Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fat Loss Stalls and Plateaus

stall or plateau refers to an extended period of time during fat reducing efforts where there is no weight loss according to the scale and no loss of inches according to the tape measure. If you've been following your routine to the letter of the law, and it seems that the bathroom scale has become permanently stuck, take your measurements. Also notice if your clothes are getting looser, or if you can now fit into formerly tight garments. Chances are, you are continuing to lose fat, but your body is adding lean muscle tissue, especially if you’ve been strength training as well. Muscle is less bulky than fat for the same amount of weight, so your body will be smaller and leaner. If this is the case, you haven't stalled at all; your body is just recomposing itself.

   This is why it's so important to record our body measurements at the very beginning, so we'll have a reference as we make progress. Don't just measure chest, waist, and hip. Other key areas to measure are neck, upper arm, thigh, and calf. It's normal for the body to go through adjustment periods while we're losing fat. A plateau lasting 3 or 4 weeks is no cause for alarm, nor is it a reason to quit. Simply check your measurements as noted above, and stick with the program. Remember, this is about making permanent, lifelong changes; a few weeks is just a brief period in the rest of our life.

   One other thing to consider–are you within 5-10 lbs of your goal weight? Following a healthy eating routine and exercising may have given you an increased muscle-to-fat ratio than you had previously. As noted earlier, muscle tissue weighs more than fat, but takes up less bulk. Maybe it's time to just rethink your goal weight and be happy with the progress you’ve made. Congratulations! Now you can focus your energies on maintaining your proper weight, instead of struggling to drop a few more pounds.

Possible Causes:

Okay, four weeks have gone by and still nada. No additional fat loss or inches? Now, this sounds like a stall and here are a few things to consider. Perhaps one or more of these factors may be the cause.

Ø   Carbohydrate Level is Too High - The number of carbs we consume each day to continue to lose fat varies from person to person. Some lucky individuals may be successful at 50 or more grams per day. Others are metabolically resistant, and must keep the carbs near induction level for most of the ongoing weight loss period.

Ø   Hidden Carbs - Carbohydrates can sneak into our food without us really noticing. They’re like Starbucks–everywhere! A gram here and there pretty soon adds up to an extra 10 or more grams a day that we may not realize we're eating. Herbs, spices, garlic, lemon juice, bottled salad dressing–these foods are not carb-free. Processed lunch and deli meats, bacon, ham, and sausages often have added starch, sugar, dextrose, etc. Make sure you are accurately measuring the "known" carbs and keep an accurate food diary. Maybe you will spot a trend.

Ø   Undereating – It may be difficult to mentally grasp the idea of a new lifestyle that instructs you to eat 5-6 times a day when all of your other diets were so restricting and left you feeling hungry. Please avoid the temptation to eat less, thinking that this will boost your efforts and speed up the process. In fact, undereating is one of the surest ways to stall your efforts and bring your fat loss to a grinding halt. When you go for more than 4 or 5 hours without eating, your body interprets this as a fast, and will adapt very quickly by slowing down your metabolism and conserving stored energy, i.e. our fat. This is exactly what we don’t want. The more often you eat, the more your body will assume that nutrition is on the way so it doesn’t try to store glucose as fat. Also, make sure you are eating adequate amounts of protein. In general, an average sedentary person requires a minimum of 60 grams per day. If you are large, engage in strenuous exercise; your daily protein requirement is even higher. Ideally, your protein should be distributed throughout the day each time you eat. Protein is required by the body to provide the building blocks of all your muscles, organs, hormones, enzymes, etc. If you do not consume protein in your daily diet, the body will use the only available source–your muscle tissue–to get what it needs. Less muscle tissue further contributes to a slowed metabolism, and reduced fat-burning. So, eat up!

Ø   Overeating - In general, it's not necessary to restrict or even count calories while following a truly healthy program. It simply becomes a way of life. You should eat 5-6 times each day and remember to incorporate snacks before lunch and a couple hours after dinner if necessary. Studies have shown that eating smaller, but more frequent meals leads to more fat loss success than eating the same amount in 2 or 3 larger meals per day. Eat slowly, and chew your food thoroughly. Listen to your body, and learn to recognize when it says "enough." Overeating can sometimes be a consequence of meal-skipping as well. You are just so hungry when you finally get around to eating, or may feel you need to make up for the fact that you haven't eaten all day. It can really work against your fat loss efforts if you fast all day, forcing your body into slowed-metabolism "starvation" mode, then eat and eat all evening. This nighttime eating will trigger the release of insulin, which will cause your body to make and store fat while you sleep. This is not what we are trying to achieve.

Ø   Lack of Exercise - If you have not been exercising regularly, this may be the PRIMARY reason for your stall. Exercise boosts your metabolism and burns fat. Exercise, especially strength training, builds muscles, and since muscles are more metabolically active, it will increase fat burning as well. If you have been exercising, and have hit a plateau, perhaps your body is signaling it’s time to change your routine. Increase the duration and/or intensity. If you've been jogging or cycling only, try adding some free weights to your workout, and vice-versa. If you've only been weight training, you should add some aerobic activity as well. Also consider adding HIIT into regular workouts. HIIT is basically cardio exercise performed at such an intense level that your body will spend the rest of the day expending energy to recover from the pounding you gave it. (See Day 6 of my book Body, Mind & Spirit: The Awakening for more info about HIIT)

Ø    Not Drinking Enough Water - Fat is mobilized through a process called hydrolysis. As the word suggests, hydrolysis requires plenty of water. Insufficient amounts of water in your body will hinder the effective breakdown of fat. If you're exercising, or if your environment is warm and/or dry, you need to drink more water. If you are in active ketosis, you need to drink more water to flush the ketones out of your system. How much is enough? A bare minimum recommendation is 64 fluid oz (that's 8 - 8 oz glasses) of water a day. Some experts suggest that we should divide our current weight in pounds by 2, and this number is how many ounces we should drink each day. There is no disagreement on the need to drink sufficient amounts of fluids every day, but there are some arguments that it's not necessary to drink only plain water. If you choose to not drink large volumes of water, you should ensure that you are consuming adequate fluid in the form of calorie and carb-free liquids. Some diet sodas contain citric acid as a flavoring and this has been known to stall fat loss for some folks. That could be your issue as well. It's best to strive to simply drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day and make it a point to not drink your calories. The 150 calories in each can of soda truly add up–on your midsection.

Ø   Medications - There are a number of medications that can and will hinder your fat loss. Most notable are diuretics (fluid pills), both prescription and over-the-counter types. These will initially seem to make you lose more weight, as you lose excess body fluid. But when you are in active ketosis the lack of fluid will inhibit fat-burning. Many antidepressants cause fat gain as well. Steroids and hormones, such as cortisone, birth control pills and estrogens will cause weight gain, as well as some seizure medications. Unfortunately, medications that are intended to lower your cholesterol will inhibit the liver from converting fat to glycogen, thus decreasing fat burning. Insulin and many oral diabetic medications will decrease fat burning and increase fat storage.


Ø   Food Allergies & Intolerances - A significant percentage of people report that over-consumption of cheese and dairy products will put them in a stall quicker than anything else. There is some suggestion it may be an intolerance or allergy to the casein protein in cow's milk dairy products. If you have been eating a lot of dairy foods lately, try cutting way back, or even eliminating altogether for a week or two, and see if this breaks the plateau. Food allergies and intolerances are difficult to pin down, but are known to trigger fat gain, fluid retention, sinus congestion, skin rashes, and digestive upsets, diarrhea etc. The most common food allergens are wheat and wheat gluten, cow's milk dairy products, corn, soy, and chicken egg whites. Again, try eliminating any or all of these from your diet for a few weeks. Then, add each food back gradually, and see if symptoms return and your weight stalls again. You may have to avoid the offending food permanently, although many people find that after a few months they may cautiously eat a small amount of the food once in a while without adverse effect.

About the Author:
 James Hackley earned a B.S. degree in Physics from Longwood College and an M.S. degree in Engineering from the University of Virginia.  He faithfully attends Holy & Whole Life Changing Ministries International in Lansdowne, Va., and his latest book, Body, Mind & Spirit: The Awakening can be purchased by visiting him at ,, and

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