So you’ve hit a plateau with your weight loss … you’re exhausted, hungry, and frustrated.
“I just don’t understand it, I’ve been exercising more and eating so much less! It was working, but now, for some reason, it’s not.”
– Almost Everyone Everywhere
1. CHANGE YOUR DIET (Unlearn,Rethink)
Has the thought occurred that you may be taking the wrong approach? Well, for a vast majority of the population, that is the case. The 50 year old myth that expending more energy than you take in only works in the short term. It is simply not sustainable. Why you ask? Your body is smart and it tries to correct itself by slowing your metabolism. This is why you are tired, hungry and your weight loss has stalled. This is the point where you must, as I like to say “Unlearn. Rethink.”
The answer is simple. Weight loss and weight gain are not driven by calories alone. It’s about your body’s response to insulin! “Well, that doesn’t sound simple at all!” Oh, but it is:
- Insulin is the hormone that prompts your body to store fat.
- If you eat foods that cause a notable insulin response you will store fat (foods like sugar & refined carbohydrates)
- If you eat foods that do not cause a significant insulin response you will not store fat (foods with healthy fats, moderate protein, and perhaps fiber rich non-starchy vegetables)
I am simplifying just a bit in the interest of brevity, but when it is all said and done, it really is almost that simple. Do yourself a favor and research this. For those of you who have been following a calorie restrictive (calories in vs. calories out) regime, simply optimizing your nutrition from the standard high carb, low fat diet to a low carb, high fat diet, will get you over any weight loss plateau. That’s right, calories don’t mean as much as you’ve been led to believe. There are dozens of books that all come to this same conclusion, written by some of the foremost experts in nutrition and obesity. Just pick one and read it! Reading List
The remainder of the advice in this article will be in the context of a low carbohydrate diet (low-carb, ZeroCarb, LCHF, NSNG, Atkins, Banting, Paleo and/or a Ketogenic diet.)
2. OPTIMIZE YOUR METABOLISM
The most efficient way to lose weight is to first optimize your metabolism. Simply put, when your body is provided a steady flow of glucose from carbohydrates, it will use that glucose for energy first. If provided too much glucose, it will store that energy away into your fat cells. Depriving your body of carbohydrates over time (usually about 4-6 weeks) will force your body to start getting its energy from the healthy fats in your diet. Eventually your body will learn to acquire energy from your own stored body fat by way of the ketone bodies created in your liver. This is a very abbreviated description of the process. If you have not yet transformed yourself from a Carb Burner to a Fat Burner, I encourage you to delve deeper into the process. It will quite literally become the greatest factor in your fat burning efficiency. Here is a link that will more thoroughly explain the process:
3. TOO MANY CARBS
There are essential amino acids and there are essential fatty acids, but there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. If you’re having trouble moving the scale, it could be that your daily carbohydrate intake is too high. Every different version of a low carb diet has different theories and parameters for success. Every person is unique, some people can tolerate more carbs than others. Depending on your goals, and assuming that you want to get past a weight loss plateau, I would consider taking the Ketogenic diet route. This would entale lowering your daily carbohydrate intake to less than 20 grams. In addition, if you were one to count net carbs (meaning carbs minus fiber and sugar alcohols), consider counting total carbs instead. This article goes into greater detail as to how carbohydrates interact with your metabolism: A Rebel Without a Carb
4. PROTEIN: NOT ENOUGH OR TOO MUCH?
Your protein intake may be too high/low. This is a topic that has been very controversial as of late. Phinney and Volek, in their best selling book, say one thing, and Dr. Jason Fung says another in his. But, I like to keep it simple! In my interpretation of the topic, the consensus is a combination. It depends upon your goals!
Protein is a satiating macronutrient and you should include high-quality animal protein in your diet. Lack of protein can also lead to muscle loss. However, if you eat too much protein, the excess protein converts into glycogen and disrupts ketosis. Consider the simplicity of this approach: Dietary fats and dietary protein coexist in so many of the healthy foods we eat. Being that healthy fats make us feel full, usually whatever protein comes along with that fat just seems to be moderated by proxy.
- If you have plenty of excess body fat and exercise infrequently = lower your protein intake
- If you are close to your goal weight and are very active = raise your protein intake to protect the muscle you’ve built.
BUT you’re reading this article because you’re trying to get past a weight loss stall, am I right?! So, try staying on the lower side of the parameters.
Phinney and Volek, in their book “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living“ recommend 0.6 – 1 gram of protein per a pound of lean mass / 1.3 – 2.2 grams of protein per a kilogram of lean mass a day (lean mass = total body weight without fat). If you really want to nerd out on this topic, this is an excellent explanation of optimizing protein intake in the context of a Ketogenic diet by Richard Morris of Cambria Australia: Forward to about 20 minutes in and listen till 47 minutes Or, if you’d rather read about it, check out the written submission, also by Richard Morris: Click Here. If math is your thing, Click Here
5. HIDDEN CARBS, CHEMICALS AND SUGAR
Hidden carbs, chemicals or sugars in processed foods could be another possible cause of weight loss plateaus. You should try to avoid processed foods whenever possible. Don’t just look at the nutrition label, look at the ingredients list as well. You may find hidden sugars, chemicals and transfats that could also trip you up. Don’t just assume that all nuts are all the same, some food companies roast them in partially hydrogenated oils that are yet another source of dangerous transfats. To learn more about hidden transfats:
To learn more about hidden sugars and artificial sweeteners that will cause an insulin reaction:
In this video, Dr. Eric Westman explains the ketogenic diet and emphasises that even mints or gum could affect ketosis and weight loss results. Sometimes, when a label says sugar-free, it could still be riddled with carbohydrates.
6. TOO MANY CALORIES FROM FAT, WHAT?
It’s indisputable that all calories are NOT equal. It really matters whether you get them from healthy and sating LCHF food or processed food rich in carbs. Sam Feltham’s 5000 calorie experiments may be extreme, but they have shown that calories are most certainly NOT created equal and their source is is of paramount importance. However, some people on a LCHF diet may find it easier to lose weight if they also watch their calorie intake. Though they do not cause a significant insulin response, fat contains twice as many calories as either carbohydrates or protein.
When you started your low carb diet, regardless of what regimen, you likely began with an extremely carb restrictive and fat inclusive “induction phase.” This was for the purpose of becoming fat/keto adapted. You were teaching your body to discontinue the use of glucose (from carbs) as a fuel source while simultaneously teaching your body to seek fat stores for fuel. To encourage this process, eating healthy dietary fats to satiety assured that your new energy source was never in deficit. This process took anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months depending upon your personal level of insulin resistance.
Now that you are fat/keto adapted and you have hit your first extended weight loss plateau, it’s time to tweak your macros a bit. Don’t worry, it’s simple:
Now that your body has learned to get its energy from your fat stores …let it! Lighten up a bit on your fat intake to allow your body to target body fat. Once you’ve reached your goal weight and enter into a “maintenance phase” you can return your fat intake to the regularly scheduled program. I personally find 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carb to be an effective daily ratio for maintenance.
Also consider adding coconut oil or MCT oil to your diet. These medium chain triglycerides are satiating and are excellent for immediate energy and inducing Ketone production in the liver. They are also less likely to be stored.
7. LOW-CARB TREATS
Most manufacturers of prepackaged, processed low carb, sugar free, gluten free, yada, yada, treats only concern themselves with creating a product that has a low net carb count. These food companies will create products that are 7-10 grams of carbs and call it healthy. Honestly, do you really want to get half of your daily allotment of carbohydrates from a chemical laden, sugar alcohol filled chunk of mystery goo that’s the size of your middle finger? They also are known to use artificial sweeteners that, though they may be low in carbs, do, in fact, cause an insulin reaction in some people. I hate sounding like a cliché, but, we are unique “snowflakes.” What triggers an insulin reaction on one person, might not in another. We will discuss glucometer experimentation in #20.
Another point to note, even fat bombs and delicious homemade treats made from the finest ingredients can interrupt ketosis and, at the very least, spark cravings for sugar in some people. I would suggest avoiding all sweet foods when trying to hurdle a weight loss plateau.
8. SNACKING ON NUTS & CHEESE
One of the common mistakes people make is overeating dairy and nuts when they are trying to lose weight. You may experience weight stalling or even weight gain not because nuts and dairy will kick you out of ketosis but because these foods are calorie-dense and easy to overeat (100 grams of macadamia nuts has over 700 kcal and over 70 grams of fat!) Your body will look at this snack as if it were a meal and your insulin will remain at a basel level, but you are preventing your insulin from retreating into a non-feeding state. There is no reason to avoid non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, bell peppers or fruits like avocado or berries. These foods are very high in micronutrients, low in carbs and won’t impair your weight loss efforts. For more detailed information on this topic, read this article:
9. MEAL FREQUENCY & FASTING
The dogma of “3 square meals a day” has become so entrenched in modern society that we never even question its validity. Why not just eat when you’re hungry? I promise the meal frequency police will not knock down your door and arrest you for skipping breakfast, or lunch, or dinner for that matter. That other old wives tale that “you should eat 6 small meals a day” is also bunk. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t. For more details on the topic of meal frequency, click here.
Intermittent, Alternate-day and extended fasting has been in practice since the beginning of mankind. As a method for weight loss, it is safe and wonderfully effective. It’s health benefits stretch far beyond just weight loss. If you have already optimized your metabolism and have become fat/adapted (See #2), I encourage you to look deeper into this method of weight loss, especially if you have many pounds to lose. The last chapter in Dr. Jason Fung’s book “The Obesity Code” goes into great detail as to proper ways to implement a healthy fast.
In my personal experience, some form of fasting has gotten me (and many clients) successfully past every weight loss plateau that I’ve ever encountered. Don’t fear this! If your body is ready, it’s easier than you may think.
10. SHORT TERM WEIGHT FLUCTUATIONS
You put on weight over a short period of time. This could happen if you had more carbs (even once!) than your daily limit (e.g. you went to a party). As you may know, there is a relationship between water retention and glycogen stores. If your body manages to store some extra glycogen, you also increase water retention. This happens literally from one day to the next. Don’t panic, it’s just water. Once you’ve gone back to your daily routine, this will repair itself, though it may take from 2 to 3 days to lose the excessive water.
11. THYROID OR ADRENAL DISEASE
You may have a thyroid or adrenal dysfunction that you are unaware of. It only takes a blood / saliva test to find out – visit your doctor! Dr. Broda Barnes, spent over 50 years on thyroid research, suggested in his book “Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness” that the minimum amount of carbohydrate intake for patients with hypothyroidism should at least 30 grams of net carbs.
In this short video, Neurologist Dr. Perlmutter interviews one of the foremost experts in thyroid disfunction:
If you want to learn more about thyroid/adrenal disorders and the tests you may require: Click Here
Managing stress is a significant factor in weight loss. When we are stressed, our bodies produces a hormone called cortisol, which is responsible for storing fat around your stomach area (visceral fat), and makes weight loss more difficult. Cortisol initiates the “fight or flight” mechanism in our brain, telling our body to store energy in our fat cells that it doesn’t actually need. Stress, and the cortisol reaction it causes, can be the most significant culprit in weight loss plateaus for many adults.
The trick is finding a stress relieving technique that works for you. Some might find meditation or prayer useful, while others find a long walk to be cathartic. Exercise in any form can be a great stress reliever! Many find solace while occupying their mind with a hobby. You know yourself better than anyone, do something that makes you happy at least once a day.
For more information on how stress effects Ketosis and metabolism: Click Here
13. LACK OF PROPER SLEEP
Lack of sleep, and disrupted circadian rhythms, can trip up your progress in regards to weight loss. It may sound cliche, but sleep is a vital part of the fat loss process. The time you spend sleeping is also a time you spend fasting, allowing your insulin levels to submerge to below their basel levels. This is also the time when many of your bodies systems are receiving essential opportunities for repair.
A normal day is no longer normal when conducted with lack of proper sleep. This is a cause of stress that drives a cortisol hormone reaction in your body. (See #11 STRESS above). 7 to 8 hours of sleep, per night are recommended to allow for proper rejuvenation.
Have trouble falling to sleep? In addition to the obvious recommendations, there are some healthy measures that one can take to optimize your ability to fall asleep.
- Discontinue screen time an hour before bed.
- Take your magnesium supplement an hour before bed time.
- Consider 10mg of Melatonin an hour before bed time.
NyQuil and many other liquid sleeping aides are riddled with sugar, not to mention other chemicals that can be a detriment to your efforts. ALSO: Don’t fall prey to any of the old wives tales about a glass of warm milk, or some concoction with organic honey in it. Both are just sugar delivery systems that are not only counterproductive for sleep, but for weight loss as well.
For an intensive and thorough scientific explanation of the inner-workings of sleep in the context of both carbohydrates and Ketosis: Click Here
14. LEPTIN & SATIETY
The hormone Leptin, and its satiety signaling mechanisms could also be a culprit in your weight loss troubles. Fat is hormonally active and it sends out leptin, a hormone that tells us when we’ve had enough to eat. As you lose fat, there will be less fat cells to do the job. This does not apply just to low-carb/ketogenic diets, but any diet. The question is how significant this factor is for your particular situation. Bottom line: If you eat food rich in fat and protein, this leptin anomaly can be minimized.
If you would like to learn more about leptin, no one explains it better than Dr. Michael Eades M.D.
15. TOO MUCH EXERCISE
In this confusing world of nutrition and fitness there is so much advise dispensed that is only based on heresay, old wives tales, or bro-science from some roided-out musclehead at the gym. Though the myths that most folks just accept as fact are seemingly countless, this is one that is actually true: “Muscle weighs more than fat.” I’m sure you can do the math yourself. Though there are literally dozens of wonderful benefits to be gained from a healthy amount of exercise, weight loss isn’t one of them.
Here are three short excerpts from Dr. Jason Fung on the subject:
“But diet and exercise are not fifty-fifty partners like macaroni and cheese. Diet is Batman and exercise is Robin. Diet does 95 per cent of the work and deserves all the attention; so, logically, it would be sensible to focus on diet.”
“A recent study suggests that 75 per cent of the weight-loss response in obesity is predicted by insulin levels. Not willpower. Not caloric intake. Not peer support or peer pressure. Not exercise. Just insulin.”
“Exercise is still healthy and important—just not equally important. It has many benefits, but weight loss is not among them. Exercise is like brushing your teeth. It is good for you and should be done every day. Just don’t expect to lose weight.”
Exercise is of vital importance to maintain good health, and it shouldn’t be discouraged. However, exercising to excess for the purpose of weight loss, that’s just counterproductive. After all, you are trying to hurdle a weight loss plateau. If weight loss is your goal, take a walk or a run, maybe a trip to the gym. Do something daily. But if you think that you need to push yourself like you’re training for the olympics in order to move the scale a bit, well, you might be your own problem.
16. MENSTRUATION & CRAVINGS
Don’t weigh yourself during your period, or at least, don’t give any validity to what you see. This isn’t a weight loss stall, this is an expected fluctuation.
Estrogen is dominate during the first part of your cycle (however long that is for you, think *snowflake) during that time, on average, women eat 15% less naturally. During and just preceding your period, progesterone dominates, and you may eat ~15% more. This is the time when the cravings are a factor and your body is driving you to binge. This is a natural hormonal process. This is where will-power is essential. Don’t deny your increased appetite completely, just make an effort to satiate yourself with LCHF foods. It will all level out eventually (and of course, start all over again).
Don’t compare your weight loss journey to that of your male counterparts. On average, weight loss is a slower process for women. Think of your journey as a staircase: 3 steps forward, 1 step back, 3 steps forward, 1 step back, etc. You will get to the top eventually.
For some more insight into the unique challenges that women face on a LCHF/Ketogenic diet: Listen to This
Frequent consumption of alcohol could be the culprit in stalling your weight loss. We’ve all seen studies touting the benefits of a daily glass of wine. Whether these studies are true or not, alcohol is most certainly not an essential nutrient. When trying to hurdle a weight loss plateau, this is something that could be discontinued.
Beer and spirits mixed with sugary mixers are the worst in the libation portfolio. Beer is practically the glycemic equivalent of eating a loaf of bread. Most mixed drinks are sugar bombs that will send your insulin levels into the stratosphere. Both are completely counterproductive. Though less of a detriment, straight spirits such as whiskey, bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, tequila, etc can still stifle your progress. Not to mention the effect an altered mental status can have on cravings.
18. DRUG INTERACTIONS
Many prescription medications can cause weight gain. If you are currently taking meds, it is within the realm of possibility that one of your medications, or their interactions with other drugs could be the culprit in your weight loss dilemma. Unfortunately, in this world of hyperpharmacology, it would be an impossibility for me to list all of the medications that have the side effect of weight gain. Might I suggest researching the meds that you are taking, or inquiring of your doctor.
*IMPORTANT: Never discontinue a medication without first consulting your doctor.
19. JOURNAL AND ASK FOR HELP
Still flummoxed as to why the scale won’t move? Well, perhaps what seems mysterious to you, might not be such a mystery to someone else. Consider writing down everything you eat for a few days, and share it with a friend, or someone you perceive as more knowledgeable than yourself in regards to your diet regime. If you have access to an expert, ask them to take a look. Sometimes Internet forums such as twitter or Facebook groups can provide you with help.
Maybe you’ve been eating a particularly problematic food item or ingredient that you are simply unaware of. Perhaps this food item or ingredient has even become a staple in your diet. I once had a client that was perplexed as to why the weight loss had stopped, only to discover that she had a 2 pack a day gum chewing habit. Turns out this gum was sweetened with a sugar derivative that was spiking her insulin.
20. CHECK YOUR BLOOD SUGAR
As we’ve discussed before, our bodies are all unique. In some cases, especially when it comes to artificial sweeteners, what might cause an adverse insulin response in me, might not have that same reaction in you. The only way to discover what triggers are unique to you and your metabolism would be to test yourself.
Glucometers have become very common. They are readily available, relatively cheap and easy to use.
Follow this regime to test your glucose levels vs. any particular food, drink or sweetener:
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