So you’ve stopped losing weight
It’s been a full two weeks since the last time the scale has shown any signs of progress. You seem to have stopped losing weight and it absolutely sucks. You’re mad at the scale – and you’re even a little angry at yourself. But, mostly, you’re just confused.
All sorts of questions are popping up in your head:
“What’s going on?”
“Why have I stopped losing weight?”
“Am I eating too much?”
“Could it be that I’m eating too little?”
“Whatever is going on, how do I fix it?”
Well, fear not because, in this article, we’ll help you figure out why you’ve stopped losing weight and what you can do to kick-start weight loss again.
Let’s get right into it, then!
You have stopped losing weight for one of three reasons
In general, one (or a combination) of three reasons could be responsible for why you’ve stopped losing weight:
- You are recompositioning – that is, you are gaining muscle at a similar rate to which you are losing fat.
- You are retaining water.
- You are not actually losing fat because you are not in a caloric deficit
Let’s take a closer look at each of the reasons outlined above.
1. You are recompositioning
If one, or more, of the following applies, then it’s very likely that you are gaining muscle while losing fat:
How to know if this is what’s going on
What we recommend, in this case, involves two steps:
- The first is to consider if one or more of the points we listed above applies.
- The second step is to use more than just the scale for assessing your results. Body recompositioning without weight loss won’t be apparent using the scale, but it’s more likely that you will notice it in the mirror, in before and after photos, in the way your clothes fit and by using a tape measure to record the circumference of your torso, waist and thighs. Remember, not losing weight doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not making progress.
2. You are retaining water
Let’s face it. Weight loss is rarely a linear process.
What we almost always see in both research and in practice is that weight loss happens in periods of no change which are followed by sudden weight loss drops. These periods of no change where you’ve stopped losing weight are nothing to worry about.
Why does this happen though?
One very plausible explanation is the one Lyle McDonald talks about in his article “Of Whooshes and Squishy Fat”.
Essentially, Lyle explains that, when fat loss occurs, the fat cells which are emptied of triglyceride are, temporarily, filled with water. This means that, in the short term, no change seems to have occurred, since both visually and in terms of weight loss, nothing has happened yet. Then, usually overnight, the body releases the stored water, causing a large drop in body weight, essentially making the fat loss that had already occurred “apparent”. This is called the “whoosh” effect.
Water retention is thought to take place as a result of the increase in cortisol that accompanies any type of stressor. Put simply, stressors (e.g. dieting, intense exercise, psychological stress etc) increase cortisol secretion in the body, which, in turn, causes the body to store more water. So, essentially, you’ve stopped losing weight because water retention masking it.
What to do about it
If you are retaining water, here’s a few things you may want to consider doing:
- Do less exercise. If your training regimen involves something like 5 days of weight training, 2 sessions of HIIT and 3 sessions of low intensity cardio per week, you are probably overdoing it. In general, 2-4 weight training sessions per week with minimal amounts of cardio should be plenty to reach your fitness goals.
- Incorporate refeeds. Refeeds are, essentially, days where you increase your caloric intake (primarily from carbohydrates) to maintenance. This helps alleviate your body from some of the perceived stress and make weight plateaus shorter and less frequent.
- Incorporate diet breaks. A diet break is a period where you stop dieting for a couple of weeks. This can help reverse some of the physiological adaptations to dieting (including chronically elevated cortisol levels) and can also give you a psychological boost. Note that, when we say that you stop dieting, we don’t mean that you can go to an all-you-can-eat buffet everyday for two weeks. Instead, we mean that you can take calories back to maintenance or, if you are not counting calories, take a slightly more relaxed approach to dieting.
- Relax, be patient and trust the process. If you are convinced that you are doing what you should be doing, then there’s no reason to stress over not losing weight. Just relax and be patient. Your body will, eventually, drop the excess water.
3. You are not actually in a caloric deficit
As we’ve mentioned in one of our articles entitled “The Secret to Fat Loss: Time to Uncover the Truth” and according to scientific research, the primary criterion for fat loss is a sustained negative energy balance between intake and output (i.e. a caloric deficit).
This means that one of the likely reasons you’ve stopped losing weight could simply be that you are eating too many calories.
“But I’m sure that I’m not eating too much!”
Well, unfortunately, unless you are systematically and accurately tracking everything that goes in your mouth every single day and you know how to estimate the approximate number of calories you are burning on average every day, it’s quite unlikely to know for sure that you are, indeed, in a caloric deficit.
You see, the body is great at defending itself from change – this is what we call homeostasis. Eat 500 calories less that what you usually eat and your body will make sure to:
- Make you feel a little hungrier so that you eat more.
- Make you feel a little more tired so that you move less.
Before you know it, you are eating 200 calories more than what you intended to (so you are eating 300 rather than 500 calories less) and you are also expending 200 calories fewer. This means that the 500 calorie deficit you thought you had created is closer to a 100 calorie deficit which will make weight loss so slow, that it will make it seems like you’ve stopped losing weight altogether.
What should you do, then? We recommend that you:
- Keep a food diary for, at least, a week so that you accurately track your caloric intake. This will help you figure out if you are, in reality, eating as little as you think you are.
- Try to be more conscious of how much you are moving every day. Do you find yourself sitting down more? Do you find yourself staying motionless for longer periods of time? When standing up, are you leaning on furniture with every chance you get? Are you slouching more? If yes, then it’s likely that your body is trying to find ways to decrease its energy expenditure so that it prevents fat loss from happening.
Let’s recap on why you’ve stopped losing weight and what to do about it
1. You are recompositioning
If you are an overweight beginner, have recently corrected something you were doing very wrong with your training/nutrition, are returning to training from a long layoff, or on repartitioning drugs, you may not be losing weight because you are gaining muscle and losing fat at a similar rate. This won’t show on the scale, but can become evident visually with changes in how your clothes fit you, in before and after photos, and by measuring changes in the circumference of different parts of your body.
2. You are retaining water
Weight loss doesn’t happen linearly, partly because of water retention caused by excess stress and increased cortisol levels. So, essentially, you’re not losing weight because your body is holding too much water which is masking your progress. Consider doing a little less exercise and incorporating refeeds and diet breaks. If all else fails, relax, be patient and trust the process.
3. You are not actually losing fat because you are not in a caloric deficit
The final reason that could be responsible for why you’ve stopped losing weight is a lack of a negative balance between energy intake and output. If you are not 100% certain that you are in a caloric deficit, accurately track your food intake for a week or two and start paying more attention to your energy levels throughout the day.
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