A plateau is going to be inevitable on your fat loss journey. You will have some weeks where it seems to be easy, and then some weeks just impossible.
The key is that you continue to move along.
Plateaus aren’t the worse ting in the world. They can teach you a lot and how to move forward.
However, this can be tough when you are working hard and not seeing the rewards.
The first thing to do when you see a plateau is to NOT give up.
I see this a lot with online clients where they see weight maintain for 1-3 weeks and then all of a sudden they see a huge drop.
A lot of people see a plateau for 1-2 weeks and think it isn’t working anymore so they get discouraged and give up, do NOT do that.
While the most logical advice when you see a plateau in fat loss is to do some combination of move more/eat less. And generally this is good advice.
There could be some sneaky things you are doing/not doing that you are not realizing that is causing a plateau.
Here are some sneaky things I see with online clients that cause a plateau with their fat loss.
Most clients track their nutrition in some way. Some track things like how sources of protein or veggies they have throughout the day and then some track their calories/macros.
For the ones who track their calories/macros, a common complaint I see when they track is they say something like “I’m only eating 1,500 calories and not losing any weight, this is frustrating!”
While they may be eating 1,500 calories, chances are they are underreporting.
Maybe its on purpose, or maybe they are just messing up portion sizes or only logging the “clean” foods.
I wrote an in-depth blog on how most people under-report their true caloric intake.
Clark et al. (1994) looked at a group of women who claimed to be “small eaters.” Small eaters could be described as someone who claims to be eating a small amount but cannot seem to lose weight. These small eaters claimed to eat 1,340 calories per day, but when they used a technique called the doubly-labeled water method (a very accurate way to find how much someone actually consumes) they found that they were actually eating 2,586 calories per day. They later put them on the actual amount of calories they thought they were consuming, and guess what happened? They lost 1.65lbs per week.
Another study on dietitians by Champange et al. (2002) showed that even nutrition professionals such as dieticians misreported their true intake by up to 200 calories per day.
So the next time you tell yourself that there is no way you are aren’t overeating, just remember even professionals underestimate.
The thing with this underreporting is that the typical foods that were underreported were foods considered “bad for health” (think cookies, cakes, french fries etc) were the foods they found to be reported less frequently and in smaller portion sizes than what they actually consumed.
So if you are eating a number of calories you think you should be losing on, make sure you are recording everything.
Your body has to do something with the energy you give it, even if you don’t log it.
Snacking throughout the day
This goes hand in hand with underreporting, but a lot of times I will ask clients if they are snacking throughout the day.
Think things like grabbing a handful of M&Ms or some chips that are sitting on the counter throughout the day.
If done multiple times these calories can quickly add up without filling you up. So it may seem like they aren’t doing much, but again if one overtime this can add up to 250-500 extra calories per day.
Especially since these types of foods are usually calorie-dense. Read here how processed foods can cause an increase in calories.
If your fat loss has plateaued, take an honest look in the mirror and see if you are starting to grab more of these small “innocent” snacks throughout the day.
Just like with small handfuls of snacks throughout the day, condiments can be a sneaky source of calories.
Usually, when a client has plateaued we look into the condiments they are using.
A lot of times the client mentions that they do use dressings such as ranch, and then condiments like barbeque sauce or creamer in their coffee.
These aren’t inherently bad, but if you do not pay attention to them, they too can quickly add up and add 200-500 calories per day.
If this is an issue for you either:
- Switch to a lower calorie option
- Pay attention to serving sizes.
A good article to read to help more with this is this one here on how to increase your food volume.
Low activity levels
I’ve written a blog on how activity levels can affect your hunger and cravings. Also as you diet, your NEAT levels go down and this can alter how many calories you burn throughout the day, which means you would need to eat less and less the longer you diet for fat loss and the more weight you lose.
A study showed that people who were sedentary ate the same amount as those who were active. The authors mention that one of the main reasons is that low activity levels may lead to appetite dysregulation.
Essentially with higher levels of physical activity, we improve our ability to detect whether we have under eaten or overeaten, compared to those who are sedentary.
So not only do you eat the same amount of calories as someone who is active, but you may not be able to regulate your appetite. A recipe for overconsumption.
If you have a job or lifestyle where you sit most of the day it’s important to seek out activity daily.
Doings things like:
- 20 minute walks throughout the day
- Park further away
- Take the steps whenever you can
- More chores around the house
- Walk around when you talk on the phone
With online clients, we focus on a step goal. We track this through an activity tracker like an iWatch or Fitbit.
If you are constantly having to use your willpower to say no to something, eventually you are more likely to give in. Especially after a stressful day at work or if you haven’t planned out meals for the day.
Many people think they can get around this, but if you are being bombarded with bad choices all day long and then you are also battling hunger and cravings, and not to mention the longer you diet the lower your motivation gets, anyone will give in to this.
Check the environments you are in on a daily basis. Maybe have a heart to heart with a loved one and see if for the time being, they will help set up a more successful environment for you.
Or if you don’t have control over the environment make sure you are planning ahead and setting yourself up to be successful by bringing in healthy options and having healthy go-to options on hand.
You can also find habits that help you say no. Maybe it’s going for a 10-minute walk every time you get a temptation at work or at home. Or maybe you drink a big glass of water and every time you do this your temptations go away.
Another thing I have found to be helpful for myself and clients is to take 5-10 minutes to breathe/meditate. I use an app called Headspace.
Find what works for YOU.
Many people think they are the exception to the rule when it comes to sleep.
Research shows that If you constantly get poor sleep you will pay for it. Your health declines, you make poorer decisions, you don’t think as effectively.
But poor sleep can also affect your hunger levels as well as your activity levels, which play a MAJOR role in weight management.
For example, in this study by Zhu, et al. (2019) they showed that a single night of sleep restriction causes increases in hunger and calorie intake.
In this article, I dive into more detail on how sleep can affect your hunger and weight.
Getting a poor night’s sleep can lead to an increase in cravings, hunger, food intake, and a decrease in physical activity.
So maybe it isn’t that you aren’t eating enough, maybe it’s because of your lack of sleep, which in turn is cousin you to move less and eat more the next day without you realizing it.
Lets say you do get a bad night of sleep, here is how we will have online clients manage that the following day:
- Aim for a step goal. As we found out, your body will naturally want to be lazier following a poor night of sleep. Fight this by making sure you hit a step goal for the day. That way you are more likely to stay active.
- Focus on eating more filling foods. We know following a poor night’s sleep that you are more likely to undereat protein and overeat sugar and saturated fat. So aim to get a lean source of protein at each meal the following day, as well as increasing your vegetable intake for the day.
- Caffeine. Look at drinking a little more caffeine earlier in the day to help with lowering your hunger levels as well as increasing your energy levels. However, avoid drinking caffeine too late in the day as this can negatively affect your sleep.
- Get a good night’s sleep ASAP. While a poor night’s sleep can hurt you the following day (increased hunger and calorie intake, decreased activity levels), it appears that following multiple nights of poor sleep, just one night of good sleep can bring everything back to normal.
Low protein intake
Protein not only helps with the maintenance/building of muscle mass, but it also can be very filling.
If your diet is low in protein you may be risking muscle loss, which will fat loss tougher, and your diet may not be satiating enough. As we know, hunger and cravings go up the longer you diet and higher hunger levels/cravings make adherence to your fat loss diet very challenging.
Read this blog here on how to set up your macros.
Aim for around 1g per pound of bodyweight per day in protein to help maintain/build new muscle tissue and to help keep your hunger at bay.
If you are plateaued check to see if you are making some of these sneaky mistakes. No matter what though, its important you stick with it, do NOT give up!
If you need more structure and guidance with your nutrition then fill out the link here to see if you would be a good fit for online coaching!
Clark, D., Tomas, F., Withers, R. T., Chandler, C., Brinkman, M., Phillips, J., Berry, M., Ballard, F. J., & Nestel, P. (1994). Energy metabolism in free-living, ‘large-eating’ and ‘small-eating’ women: studies using 2H2(18)O. The British journal of nutrition, 72(1), 21–31. https://doi.org/10.1079/bjn19940006
Champagne, C. M., Bray, G. A., Kurtz, A. A., Monteiro, J. B., Tucker, E., Volaufova, J., & Delany, J. P. (2002). Energy intake and energy expenditure: a controlled study comparing dietitians and non-dietitians. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(10), 1428–1432. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0002-8223(02)90316-0
Zhu, B., Shi, C., Park, C. G., Zhao, X., & Reutrakul, S. (2019). Effects of sleep restriction on metabolism-related parameters in healthy adults: A comprehensive review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Sleep medicine reviews, 45, 18–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2019.02.002