Dieting for everyone comes with certain expectations. People begin dieting with some goals set for themselves. It could be to look good for a particular day, get fit in general, because their doctor has given them a red light there, etc.
It is all good in the hood until the dreaded part comes: a weight loss plateau.
This can be at the very beginning, sometimes midway or at times towards the phase where you are just short of your goal. The emotional turmoil is real and it is annoying, as nobody including your coach knows when will it end.
In this article, I shall cover the top 5 reasons you have hit a plateau and what can you do about it.
1. You are eating more calories than you think
Now, this could be surprising as you may say, “Hey, this is impossible! I am following my diet 100%, so how could this be true?”
A few reasons to that:
a. You are adding hidden calories to your meals. How hidden? Well, you are just not aware of them. The spices, spice mixes, dressings, etc. also have calories which add up. If you see that you have stalled, maybe just be a little extra cautious here and stick to low-calorie spices for some time.
b. The recipe is slowing it down. Dieting or eating the same food can get boring, everyone gets it. Sure, you should be varying things to keep it interesting. But doing it too often might be causing trouble. The recipe might be something that needs an addition of a tbsp. of little something. That, over a period of time or meals, is adding more calories. Experiment a bit less often and reduce the frequency of addition of completely new recipes.
c. You are not measuring it right. There are some things that you measure diligently and some, you do not. I hardly measure my cooking oil/butter. But did I start doing that right off the bat? Not at all. In the beginning, you might have to indulge in often considered psychotic behaviour and measure everything including your butter. Because it is the easiest to go wrong with and adds calories very easily. Once you get used to understanding proportions, you can start estimating.
Estimating, right from the start? Not a good idea at all. It is the thing that leads to the problem in the first place. We are bad at estimating.
2. You have over-estimated your energy expenditure
The very first step that you or your coach do is to work an estimated calorie expenditure for you and then if your goal is to lose weight, deduct a few calories from that number and get you started.
All of us are very good at overestimating our calorie expenditure in the first place. Let’s take an example, Rahul has a desk job and he goes to the gym 4-5 times per week. Now based on these factors, Rahul thinks, “I hit the gym for an hour almost 5 times per week, I take a few walks in the office, I am a very active individual.”
He considers that he is very active but this still keeps him in the lightly active to lower side of the moderately active category of activity levels.
Source: Nutrition Simplified eBook (download here)
When you overestimate this, you might be eating close to maintenance calories than being in a calorie deficit.
What to do in such situations? Adjust your activity levels and start accordingly. As simple as that.
3. It’s all about the NEAT
NEAT essentially stands for ‘Non-exercise activity thermogenesis’ which is nothing but all the subconscious activities you do apart from exercising. For example, fidgeting on your desk or the casual walks you take while speaking over calls. All these little things, add up.
Now when one is dieting, there will be a downward trend here and it is highly variable individual to individual. What this means, the longer you have been dieting, more of your non-gym movement or activity levels will come down (without you realizing) which will bring down your energy expenditure or maintenance calories.
Even though you might have been killing your gym sessions and on point with your nutrition, you are still at a lesser deficit or maintenance.
How do you deal with this?
I generally incorporate three techniques with my clients which can be useful:
a. Add some exercise/cardio: This could be as simple as adding an extra set to your isolation work or/and a 15-min treadmill walk at the end of your gym session. Not a significant increase when you look at it objectively. But when you are doing it 4-5 times a week, it is 20 to 30 additional sets or/and 60 to 75 minutes of cardio activity. This increases the number of calories you burn on a daily/weekly basis. This is something that may be useful when your plateau is relatively new.
b. Take walk breaks: This is something I like to incorporate when the plateau has stretched over a couple of weeks. Here, all you do is keep an alarm that rings every 2-2:30 hours and you take a 10-minute walk. You do not change any of your other activity levels but add this as an extra. These 10-min walks add 30-40 minutes of activity daily.
c. Get a step counter: This can be done with or without the first two steps and is a more accurate way of tracking things. Walking does not really impact your muscle growth and is an efficient way to add activity as you are essentially moving your entire body doing so. What you do is set a target step count for the day and hit those many steps as a minimum. You can download an app on your phone or invest some money in a fitness band. It could be a very basic one. I often recommend this one (http://amzn.to/2fcKD5k) to my clients but there is a whole lot variety you can pick from.
4. The WHOOSH is coming!
Explaining this is going to be weird. I’ll just add an image before describing it further.
The reason I call it weird is there is a mechanism (which is not yet figured out) but it happens. When you lose fat, the fat cells replace the lost triglycerides with water. This essentially makes it retain its shape, size, and structure. Then almost overnight (this can happen within days or weeks), the fat cell drops the water and reduces in size. People lose pounds of weight literally overnight.
There is a possibility that you are experiencing the same and all you need now is patience for the whoosh to happen. Just be consistent, you will have a night where you magically drop weight.
5. Take a break
Dieting leads to non-desirable regulation of hormones. The severity of it depends on how rigorous were you in terms of cutting calories and/or how long you have been dieting.
Your energy levels will be low, hunger will be through the roof at times and your mood would be bad. This is normal. It is advisable to have re-feed days or diet breaks here. I would not be getting into much detail about the hormones, give you brief about re-feeds and diet breaks, and when to incorporate them.
A re-feed is a day where you eat at maintenance calories, have adequate protein (1 g/lb. of LBM), 40-50 grams of fat and rest of your calories coming from carbohydrates. There is a good chance you might see a higher number on the scale the next day due to glycogen replenishment and associated water weight but it will eventually go away. Do not panic!
A re-feed, done for 1-2 weeks on a stretch is a diet break. Now, this is a strategic break to help you cope physically and psychologically with the entire dieting process. Treat it like that.
What I have experienced is some people tend to use this as a reason to stuff themselves with calorie-dense food items. There is nothing wrong enjoying calorie-dense food items as long as you know where to draw the line. You have to eat at maintenance and though it is essentially an ‘off-diet’ phase, you have to be accountable
The below tables are a good reference as to when should you be incorporating re-feeds or diet breaks:
Image: When to incorporate a re-feed day
Article contributed by - Pratik Thakkar, Co-founder and Coach (http://getsetgo.fitness/public/coachprofile/Pratik)