What Causes Weight Loss Plateau?

Weight loss plateau is everybody’s problem. 

The most frustrating thing about weight loss stall is not the fact that you stop losing weight and it does not change anymore. 

The most frustrating thing is that you continue to do all the freaking exercise and diet because you want to lose more, and yet you can’t

This drives me crazy when I see my weight loss is stalled, so I believe you must feel the same. However, there is a key to freedom from weight loss stalls. 

Weight loss plateau is a risky period on your weight loss journey – firstly, it is frustrating, annoying, and you lose motivation when nothing works. Secondly, sometimes people not only stall – they feel they start gaining their weight back! And thirdly, the problem is, there is no one universal advice for breaking the weight loss stall (if there was, the problem would not have existed, right?

What you need is smart strategy that takes into account many factors. Don’t freak out, though, this is easier than it may sound. 

Yet, before we talk detailed strategy, let’s find out what kind of plateau you have hit. Is it real or fake? Is it weight loss stall or fat loss stall? 

Real Or Fake? 

Wait wait, can there be fake weight loss plateaus? 

Yup, sometimes you fall into a condition when your weight seemingly does not change, or even starts to increase, but this is not because you did something wrong and stopped losing weight. 

Fake plateaus happen more often in women because of particularities of their menstrual cycle. However, men can also experience such plateaus after consumption of alcohol, for example. 

To give you a rough idea on “what to do?”, with most fake plateaus you need to wait. Or, you need to fix things that are not connected directly to your diet or exercise routines (for example, constipation).

You will learn more on fake weight loss plateaus here: 

Weight Loss Plateau: Real, Fake, and How To Overcome 

Weight Loss VS Fat Loss Plateau  

Another aspect you need to consider is whether you actually hit a weight loss stall, or a fat loss stall. 

Our weight consists of many things, except bones, fat, and muscle – we carry with us water, blood, lymph, other liquids, some poop, and even some food you ate yesterday. 

If you exercise a lot, your muscles swell and your weight seemingly does not go down, even if you continue to actually burn fat. 

If your diet is inconsistent, you may carry with you that big fat junk food dinner for a couple of days, actually, which also does not show well on your scale. 

In addition to checking your weight, you can also measure yourself, and see whether the volume decreases. You should also assess yourself visually – does your body actually change? 

The bestest way to check what kind of stall you hit, though, is electronic scale that measures the percent of water, fat, and muscle tissue in the body. I will not lie to you, this is the most guaranteed way to know for sure. 

When you step on the scale, it sends electric impulse into your body, and reads the reaction of tissues. Different tissues have different density (fat and muscle are not the same, obviously), and react differently to the electric impulse. The scale analyzes this reaction and counts the percent of every tissue type based on your weight. Pretty easy. 

If you manage to find out that your weight loss stall is a fake one, you need just to remove the reason causing it (as I say, sometimes you just wait). 

 

If you see that you stopped burning fats, then we start building strate… oh, no, wait wait. 

You still don’t know what caused your fat loss stall. 

Metabolic Adaptation Causing Fat Loss Stall

Let me tell you right off the bat that you can’t lose weight without actually hitting a stall, regardless of the method. The plateaus may be shorter and not that noticeable, but they are almost always there. Weight loss plateau is normal. 

In fact, if you do not hit any kind of weight loss stall, this is a bad sign. Perhaps your weight loss is too rapid, and there’s something with your metabolic health. 

The point is, hitting a weight loss stall shows that your body is good at its survival mechanisms. It adapts to your life conditions and changes its own routines, to protect you. 

Now, the most important task of your body is not to be beautiful and sexy. 

And not even to reproduce (I already hear the pro-lifers screaming)

Your body’s very first task is to protect you, already living human being, from death, and provide survival (and hopefully, help you thrive so that it could do its next important thing – to reproduce. Yeah, exactly in this order). 

Survival is the main task. 

Let’s see what happens when you start losing weight. 

In most cases, you start consuming less calories than usually, creating calorie deficit. This calorie deficit is covered by burning your body’s own fat reserves (because fat is the only material that can be stored effectively as fuel for the rainy day). 

However, the body does not like prolonged periods of calorie deficit. It is okay with you spending some fat on immediate tasks, because this is exactly what fats are stored for. Yet, when the body sees that the calorie deficit continues, it believes the reason is hunger. 

Eating too few calories is creating limited consumption, which for your body is equal to hunger. 

On the other hand, most people increase their weight loss speed by adding exercise. In addition to limiting their calorie intake, they burn more calories than usual, so the fat reserves are spent even faster. 

You start losing fat and you are happy. 

But what happens to the body?

The body sees that its precious fat reserves are falling away to nothing. However, our human body is pretty smart, and it has its own strategy for such cases. 

What if you see that your spendings surpass your earnings? You will try to earn more in the first place. Yet, if there is no such possibility, you will try to spend less

This is exactly what your body does. When you limit it in calories, it cannot “earn more”, so it starts “spending less”

Despite your exercise, your metabolism slows down, and you spend less calories on your daily needs. Your body makes sure that the calorie spending matches the calorie intake, and the calorie deficit is neutralized. As soon as the calorie deficit is neutralized, the fat reserves are saved. 

This is called metabolic adaptation. 

Metabolic adaptation

weight loss plareau metabolic adaptation graph

Metabolic adaptation includes decrease of the body temperature, less energy for daily tasks, less effective processes, etc. 

You start sleeping longer, feel colder, you may feel very stupid at times and not able to cope with daily tasks as effectively as usual. 

These are the consequences of lower calorie spending per day. 

It is very easy to plateau on calorie deficit, and funny that the healthier the person, the more likely they will stall faster, because their bodies are excellent at correct metabolic processes. 

Now, you have to understand that there is no way to change that survival mechanism causing the weight loss plateau. It has to be there, to protect you from becoming a skeleton. You cannot trick your body in this case; the only way is to collaborate

Now, there are more elaborate mechanisms of hitting a weight loss plateau, caused by your personal weight loss strategy. 

If you depend more on diet, you will plateau on calorie restriction. If you depend more on exercise, you will plateau on calorie burning. 

Exercise burns calories. 

Diet restricts calories. 

These are two different ways of creating calorie deficit for weight loss.

Therefore, your strategy of breaking through the weight loss stall should consider the peculiarities of these two ways. 

Weight Loss Stall Caused By Diet 

Diet is an extremely powerful instrument for effective weight loss, however, it is also more risky in terms of weight loss stall. 

To make the weight loss process more efficient, most people jump into very low calorie diet, and they are happy with the results for some time, but then they inevitably hit the stall. 

Restriction of calories makes the body burn fats faster than exercise, but it also turns on the metabolic adaptation much faster than exercise. This is caused purely by the survival mechanism peculiarities of the human body. 

The body has no problems spending lots of energy, and even burning own fats, when the food is abundant. 

If you feed the body well, and have enough rest, it adapts to very high calorie burning pretty well. 

Yet, as soon as you restrict calories, it shuts down quickly. 

And guess what, you start lacking energy for exercise, too. 

Paleo and Keto 

While keto diet does a comparatively good job providing some healthy calories, weight loss stall on keto is way harder to break. 

The peculiarity of the ketogenic diet is that it restricts carbs and provides more fats and proteins. Yet, the problem is that, when you hit the keto stall, there are not many products to choose from, to improve the diet. 

All keto food is very high-calorie, and often small in volume. All low-calorie food that is big in volume is usually restricted (like fruit!). Therefore, all you can do with keto plateau is only to restrict the calories even more, within the range of allowed high-fat food. 

However, as you must have already guessed, restricting calories even more is a very, very, VERY bad idea, because the body will continue to cut spendings as you cut earnings. 

calorie intake weight loss plateau

Weight loss plateau on keto does not happen fast, because you consume a nice amount of calories. However, there is still some deficit, and the body will sooner or later adapt, making you meet the weight loss plateau on keto. The same story with the paleo diet weight loss plateau. 

Generally, all low carb diets are slow and effective, and exactly due to the fact they are slow, you do not hit the plateau very fast. 

Yet, they eventually lead to a weight loss stall that is very hard to break – you do not have many options in your food, and any further calorie restriction makes the body limiting the energy spending. 

Vegan and Raw

Raw vegan weight loss plateau and vegetarian weight loss plateau are similar, because the reason is the same – the calorie deficit is pretty considerable, and the metabolic adaptation happens very soon. Usually both vegan and raw diet are rather efficient to lose some weight, but not much, because these dieting methods exist to improve the health condition, and not to lose weight.

I do not recommend vegan (or even vegetarian!) or raw diet if your main purpose is to lose weight – you can learn why in this post: 

Vegan Dieting to Lose Weight – Yes or No?

It is totally possible to even gain weight on vegan diet, and even on raw diet, if some conditions are met. 

So, yeah, raw and vegan eating people who loses weight also hit their plateaus. The only difference is that these plateaus are easier to break than in the case of keto, because the choice of food is much wider, and the foods are big in volume.  

Fasting

Fasting is a complicated dieting practice that needs well-grounded scientific theory, and also assistance and supervision for the first several times. I think I will address fasting as such in a different series of posts. However, fasting is extremely inefficient for weight loss. 

I mean yeah, it is efficient for a week or two. You will lose considerable weight. 

But you won’t lose much fat. You will lose water and muscle, and also, you will lose the quality of life

But then, you will hit a weight loss plateau on fasting – any fasting, water fasting, juice fasting, no difference – and this is the most unbreakable weight loss plateau of all

Guess why. 

Yes, exactly. The level of your calorie intake drops to zero – or to minimum if we are talking about juice fast – and the body, being shocked with the situation, very quickly drops the calorie spending. 

The most ironic thing is that you won’t have options for improving your diet, because you already eat nothing. 

Also (unless you do fasting really seriously, with proper theory and assistance) you most likely won’t have energy for exercise to speed up the weight loss, and break the plateau. 

Also also, most people feel so shitty during the first several days of fasting, that they won’t have energy for anything (this is because you have to cleanse the body first before you fast. A topic for other post though). 

This is why weight loss plateau while juicing, or weight loss plateau while water fasting are the hardest to break, since you do not have much space to manoeuvre, and you will regain the weight very quickly as soon as you get back to your normal diet.

Even if you start eating very healthy, you will still regain weight, because any healthy diet contains more calories than you consumed during the fast. 

I hope you get the idea now. 

Now let me make it even more clear.

FASTING IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR WEIGHT LOSS IF YOU WANT A HEALTHY AND STABLE RESULT 

Avoid fasting for weight loss unless you know very well what you are doing. I mean it.

Intermittent Fasting

Weight loss plateau on intermittent fasting is the same as one on very low calorie diet. You probably create too abrupt calorie deficit for the body, and it starts cutting the spendings. 

High Carb

High carb people rarely hit the plateau. The reason is that they usually consume lots of calories, and if they eat any low-calorie foods, these foods are huge in volume (fruit and starchy vegetables), which is helpful to manage the hunger.

High-carb diet does a very good job providing variable and healthy food with enough calories for the body to function. Plus, high-carb diet is good for emotional well-being

High-carb people, as a rule, hit small and short plateaus during their weight loss journey, but they have enough energy to boost the calorie spending with exercise. 

Weight Loss Plateau Caused By Fitness 

If you exercise extensively, there are two main reasons why you plateau with your weight loss. 

The first obvious reason is that you workout way too hard. Your sore muscles swell and accumulate water and other substances, and you do not take proper care of yourself to manage the pain. 

Working out plateau shows that perhaps you have too much exercise, and do not take time and care to restore. As a result, you constantly carry excess liquids with you, and of course you do not see your weight decreasing! 

It is easy to hit weight loss plateau because of cardio, or running, or similar exhausting workouts, when you do not restore properly. 

The second obvious reason of weight loss plateau is due to muscle gain. You will hit the weight loss plateau building muscle, because muscles weigh way more than fats. As your fat mass decreases, your muscle mass increases, and you do not see the change in weight. 

weight loss plateau bodybuilding

In this case, you should measure your volumes, and assess the body visually. If you become smaller (or bigger!) in needed places, and you start looking better, visually, than you’re all good, and no need to worry.  

The Secret Key To Weight Loss 

I have to tell you something very important, and this is one of the keys to your effortless and successful breaking through the weight loss plateau – any kind of weight loss plateau. 

This is also the key to your successful weight loss journey overall.

The key reason to any weight loss stall and any problems with efficient weight loss is stress. When the conditions you create for weight loss are too stressful for the body, it turns on the survival mechanisms, and you stall. 

However, if you decrease the level of stress to minimum, and add enough things to keep you happy and busy, you will not believe how efficient your weight loss will become. 

Remember that vacation when you enjoyed yourself, ate what you liked, danced in clubs, and went for long walks with your friend or lover? You did not think about keeping to a diet or exercise, but you came back home and discovered you lost some fat. Without effort. 

Because you were de-stressed. 

This is your secret key. 

You’re welcome. 

P.S.: More on this in the weight loss posts. 

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