If you’ve been on your fat loss journey for a while, you will inevitably hit a point where fat loss stalls. Depending upon how much excess fat we start the diet with, our bodies can only handle so much time in a deficit before something needs to change. This is all highly dependent on the person and what they are going through.
Today, I’d like to address some reasons your fat loss may be plateaued.
Calories Are Too High
This is actually more common than people tend to think. Whatever initial drop you make in calories to start up your fat loss journey will not last the entire time. I think this is a very important variable we need to keep in mind. It will get you some of the way there, but not the entire way. Again, this is dependent on how much body fat you started with (leaner individuals will have a harder time losing fat because they have less and less to lose).
If you’ve been on the same 300-500 calorie drop you started with and your fat loss stalls, try subtracting another 300-500 calories and you SHOULD see the scale move down again. As we restrict calories we are providing less energy to our body. This causes the metabolism to slowly start decreasing the rate at which it moves. If our metabolism is slowing down, then we are burning less calories than before, and we are also likely moving a little less than before.
Calories Are Too Low
On the contrary you get some people on the opposite end of the spectrum. If you’ve been dieting for months and months, and you are down to 1000-1200 calories, it may be just a matter of needing to either end the diet or take a break. You’ve now hit the point where calories are so low, and your metabolism has slowed down SO much, that there just isn’t any more room to give. This is actually very common for individuals trying to get into single digit body fat, or those who have been dieting for more than 3-4 months.
If your calories are really low, my suggestion is to take a break. Go back to whatever your new maintenance is at this new low weight (note: it is going to be less calories to maintain your physique then when you started because you weigh significantly less now so you don’t require as much) and build your metabolism back up. Let your body build its metabolism back up with the introduction of way more calories so that you can get back to 100%. You should find you are moving around more, have more energy, and your metabolism itself will speed up a little burning more calories at rest due to a big increase.
If you still have more fat to lose, stick to this maintenance for 4-8 weeks and start a new fat loss phase. Hopefully now you will have more calories to diet with but at a new low weigh-in giving you more room to reduce calories.
Another issue that could be happening is you’ve just been doing the same workout program for the last 1-2 years. When we start a new program we usually have somewhat big jumps in weight or in reps. The longer we stay on that program, regardless of diet, the slower that progression becomes. We start to hit the end range of how much we can push that movement to stimulate growth because we’ve been doing it for so long.
If you have been doing a program for awhile change it up! It doesn’t have to be drastic. Switch rep ranges around. If you’ve been doing squats at 5-10 change it to 10-15 reps. If you have only been doing flat bench press maybe try an incline press or even just a switch to dumbbells. It doesn’t have to be drastic, we just need to change the novelty to allow for a new track for progress.
It’s easy to focus on all the obvious diet issues – nutrition and workout. What about everything else? I’ve had plenty of clients doing EVERYTHING right and still stall on their fat loss. When I dug deeper I found all sorts of issues. Their stress was at an all time high because of work, causing their cortisol to spike and the fat to retain. I’ve seen people barely get sleep because their schedule is so busy or they have been eating poorly.
If you find you are doing everything else right and struggling, check in with yourself. Are you getting 8-9 hours of sleep? Are you keeping your stress down? Are you getting nutrient dense foods ESPECIALLY on a diet where you don’t have a ton of calories coming in? These can all play huge factors as to why you are seeing no progress.
Even when calories are lowered, we can still plateau as mentioned above. Our metabolism will slowly start to output less to match the energy coming in. While lowering calories can be a great tool and should be the first tool utilized to increase a deficit, so can increasing your movement throughout the day. I generally advise this last, as it can get people obsessed with chasing the caloric burn which is short lived and adds more stress on the body.
Try to add movement with lower intense activities. Increase your step count by 5,000 and find time throughout the day to hit that. This will allow you to sustain the increased expenditure easier.