Have you ever felt defeated at the hands a dreaded weight-loss plateau?
You are not alone!
It is a common occurrence when dieting: you eat less and workout to lose weight…it works well for a while…and then suddenly…NOTHING! No more weight-loss — despite your best efforts!
When this happens it’s time to bring in the cavalry: clever ways to trick your body into thinking it is NOT being deprived! Why? Because it is our body’s natural instinct to hold onto fat and slow our metabolism when food is scarce (when we are on a diet).
Read on for the BEST ways (I have found) to break a weight-loss plateau:
1. Calorie Cycling
What is it?
Easy. Cycling your calories means changing your daily/monthly calorie intake. In other words: if your daily calorie goal for weight-loss is 1500 calories, then your weekly goal would be 10 500 calories. The objective is to STOP having a consistent calorie intake of 1500 calories EVERY day if your weight-loss has plateaued. Instead, cycle the daily amounts – keeping the weekly total the same. Therefore, alternate between high calorie and low-calorie days.
Example: Your weekly goal is 10 500 calories, so your week could look something like this:
Monday: 1500 calories
Tuesday: 1000 calories
Wednesday: 2000 calories
Thursday: 1500 calories
Friday: 2000 calories
Saturday: 1500 calories
Sunday: 1000 calories
The idea is to cycle calories to avoid negative effects associated with dieting, such as increased hunger, slow metabolism, and undesirable hormonal changes.
For example: When on a diet, leptin (the fullness hormone) levels decrease, and ghrelin (the hunger hormone) levels increase – making you increasingly hungry as time goes by. Calorie cycling could reduce this effect considerably by avoiding constant low-calorie days.
The above concept could also be applied on a weekly or monthly basis. The main objective is simply to change the daily number of calories you consume to avoid hitting a plateau. So, theoretically, you could stick to your weight-loss plan for 3 weeks and then perhaps include a high-calorie week – and return to the low-calorie diet thereafter. OR you could even perform monthly calorie cycles: like consuming a low-calorie diet (1200-1500 calories per day) for 3 months, and then consuming a higher calorie diet for the next 3 months (1800-2000 calories). Bodybuilders use this strategy as a valuable tool in their transformation by employing cycles of cutting and bulking to build muscle and cut fat efficiently.
Additionally, aim to train mostly on high-calorie days.
2. Carbohydrate Cycling
What is it?
The methodology of carbohydrate cycling is very similar to calorie cycling – except the focus is on cycling carbohydrates and not specifically calories. Therefore, you would calculate your carbohydrate needs for the week and then cycle them throughout the week.
Monday: NO CARB (less than 50g)
Note: On high carb days your fat needs to be at minimum – 20% or less.
Use carbohydrate cycling to avoid hitting a plateau (this could be fitness or weight-loss plateau). Why? Because you will consume carbohydrates when they are most likely to be burned as fuel and NOT stored. Therefore, this method goes hand-in-hand with training — high carb on training days to fuel and preserve muscle tissue (a typical diet can cause substantial muscle loss). Ideally, you should consume most of the carbs you eat early in the day and pre/post workout. This way your body will use them efficiently.
Additionally, the objective is improved hormonal response and increased diet compliance by cycling high and low carbohydrate days (instead of consistent low carb = low energy, increased hunger).
Carbs aren’t your enemy! The problem comes in when we eat TOO many carbs from BAD sources when we DON’T need the energy. For example, eating junk food late at night.
However, this method will need tweaking because carbohydrate tolerance varies from person to person.
3. Mix Up Your Fitness Routine
What does it mean?
Mix it up! Avoid training the same old boring exercise routine for months on end! If you have been training for months now without seeing any progress – maybe it is time to mix things up! Personally, my body fights against any form of fat loss – but after 23 years or so I’ve learnt some tricks.
Not everyone’s body responds the same way, but in most cases, your body will resist burning fat. So, in the beginning of your new fitness plan, you are probably seeing loads of results – and you feel exhausted and stiff after a good workout sesh. But – after a few weeks your body starts adjusting to the program and the workouts get easier – making you fitter but unfortunately halting the fat loss.
No offense, but I have done a few rounds of the Kayla Itsines 12-week program where my body just STOPS changing at around week 8. At first, I was perplexed by this because the workouts get more intense as the weeks pass. However, I was tired of training so hard without any results – so I started adding strategic “off weeks”. This really made a difference!
An “off week” meant taking a break from the workout I was busy with (in this case HIIT training). So, I would incorporate no-training days in the week, along with yoga days (really good for recovery) and fun runs by the beach or on the mountain (a great stress reliever). At the end of the week, my body felt rested – and the HIIT felt more difficult again the next week (meaning my body was pushing itself again and burning fat).
Another way to use this technique is by changing your entire routine every month to 3 months. In my experience, my body doesn’t respond well to the same routine longer than 3 months. And I have witnessed some really good progress by changing my routine every 4 weeks (this works well for my body in particular, but you should gauge on what works well for you).
• Three weeks on, 1 week off
• Three months on – switch routine for next three months
• Change intensity with heavier weights or include intervals (like 30 seconds of skipping between sets).
4. Keep a close eye on calories and track macros
What does it mean?
The scenario is that you are trying to eat less to lose weight – but after a while, you realize that you aren’t losing weight anymore! A possible cause could be that you aren’t tracking your energy intake very closely – meaning that those calories are slowly but surely sneaking up on you.
First, calculate your daily calorie allowance (follow the link below for everything you need to know). Remember to calculate your BMR (basal metabolic rate) and multiply it by the appropriate activity factor. Resist the urge to consume the number of calories specified by your BMR – it is TOO LOW. If you’d like to take things further – calculate your macros (ratios of carbs, protein, and fat) for your desired objectives (like fat loss, fitness, muscle building etc) to maximise your diet and fitness efforts.
Then download a calorie tracking app like MyFitnessPal. It will take the guess-work out of calorie tracking and make your life a whole lot easier! By tracking your daily calories for a few weeks, you will be able to get to the bottom of your stalled weight-loss and discover whether you are in fact eating too many calories without knowing it – or whether there is actually another evil at play. In this way, you will at least be able to eliminate a possible cause and move on to the next suspect. (Note that your macronutrient ratios could also be the problem, so it is worth looking into.)
Follow the link below to calculate your calories and macros for maximum results:
5. Intermittent Fasting
What is it?
Simple. All you do is fast for 2-3 days a week by eating only around 20% of your total calories for that day – and eating them after fasting for at least 16 hours.
Example: You decide to fast on a Tuesday and Thursday. You eat dinner at 8 pm on Monday night, then fast until 12 pm on Tuesday before eating again. For the remainder of the day, you eat 400 calories (or max 600) calories. On Wednesday, you eat normally again and repeat the process for Thursday.
My experience: Don’t be fooled – it was tough, but it gets easier as you go along.
In my opinion, it was a great way to break a weight-loss plateau – but it didn’t work as a long-term weight loss solution.
In the beginning, I would slowly work myself up to fasting for a full day, because the hunger was quite intense. I started by skipping breakfast…and then eventually lunch as well.
You will find that you lose weight quite quickly in the beginning – and then it slowly starts to plateau as well. At this point you would probably lose the motivation to keep going unless you are fasting for other health benefits:
- Improved blood pressure
- Improved cholesterol levels
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Reduced risk of diabetes
- Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Despite the above benefits of intermittent fasting – be weary of possible side effects such as dehydration (be sure to drink plenty of water when fasting), headaches (they are normal), and heartburn (I haven’t personally experienced this).
Another point to note: is be careful NOT to use this method as a CRUTCH…in other words – don’t use fasting as a way to psychologically make yourself feel better about overeating, or eating a load of junk (on your off days). It’s not healthy and could very likely develop into a full-blown eating disorder!
Benefits (in my experience)
This method worked very well for me at a stage where I struggled to lose weight, but it definitely wasn’t a long term strategy. Personally, I love to eat – and I would prefer eating less, but be able to eat every day. Another reason why this wouldn’t be my favourite strategy, is because breakfast is my favourite meal of the day (I am starving when I wake up in the morning). So, skipping breakfast isn’t an easy task for me.
Besides personality issues – the weight-loss stalled after a number weeks. So obviously, I wouldn’t continue to starve my self without reward (doesn’t make any sense!).
BUT – the best effect I experienced from intermittent fasting was: mindfulness!
Surprise surprise! In the long run, this actually made me lose a lot more weight than fasting directly. Why? Because for me (and I’m sure for a lot of people), overeating is a psychological problem. So it makes sense that learning “mindfulness” would actually help you eat less…and it did!
Here is the Wikipedia definition of MINDFULNESS:
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training. The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali term sati, which is a significant element of Buddhist traditions. In Buddhist teachings, mindfulness is utilized to develop self-knowledge and wisdom that gradually lead to what is described as enlightenment or the complete freedom from suffering.
This means that you will be more mindful when eating – for example, being more aware of when you are satisfied.
6. Have Dinner for Breakfast
What does it mean?
If you are currently eating your meals in the traditional manner: meaning your meal size increases from breakfast to dinner (i.e. smallest meal for breakfast and biggest meal for dinner) – think about switching it around by consuming most of your calories for breakfast and lunch and having a very small dinner.
To be honest, I completely understand why we all love eating big for dinner. I mean, after a long day, all you want to do is relax at home with a big plate of hearty food that will fill your belly and make you sleep soundly. But if you want to do right by your body you will do the opposite and eat this meal for brekkie. Why? Because that is when your body needs the fuel! Sometimes we forget that we are supposed to eat food for fuel and NOT for emotional comfort (we should eat to live and not live to eat). This is the precise reason why the obesity stats keep on climbing: food tastes too darn good and confuses our satiety signals.
Growing up, my family would eat exactly like I mentioned above: a little bit of cereal for lunch, sarmies for lunch…and a nice big hearty plate of food for supper. When this is how you’ve been eating for years – it’s difficult to suddenly do an about-change to the exact opposite. Nowadays, I do eat the smallest meal for supper. This has eventually become my routine and I actually much prefer it! I feel lighter because I allow my food the time to be properly digested and burned for energy. However, I’ll admit that I enjoy the old routine of my parents every now and then when I visit 😊
In essence, this method could help you focus your calories more strategically throughout the day so that there is the least likelihood for fat storage.
7. Cut toxins
What does it mean?
This method will probably be the most difficult strategy to implement because of all the foods you’ll have to remove from your diet for a while. Personally, I like to use this method to reset my metabolism and detox my liver once a year or so. And believe me – this method works WONDERS! After doing my usual research, I discovered that many people who previously struggled to lose weight actually achieved great success 😊 Those people were typically the chronic dieters – people who have deprived their bodies so much that they gain weight from eating a piece of lettuce (can you relate?!)! This happens when your metabolism has slowed to a near halt and you need to rehabilitate it.
Cut out the following toxins for 4 weeks to get your metabolism humming again:
Preservatives (MSG, Aspartame, Sodium Benzoate etc)
Now you may be asking yourself: what the heck CAN I eat???!!
WHOLE FOODS!!!!! Meat, eggs, avocado, lots of fruits and veggies, brown rice, rooibos tea (naturally decaf), lots of water etc.
** If you are interested in receiving a personalized 4-week detox meal plan – email firstname.lastname@example.org for a discount rate.