You have been making progress dropping weight and suddenly, nothing is working.
You have been diligently counting calories and hitting your macros. And then your fat loss stalls and you are left feeling frustrated.
This is a common issue faced by both those who are experienced in fat loss and those losing fat for the first time.
The following tips can you can help you to figure out your next steps and get your fat loss to begin again.
You have unrealistic expectations
Losing that belly bulge or dropping that last 10 pounds is not a linear process. Most people do not see the scale move downward daily. I know from personal experience, my weight on the scale can vary up to 5 pounds a day depending on how I ate the day before. Having a high carb meal, even at or below maintenance calories, can cause weight to fluctuate drastically.
When you start reducing calories, you will see the scale move downward quickly. This is caused by glycogen stores being depleted and associated water weight loss.
This is why you see diet plans promise you to lose 10 pounds in a couple weeks. This weight loss is almost all water and very little fat.
Real fat loss takes time.
When you are eating restricted calories for weeks on end and the fat is still there, it can feel as if nothing is working.
This is not the time to give up.
Now you are facing a fat loss plateau.
When you have a visible 4 pack, you are now in the suck zone. If you are diligent, you may lose .5 to 1 percent of body weight per week.
So, let’s say you weigh 165 pounds. You can expect to lose .825 to 1.65 pounds a week. For round numbers, let’s say you are losing a pound a week. This translates to 2.28 ounces of fat loss per day.
If you are tracking your weight every day, you probably will not see that little amount of fat loss on the scale. Even if tracking weekly, a pound of fat lost will be hard to detect on the scale.
STOP obsessing about the scale.
Record your weight weekly. Your weight can fluctuate several pounds a day due to water retention because of sodium or carbs consumed the day before, or the food in your gut, among other factors.
If you must weight yourself daily, record your weight and walk away. Do not think about the number you just wrote down. It’s just a number.
At the end of the week, take your daily weigh-ins and divide by the number of entries to come up with a weekly average weight. Now compare your weekly averages for a more realistic view of your progress.
Even then, especially when getting lean, do not obsess about the scale. You could have put on muscle at the gym and canceled out losing weight on the scale. And you look better.
You have lost fat but do not see it
Your weight on the scale may not reflect that you have lost fat. When fat cells give up triglycerides, they sometimes replace the now burned off fat with water. Lyle McDonald coined the term “The Whoosh Effect” to describe this phenomenon.
Basically, your fat cells do not want to lose size, so they fill with water waiting for food to be converted to fat and to refill the cells. After a period, they give up waiting on food and release the water. And suddenly you look better and weigh less.
This is a normal process during fat loss which can be frustrating. Give it time and you will see the scale drop, possibly several pounds overnight.
YOU ARE EATING TOO MUCH ON WEEKENDS
You work hard all week to lose fat and undo all that work on weekends.
If you find yourself overeating on weekends, you need to rethink your eating plan. Your caloric restriction may be too large during the week.
When your willpower is depleted and the weekend rolls around, you are setting yourself up to overeat.
Concider raising your weekday calories slightly and practicing moderation on weekends.
You are not tracking what you are eating
Most people are poor at estimating calories consumed. If you are estimating your calories, you need to get a food scale and start weighing out your food portions. The food scale is the most accurate way to determine the number of calories you are eating.
Once you have calculated what you are eating, log the values into a notebook or an application like MyFitnessPal. Keep a running total of the calories and macronutrients consumed and stop eating when you have hit your budget number.
Double check the macros on the items you eat. Fitness Apps can be wrong and food labels may legally be off by 20 percent.
Also, verify the macro values you are using are for raw or cooked foods and use the correct values accordingly.
You are eating too Few calories
You could be eating too few calories. Eating too few calories can cause your fat loss to stall. Because you are stressed, cortisol increases, and you do not drop pounds on the scale.
Not eating enough calories raises stress hormones preventing fat loss or masking fat loss through water retention. Recalculate your calories and do not drop below 10 calories per pound of your near-term target weight.
You are eating processed foods
Stop eating processed foods. Do not eat anything that is found in the center of the supermarket. Minimally processed foods are usually found on the outside walls of the grocery store.
If you eat at least 80% of your calories from non-processed foods and stay within your caloric budget, you will make fat loss gains. Minimally processed foods are harder to digest and you will absorb less calories than when eating highly processed foods.
You are not strength training
You need to lift heavy weight to retain or build muscle. Studies have shown that people who lift weight lose fat faster.
Be prepared to lift heavy weight that is challenging for you and you will become stronger over time.
Not only will you look better in the long run, you will burn calories that will help lose fat faster.
You are eating back calories from excercise
After a hard workout you may be thinking that you deserve a treat since you burned off all those calories. This is a mistake.
First, you just spent time and energy that could have netted you fat loss and you replaced those calories with food you probably really did not need.
Second, you probably did not burn as many calories as you think you did and now you have just put yourself over budget.
Low Intensity Steady State Cardio and Strength training only burn 200-300 calories per hour.
You are binge eating
You have restricted your calories and denied yourself the foods you enjoy to the point that you have used up all your willpower and now are binge eating. Everyone has a finite amount of strength to power through a restricted diet.
To avoid binge eating, have scheduled refeed meals and diet breaks that can give you something to look forward to when you must dig in deep to avoid temptation.
Every so often, have a planned feast or “cheat meal” to break the monotony that comes from being in a caloric deficit.
You are not getting enough sleep
Sleep is one of the things that can help you lose fat and recover from your workouts.
Without proper sleep, you will build up stress levels to a point where you do not lose fat. Even on a low-calorie diet.
Make sure you get enough rest. If you are waking up before your alarm in the morning you are getting enough sleep. If you hit snooze a couple of times and drag yourself out of bed, you need more sleep.
Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Turn of the TV too. Especially if you like watching movies or shows that make you think.
You are eating too many carbs
Carbohydrates do not make you fat if consumed in proper proportions. Keep carbs as high as possible when you are working toward your body fat goal. You will need the energy to have strong workouts.
That said, when you have lowered your calories and now are at a point where calories should not go lower, consider lowering your carbohydrate macro and raising fat and/or protein.
This should be a last line of defense if you have tried everything else. Your gym performance may suffer because of the lack of energy.
You are doing too much cardio
If you are doing hours of cardio a week, you may be over doing it.
Long duration cardio increases stress hormones which may inhibit fat loss. Consider cutting out long sessions of cardio and performing High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) instead.
HIIT is performing an exercise like sprinting, cycling or swimming with nearly all out effort for 30-60 seconds then backing off and continuing the activity at a low intensity, actively resting for 30-60 seconds. Five or six of these cycles are completed back to back with warm-up and cool-down phases at the beginning and end.
You are eating too often
Whenever you eat insulin is spiked. When insulin is present in your bloodstream, fat burning is put on hold.
When constantly eating and not allowing your blood glucose levels to drop to its low point, you are not burning fat as efficiently as possible.
Eating less often helps to burn fat faster since insulin and blood sugar are spiked for shorter periods during the day.
This is why strategies like Intermittent Fasting help promote fat burning and helps burn fat faster.
You are not drinking enough water
Keeping hydrated not only blunts hunger, it provides your body with enough water to help flush out of byproducts of fat loss.
Drinking cool water can spike your metabolic rate by 30 percent. Researchers have concluded that increasing water intake by 2 liters per day can increase daily caloric burn by about 100 calories.
You are drinking alcohol
Alcohol is eliminated from your body before fat, putting fat burning is on hold. Beer, wine and mixed drinks made with sugary mixers also contain carbohydrates that further spike insulin levels.
When working toward your goal of getting a lean body, only consume alcohol on special occasions.
You have been restricting calories too long
If you have been restricting calories without a break for over 12 weeks, you may need to take a diet break.
Long periods of restricted calories can cause your metabolism to slow down to the point that you are not losing fat. Instead of dropping calories further, take a break from your diet and eat maintenance calories for a week or two. This will give you a mental break and allow your body to raise its metabolism.
Do not worry about getting fat if you stick to maintenance calories.
You may gain a few pounds on the scale. But this is not fat. Your body will recharge glycogen levels which will increase your water weight. This temporary weight gain will quickly be lost once you return to your fat loss caloric budget.
Unless you have a deadline like a photoshoot or a competition, what is the harm in taking another week or two to get to your goal body fat percentage?
You are too fixated on “Dieting”
Stop obsessing about losing fat. Being focused on your diet and eating does not help the process move any quicker. The added stress raises cortisol which can inhibit fat loss.
YOU ARE EATING AT RESTAURANTS
Eating at restaurants is a challenge when you are losing weight. The biggest problem with eating out, other than the food is loaded with fat, sugar and salt, is the people working at restaurants are not as diligent as you are on portion control.
If you go to a place like Chipotle where they put food on your plate in front of you, ask for a scoop of rice and see how much you get. Sometimes they give you an overflowing serving spoon full and other times they give you a less than you expect.
By doing your own meal prep you can avoid the pitfalls of having someone else give you too much or too little food.
You have lost weight on the scale and now require less calories
When you have achieved significant fat loss, recalculate your calories and adjust your macro intake as necessary.
The number of calories you require daily is a function of your scale weight. As you lose fat, you become lighter and you no longer require as many calories to fuel your body. You need to reevaluate your caloric needs based on how much you currently weigh.
If you have dropped significant weight, you will need to cut calories accordingly. See our fat loss macro calculator for guidance.
YOU HAVE A MEDICAL CONDITION
In rare cases, you have a medical condition that is preventing fat loss. Seek guidance from a medical professional if you suspect having an issue that may affect losing fat.
The normal culprit in fat loss stalls is eating too much by intention or not.
Reevaluate your meal choices, preparation and adjust macros to find out what works best for your body.
Do not make drastic changes to your calories or add long sessions of cardio to break plateaus.
Make small changes and monitor the results over a period of a few weeks to determine if the changes implemented are leading to the results you desire.