By Nicky Perks
You have lost a significant amount of weight and feel wonderful. Others have noticed and their compliments have really boosted your self-confidence. The fat has just melted away revealing collarbones that had long been forgotten. You visualise effortlessly reaching your goal for the first time ever. It almost seems too good to be true. Until one day the weight loss stops, dead in its tracks like a stubborn donkey with a bad attitude. You realise something has to change, because what worked before is not working now. You have hit the dreaded plateau. Please don’t panic. There are solutions to this frustrating yet very normal phenomenon. It will require patience, perseverance, and an experimental approach. Most importantly you will need to be brutally honest with yourself about your eating habits and lifestyle.
What could be causing the plateau?
Reasons for stalled weight loss are numerous and varied. Weight loss can also stop at different times for very different reasons. You will need to keep an open mind. The solutions offered below might appear contradictory but try not to get overwhelmed. Identify a strategy to which you can relate, and give it a try. If it doesn’t work, move on to the next one.
Eating LCHF isn’t a magic bullet. Yes, it helps to control hunger and cravings, making the eating plan easier to stick to, but when the food is so delicious it becomes very easy to overeat. Calories still matter. Second helpings as well as eating nut butter by the spoonful, or drinking bulletproof coffee all day long will hinder weight loss. Excess calories, not burned by the body, will be stored as fat. Eat till you feel comfortably full and then stop. Likewise, eating too much fat prevents your body from turning to stored fat for energy. Therefore, lowering your fat intake is a good strategy to try when you hit a plateau. Also, consuming large amounts of protein at meal times can stall weight loss. Excess protein will be converted to glucose and stored as fat. Protein portions at each meal should be the size and thickness of your palm (no fingers). On the flip side of the coin, not eating enough is also problematic. Lowering calories too drastically for too long can affect your thyroid and slow down your metabolic rate. Fat loss becomes almost impossible when this happens. If this is you, try increasing your portion sizes (or even alternating high and low calorie days), so as to get your metabolism firing on all cylinders again.
How many carbs you eat
Perhaps now is the time to experiment with dropping your carbs even lower. Aim for around 25 grams of carbs per day (mostly from green leafy veggies), to see if a very low carb ketogenic diet will do the trick. It might be useful to track your food diary online for a few weeks, using Myfitnesspal for example. Doing so will give you a fairly accurate idea of your carb consumption. When you hit a plateau, critically review what you have been eating and ask yourself whether you have allowed your carb consumption to slowly creep upwards. Introducing fruit, or a few cups of tea with milk, or too many low carb baked goods can raise carb grams to a level that stalls weight loss. Conversely, eating too few carbs can also interfere with fat loss, especially in women. Very low carb dieting has the potential to mess with one’s hormones. Leptin, the hormone that tells us when we have had enough to eat, tends to decrease. This results in increased appetite and lowered energy expenditure – not a good combination when trying to lose weight. Eating too few carbs can also stress the body and raise cortisol, which promotes belly fat. If you have been very low carb for a long time, and weight loss has stopped, or your tummy/waist has got bigger, experiment with a higher carb in-take. Eat some sweet potato or butternut a few times a week. It could rectify any hormonal imbalances causing the plateau and stimulate your body back into fat-burning mode.
How often you eat
This is another one of those apparent contradictory reasons where you are either eating too frequently, or you aren’t eating frequently enough. In the past snacking was encouraged to keep our metabolism revved up throughout the day. More recently this notion has been challenged since eating and snacking often during the day keeps insulin levels raised, making it very difficult for your body to burn stored fat. It is always best to eat only when hungry and not just because it is a scheduled mealtime. Two meals per day is sufficient for most people on an LCHF diet. Some seem to manage perfectly fine on just one. However, for others, eating too infrequently, or skipping meals depresses metabolism, triggers low blood sugar spells, makes them feel very hungry, and results in stalled weight loss. Eating 3 meals a day might be best for them. We are not all the same hence the need for experimentation.
If you eat breakfast or not
The “big breakfast” debate seems to be a controversial topic in the low carb community. Some firmly believe a big breakfast is key to continued weight loss, while others maintain that fasting until late morning is the answer. Again, only by experimentation will you discover which one is right for you. There are very valid reasons why both might work. Consuming a big protein breakfast before 10:00 am can help to regulate cortisol (dysregulated cortisol is often the cause of weight issues). This is something you really should try if you suffer from adrenal fatigue or stress. Eating a hearty breakfast also helps you stay full for longer. This promotes good eating habits for the rest of the day and reduces total calories consumed. On the other hand, skipping breakfast and fasting from supper the night before to lunchtime the next day certainly has its merits. Going without food for around 16 hours significantly lowers insulin levels and increases human growth hormone, which promotes fat loss. To maximise your efforts, try doing your morning workout in a fasted state to burn more fat. This becomes easy to do when fully fat-adapted. In general intermittent fasting seems to work better for men than for women, although some women have achieved excellent results when intermittent fasting has been incorporated into their routine.
Other plateau busting tips:
- Cut out all dairy, fruit, nuts, alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners
- Identify your stressors and find ways to manage them more effectively
- Incorporate high intensity interval training and heavy weights into your exercise routine
- Check for food sensitivities, leaky gut issues and hormonal imbalances
- Include resistant starch, which balances blood sugar and promotes healthy gut flora
- Supplement with fish oil and a high quality probiotic (magnesium and zinc are good too)
- Get your vitamin D levels checked and supplement if necessary
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night.
- Drink more water
- Add 1-2 tbls of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water and drink 30 minutes before a meal
Getting off a weight loss plateau doesn’t always have a quick fix. What works well for one person won’t necessarily work for another. It is frustrating but don’t let a hurdle like a weight loss plateau deter you from your end goal. Monitor and record the results of everything you try. Remember, optimal health must come first; weight loss is an added bonus. Be patient and brave enough to try something new. It just might be what your body needs to turn back into a fat-burning machine.
Article written by Nicky Perks for Lose it magazine