5 reasons why your fat loss is stalling – weight loss plateau – and how to deal with it
What to do if there is a standstill when losing weight? Did you reach a weight loss plateau?
Cart stuck? Sooner or later, this happens to everyone who stays tuned.
Maybe you hit a plateau while losing weight. Or maybe you just had a bad week where you didn’t hit your diet or exercise goals.
Sometimes it seems bewitched.
Few know that a plateau is not the exception but the rule. You can break any plateau.
The worst thing that could happen to you is to give up now. The cause is usually different than you think. That’s why you should know them.
Are you ready to make progress again? Let’s go!
What is a weight loss plateau?
As long as you plan your diet and training properly and stick with it, you’ll make progress – right?
Sounds logical, I know. But it’s not true.
Your body has its own agenda.
It’s fascinating how quickly you make visible progress when you set the right focus and have training and nutrition under control.
Evolution has given us a goal:
Your body strives for stability.
When external factors change, your body adapts.
This ability to always be optimally prepared for the world was vital for prehistoric man.
For us, this means:
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- You build muscle with the right strength training and a balanced diet (with a slight increase in calories). And so on until you have reached the next state of equilibrium.
- You lose fat when you go into an energy deficit, eat well, and exercise properly. And so on until you have reached the next state of equilibrium.
But your progress will diminish over time as you get closer to the following equilibrium state. Even if you don’t change anything according to the “Keep Doing What Works” principle.
Every training and nutrition plan, no matter how good, will sooner or later lead you to a plateau if you stick to it.
A plateau is, therefore, neither something unusual nor something bad.
At what point do we actually start talking about a plateau? What if nothing changes on the scale overnight? Not at all.
Here is my definition:
You’ve reached a plateau if you don’t make any measurable progress for at least two weeks.
Even when you’re on track, an accidental mistake in your training or diet can cause your gains to come to an abrupt halt.
Most people then react knee-jerk by blaming things they can’t control:
- Some people think they have a slow metabolism
- some believe they have bad genes and
- some say they have a thyroid problem.
But to break a weight loss freeze, you have to accept what a plateau really is.
If you have made progress and are now missing, it can only mean one thing:
You were in a calorie deficit. But now, you are no longer in a calorie deficit.
This is usually due to one (or more) of the following 5 causes.
The 5 most common causes of weight loss plateau when losing weight
The cause of a plateau when losing weight is really simple: You are in a natural energy balance and cover your calorie consumption through your diet.
5 typical showstoppers contribute to this balance.
Showstopper #1 – “Metabolism Starvation” from being in too high (or too long) a calorie deficit
Science calls it “adaptive thermogenesis.” However, the mechanism is better known as “hunger metabolism.”
Your body aggressively interprets an aggressive and sustained calorie deficit as starvation.
Therefore, it automatically lowers the metabolic rate to conserve energy.
That’s not enough to create a plateau because you would still be in deficit.
But it puts the brakes on your fat loss, so your actual gains are well below what you would have calculated.
Showstopper #2 – A lean body requires fewer calories at rest
Many people lose weight successfully. And then when they reach their goal, they eat like before.
When you lose fat, your calorie consumption decreases with your weight.
Here’s a typical example of an “unexplained fat loss plateau.”
John is confused. First, he lost fat like clockwork, but then nothing happened.
He is 45 years old, 180 cm tall, and moderately active. The scales showed almost 100 kg when he decided: “It can’t go on like this anymore. The Plaza is gone.”
According to the calorie calculator, he needs just under 3000 kcal a day to maintain his weight.
He chooses a conservative calorie deficit of around 20% and aims for around 2400 kcal daily.
Success soon followed: the pounds tumbled continuously, and the stomach flattened out. Less than a year has passed, and now he weighs 20 kilos less.
John thinks to himself: “There’s still room for improvement.” He also wants to manage the last 5 kilos and see his abdominal muscles for the first time in his life.
But for a few weeks… nothing has happened.
He feels better than ever, but his body fat percentage doesn’t want to go down any further. John is at his wit’s end: “Did I overdo it? Is my metabolism asleep?”
The actual cause is much simpler.
Johns’ basal metabolic rate has also decreased with the body fat percentage. Under the same conditions, he now only consumes 2600 kcal a day.
His original nutritional goal of 2400 kcal now hardly represents a deficit.
When tracking 200 calories off – maybe because he forgets to track a snack – he’s promptly on an “unexplainable” plateau.
To get the fat loss going again, Hans needs a calorie deficit again. To do this, he can adjust his calorie goal or increase his calorie consumption.
You can also learn about Leptin – The ultimate weight loss hormone for fast belly weight loss in this article.
Showstopper #3 – A lean body requires fewer calories when moving
The more weight you carry, the more calories you burn.
Do not you think?
Just strap a 20 kg backpack to your back for a day. You will feel it at the latest when jogging, climbing stairs, or doing pull-ups.
Conversely, you burn fewer calories when you shed the extra weight.
Showstopper #4 – Calories tracked ≠ actual calories
It’s normal for people to underestimate their calorie intake by up to 50%.
Even if you keep a detailed food diary, deviations can occur.
Some people …
- forget to record part of their meals.
- misjudge the amounts they eat.
- use incorrect nutritional information (typographical errors often occur in databases such as FDDB or MyFitnessPal, where users can store nutritional values themselves).
In other words, some people are convinced that they only eat 2000 kcal a day and cannot explain why they are no longer making any progress.
In fact, they simply missed a part when tracking. In reality, they eat maybe 1000 kcal more a day and are not in a calorie deficit.
Showstopper #5 – Too many exceptions to the rule
If you’ve been sticking around for a while, I’m not a fan of prohibitions.
You can expect excellent progress if you stay 90% on course and 10% make exceptions.
But sometimes 10 becomes 20 and then 30 percent – the exception gradually becomes the rule.
Melanie wants to reduce her body fat percentage. To maintain her weight, she needs 2100 kcal a day.
From Monday to Thursday, she eats 1600 kcal per day. This puts her perfectly on track to shed 500 grams of fat this week.
But on Friday night, she goes out with friends and accidentally ends up at 2500 kcal. On Saturday, she attends a wedding party: champagne, cake, and the evening buffet help her reach 2700 kcal that day. On Sunday, she sags a bit but tries to limit the damage, and with 2100 kcal, she makes it to the point.
When she tracks her physique at the beginning of the new week, she measures the same values as the week before.
Melanie is frustrated. “All in all, the week went well,” she thinks. “It must be my slow metabolism.”
At a loss, she googles ways to get her fat loss going again. At the top of the hit list: “Fat burner pills” for 40 euros…
What really happened
On average, Melanie ate about 2000 kcal per day. It even ended up in deficit. But only in a minimal deficit.
The fat loss was so small that she couldn’t measure it. But she could lose 500 grams of body fat in just over 3 weeks.
In her perception, the week was a complete success because the first four days went exceptionally well, and she didn’t realize how much she slowed down over the weekend.
That’s not unusual.
We humans often only perceive what confirms our expectations. Psychologists call this “confirmation” or “hindsight bias.”
The wrong and the right attitude when dealing with a plateau
Success is rarely a straight line.
Progress happens in spurts. Then you hit plateaus that have to be broken through.
Resistance is inevitable. You can overcome them.
And like this:
You accept that there will be ups and downs.
You prepare yourself mentally and physically for this.
The most important skill is that you stay relaxed and optimistic. Even if the results are suboptimal or something unexpected happens.
Most people then buckle. Some even give up their big dream. And only because the first attempt may not bring the desired success.
But some people are undeterred. People who never give up on their goals.
Like a bulldog who refuses to give up a bone between teeth, the more you tug, the angrier she holds him.
That’s how stayers are.
What is the difference between us sticklers and those who give up?
Psychologists explain this with the way you explain the world to yourself.
The invisible scripts you use to explain your successes and failures make all the difference.
People who give up out of habit seek explanations in the absolute. About things they can’t control:
- “A change in diet never works for me.”
- “I have bad genes, so I will always be fat.”
- “It must be my age.”
In doing so, they not only hand over responsibility (“It’s not my fault!”) – they also let the rudder out of their hands.
Stay tuned to find explanations that can be traced back to their own behavior:
- “I ate too much junk food this week.”
- “I skipped a few training sessions.”
For sticklers, obstacles are temporary. Those who stick with it take responsibility, keep the rudder in their hands and focus on what they can change.
Keepers know that obstacles are always temporary.
When they’re having a bad day or missing a workout, they tell themselves, “Okay, it happened. But it’s in the past.”
Remember: It was just one meal, one workout, and one day.
Tomorrow is a new day.
Preview: 4 tricks to break any weight loss plateau in record time
The best way to overcome stagnation when losing weight is to avoid it in the first place.
In the next article, I’ll show you 4 simple ways to break through any fat loss plateau and keep making progress.
Some of these tricks seem intuitively wrong but could be the crucial step for you to pull the cart out of the mud. Stay tuned!
For some, for the first time in their lives, they have learned how to consciously set goals that inspire them.
Weight Loss Plateau Conclusion
Standing still when losing weight is not a reason to despair. On the contrary: a plateau is not the exception but the rule.
Weight loss plateau means only one thing: you can change something. I like the idea of you staying relaxed about it.
The first step: Get an overview of your situation. What is the root cause? What can you do differently? You usually have more than one option. Then it is good if you first tackle what is easiest for you.
Now you now know the five most common reasons for standing still when losing weight.