I have been seriously working at losing weight for about 3 months and change. I have had my ups and my downs, but I have more or less stayed the course. I have lost fat, gained some lean body mass and generally am starting to feel better. However, I recognize I still have quite a bit of distance left in this race. Getting healthy is a marathon after all, not a sprint. Even harder in my case,  when you know just how far you have let yourself go.

For the last week or two, I haven’t really seen the fat loss gains I had expected. I realize that I burned through the initial 5-7 easy pounds that we can all throw off right away, and that things would slow down after that. I had thought I was beyond that point, but I guess I was wrong. I was wrong for other reasons though. And as a result I was in a plateau, neither gaining nor losing. In this battle, if you aren’t losing, you aren’t “winning”.  I can’t afford to have to spend another calorically depressed month languishing in this rut, mentally grinding myself down. I needed a way out.  I needed to figure it out.

At work, I am an Analyst. It’s what I do. I look at a problem; figure out common failure modes, causes and factors, then devise a course of corrective action. That is exactly what I needed here. So first, I sat down and with the help of the internet, brainstormed out the top reasons why someone in my situation would fail to lose weight. I had to debunk some myths and toss out some really non-quantifiable stuff along the way. The once I narrowed down my list to the most probable, I went through each one by one and picked out those that fit. Most I could easily prove or disprove. The more data you have or lack the easier it is to figure out what the problem is.

The next cut was out of all of the applicable causes, to select what I believed were the five that would have the most impact if I could correct them. Five seemed like a good number. I had more than that, but you can’t fix everything at once, and out of the top five that I selected, two of them were minor at best but they were contributors.  Someone else may try this and only find one or two which is a pretty manageable number.

Now in case you want to try this for yourself, here are the most common causes and explanations for each one:

  1. Unrealized weight loss: Fat is not as dense as lean muscle tissue. It is possible that fat was lost while muscle was gained, and thus the scale doesn’t move. This can be especially true if you are doing heavy resistance training. The easy solution is to track measurements such as waist as well as weight. I selected this as one of my top 5. Waist measurement every time I weigh myself.
  2. Am I eating too many calories: Are my daily caloric requirements accurate? This is the foundation upon which many of us build our weight loss houses. Go back and check your original figure. If that is correct then is it still appropriate? Gradual weight loss will move that total down over time, so the original number should change. Also, activity level has more than likely increased, which affects that base number. Solution: check it and make sure what you are using is still applicable.
  3. Am I accurately tracking what I am eating? Science has proven that people who track with a food diary will generally lose more weight. But over time we get sloppy. Have I been fairly consistent and accurate with what I have been tracking. Take a hard look back at your logs or diaries. Solution: If you don’t have one, then start one. I currently use MyFitnessPal, but there are other alternatives such as MyFoodDiary.com or My Plate by Livestrong. Even a spiral notebook if you want to go low tech.
  4. How much of my diet is clean? What is the quality of what you are eating? If you are eating mostly prepared foods from bags or tins, then you need a change. Whole food is the key. It doesn’t have to be organic, but it shouldn’t be made in a lab or a factory. These foods are high in chemical additives, sugar and excess sodium, and low in natural dietary fiber. They can also lead to chronic inflammation. Solution: Make the switch, as much as possible. 100% clean is not really doable consistently, especially in modern society. Strive for 80-90% clean.
  5. Am I getting enough protein? Lean protein intake is important ad cannot be overlooked. No matter what your goal, you really can’t go wrong here. High protein intake boosts your metabolism by upwards of 100 calories a day. It also helps to reduce cravings and contributes to satiety. Protein helps to prevent metabolic slow down which can occur when you are calorically deficient over a long period, and helps preserve lean muscle mass. Solution: Keep your protein intake to around 25% or higher of your total calories. Also on my top five. A review of the daily macros in MyFitnessPal showed quite a few days where my protein intake dropped below 30%. Protein intake now gets more attention and should be above 30% every day.
  6. How high is my carb intake? For those of us with a lot of weight to lose or a diabetic condition, low-carbohydrate is beneficial. How low is a subject for some debate. Low glycemic index foods are the goal here. The higher your percentage of carbs, then the lower your percentages of protein and fat which can be counterproductive. Solution: Depending on your goals, keep your carbs as low as you think you need them.  It should be below 60% of your caloric intake.  Avoid excess high-glycemic carbs such as excess fruit, fruit juice, and refined grains. Another item on my top 5. For me low cab works well. My daily carb intake is now lowered to 25% of my daily calories.
  7. Am I eating too often? The theory that eating small meals more often can speed up your metabolism, which in turn leads to burning more calories. There isn’t any definitive science to support this. Plus, eating smaller but more frequent meals keeps you almost continuously hungry. Solution: Once you know your caloric and macronutrient requirements for the day, prepare standard meals, and use some snacks in between to balance out your macros.
  8. Is there any “binge” eating going on? Even with healthy foods, binge eating leads to consuming excess calories. It’s also damages our mental perception of food, as we see it as a form of comfort instead of fuel for our bodies. Junk foods are easy to binge on because of their high caloric content. But then again so is a healthy bag of trail mix. Solution: Ensure you are eating satisfying meals, and keep a healthy snack nearby. Like a protein bar in the purse, desk or car.
  9. Drinkable sugar: This stuff is everywhere, especially in “fitness culture”. Drinkable sugars come in many forms. Healthy-minded folks will take a pass on a can of Pepsi, but we won’t hesitate to get out our juicers and consume several hundred calories of high glycemic carbs in the form of fructose from all the oranges and pineapple we just juiced. Or we have that post-workout Gatorade or Vitamin Water to replace all those electrolytes we think we just used up. Think of this, that bottle of Gatorade just erased 15 minutes of treadmill time. Solution: Unless you are a professional athlete or are training consistently in the heat multiple times a day, stay away from sports drinks. And beware juicing. When juicing, mix in green vegetables and avoid excess sweet fruits.
  10. Do you eve lift bro? Does your exercise routine include progressive resistance training? All cardio, all the time, only serves to make you “skinny fat”. If you are going through the trouble of losing all that fat, make sure you find something good underneath otherwise, what is the point? Resistance training counteracts metabolic slowdown. Also, increased lean muscle mass means you burn more calories at rest. Solution: If it’s not part of your current workout plan, add it in. Even if it’s just a whole body workout once a week; heavy resistance training also improves performance in many endurance sports as well.
  11. Are you doing cardio? Exactly the same, yet opposite problem as the previous cause. You cannot live by lifting alone. Cardio is more effective at burning off visceral fat faster than just resistance training. You should have a couple of cardio sessions programmed in weekly, either with your resistance training or on days when you don’t do any weight training. Solution: If it’s not there, add it in. This is item #4 on my top five list. I was doing cardio in between strength days, but IA started slacking off early on because I was seeing results.
  12. How are you sleeping? You need sleep. It helps the body recover, grows muscle, and allows you to process the events of the day. Not sleeping well places stress on the body and the mind, which in turn alters your Cortisol and Leptin levels. Both of which help regulate normal body fat levels. Fatigue also results in lackluster fitness performance, and gives you one more excuse to skip your workout. Your body operates on a noticeably higher level when it is well rested. Solution: First, track your sleep. If you are not consistently getting at least 6.5 to 7 hours a night, you need to make some adjustments in your life. If not sleeping is not by choice, there are a lot of natural as well as doctor prescribed solutions. Also, similar to the concept of e re-feed, consider a sleep-in day, or going to bed really early one night a week.

13 Are you drinking enough water? How much is adequate? Who knows. More than likely you don’t need to drink a gallon a day. That will just over-flush nutrients out of your system. And who wants to run to the bathroom that much? Somewhere between 48-64 ounces of water seems to be the norm. That’s water, NOT  LIQUIDS.  Solution: If you can find a better way to track it, do so. But you may find you need some sort of reminder that you need to drink a few extra big bottles of water every day. I had not been tracking my water, and after some reflection, I realized that I haven’t been drinking near enough water. Now I am tracking ad requiring 64 fl. oz. daily.

  1. Sir, have you been drinking? Alcohol can seriously retard weight loss efforts on many fronts. Empty alcohol based carbs, excess calories, the beer bloat, hangovers sapping motivation, dehydration, etc. etc. You can’t be serious about your fitness and over consume alcohol on a regular basis. You can however, make allowances for it in your diet. Stick to spirits or red wine, hold back on your carb intake throughout the day prior to drinking. There are lots of things you can do. However, if you find yourself constantly re-arranging your diet to accommodate your drinking, it should be obvious where the problem lies. Solution: First, alcohol can be a part of your life under controlled circumstances. You have to keep your relationship with it in the proper perspective. Most tracking apps have most common alcoholic beverages in them, so that can be a timesaver and eliminate the guess work.
  2. Supplemental problems: Last, take a hard look at all that fitness industry related crap you may be pouring down your food hole. I am in no way saying you do or don’t need it. But all those fat-burners, protein powders, recovery shakes, pre-workout’s and BCAA’s can start to add up. They can actually be a hidden threat and hamper rather than help. Solution: Know what you are taking. Read the labels. Don’t use it if you can’t find out what is in it. Especially with all these “proprietary” blends of things. Count the calories in your daily total. And if you are not 100% sure why you are taking it, and exactly what it is actually doing for you., then save money and stop taking it.

That’s it. A lot I know! But if you are stuck, take a look at this list. Find 3-5 items that you believe are applicable to your situation and execute your recovery plan. Sometimes the shakeup is enough to knock your body out of the rut. One last word, I didn’t mention it in my list, but make sure your expectations are realistic. Maybe you have lost some, but you just don’t think it’s enough. Don’t go to extreme measures to satisfy some unrealistic goal. Be reasonable.

Thanks, enjoy…….

Keep moving, stay Sharky!

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6 thoughts on “Beating the Plateau 101

  1. Thanks a lot for this list – it’s a handy reference for me as I’m also looking to lean up/loose a little weight.

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