deficit and trick your body back into burning fat.
As you’ve been dieting, you should be tracking more than just your weight, measurements, or progress pictures. You NEED to be tracking and monitoring your biofeedback. I have my clients report their energy in and out of the gym, recovery, mood, stress, sleep quantity AND quality, sex drive, hunger AND cravings. They do this weekly because these give me a way better idea of their health than a number on the scale. These factors will also help tell you when it’s time to end a cut.
Generally, you can diet for 8-12 weeks (2-3 months). Some people may see a tank in their biofeedback before 8 weeks is up. If that’s the case, they will either implement a diet break (basically a long refeed to reset hormone levels and metabolism) or reverse out of the cut to maintenance. Some may be able to extend past 12 weeks, in which case you would monitor your biofeedback to make sure you’re staying healthy. If you’re dieting in a linear fashion (by dropping calories periodically), then I would never take it past 12 weeks because by the time you see a tank in biofeedback, it may be too late. Other alternatives to cutting (Matador diet) are the cases where you can extend past 12 weeks, all while monitoring biofeedback.
If you’ve been dieting for less than 12 weeks AND your biofeedback is still in check, then you’re a-okay to keep going!
If you’re at your 12-week mark and/or your biofeedback has tanked, then apply here for coaching with me so I can help bring you out of the deficit and set you up for a more successful and sustainable cut in the future!
Below are some of my favorite plateau breaking strategies. Only try one at a time and give them at least 2-3 weeks to show progress before trying another. Remember, in a diet we’re trying to find the most minimal effective dose to see progress. Why? Because it gives you wiggle room. That’s why to start a cut, you start simply with a cut in calories with 1-2 refeeds thrown in there. This gives you room to add cardio, remove refeeds, try diet breaks, remove more food, etc. If you did it all at once, then you’d have no where to go when your body inevitably adapts and your weight loss plateaus.
One of the easiest ways to create a deficit is implement additional cardio in your week. Hopefully, your training is majority weight training, so you can add in some cardio. There’s two types of cardio you want to add: high-intensity cardio and low-intensity cardio. Start first with low-intensity steady state cardio (or LISS) by adding 30-45 minutes of walking or light biking, rowing, or elliptical. This will increase daily expenditure while also promoting recovery. The next type of cardio you could add in is HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Always make this a finisher to your weight training session. Here you go 110% effort for only 10-15s followed by 60-90s of rest or 25% effort. Rinse and repeat 5x.
IF YOU ALREADY TRAIN CARDIO 3+ DAYS/WEEK, DON’T DO THIS STEP AND MOVE TO THE NEXT OPTION. Cardio creates stress, which increases cortisol, which can make weight loss stop or actually cause weight gain. If you’re already doing 3 or more days of cardio, this option is NOT for you.
2. Change refeeds
You should have start with 1-2 refeeds (50-100g extra carb days). This helps prevent your metabolism from adapting and protects your hormones. If you’re on a 2-day refeed plan, drop to 1. If you’re on a 1-day refeed plan, remove it. If you never started with a refeed, play around with your macros to still go into a deficit but also add in a day of a refeed. If you’re eating 175g carbs, then lower to 135-150g for 6 days followed by a 1-day refeed at 200g.
3. Increase protein and veggies
If hunger and cravings are high, protein will help keep metabolism high while also helping fight off hunger and cravings. Protein takes longest to digest compared to fats and carbs. It also burns the most fuel digesting. Eating 15-20g more protein (while lowering carbs/fats to make up for the difference) will help keep expenditure as high as possible and keep you full!
Veggies will help you eat a ton of volume without the calories. Up your veggie intake by 2-3 servings.
4. Diet break
If you’re tanking and need a break but not ready to come out of that diet just yet, then go on a diet break. This is a controlled break where you set protein and calorie goals at or close to maintenance and spend at least a week here. This isn’t a “cheat” week. It’s a programmed break that let’s you relax the reins just a bit. This will help you physically AND mentally push through the rest of your cut. You may gain a little bit of weight during this week. Don’t worry, it’s water retention and will come right back off once you dive back into the cut.
Your diet should regularly include diet breaks. If it doesn’t, then apply here for coaching that does.
5. Change approach
If you’re trying a linear approach, then change it up. Change macros to a 5:2 split (5 days in a deficit, 2 at maintenance) or a 10:3 split (10 days in a bigger deficit, 3 days at maintenance). You could switch to a Matador approach (2 weeks at 25-35% deficit, followed by 2 weeks at maintenance). Be fluid and adaptable. If something isn’t working and you’ve given it ample time to work, then throw it out the window and try something else.
6. Lower intake
This is the LAST resort. You may just need to go further in a deficit. This is why we start with as small of a deficit as possible. Everyone responds differently in a cut. I’m one of those people that needs to be in a pretty big deficit to get results. I can’t go into a 300 cal deficit and get results. Some can. When I cut, I start small then build every couple of weeks. Make sure if you are cutting your intake, you’re programming in refeeds and diet breaks to avoid adaptation, burnout, and fatigue.
There you have it. The top 6 ways to break your weight-loss plateau. Remember, we’re all different. What may work for you may not work for me. Try one at a time and give it AT LEAST 2 weeks to work its magic.
Overwhelmed? That’s alright…I was too when I started. If you’re overwhelmed, consider working with an experienced coach who will take you through the process AND teach you these things along the way. Apply here if this is something YOU want.