Are You a Weight Warrior?
We’ve all been there – you leap out of bed, in anticipation of your weekly weigh in, super sure that all the hard work you’ve put in over the last week is going to result in an epic weight loss.
Half with trepidation, half with excitement, you scurry to the bathroom, pull out your scales; jump on, and…….
Down to earth with a bump.
Your weight’s up from what it was last week.
What gives? You’ve been incredibly consistent with your diet – you hit your calorie goals and macronutrient ranges, ate healthily, and even managed to fit a small bar of chocolate and glass of wine into your carb allowance at the weekend.
To say this sucks is an understatement….
The Two Paths
While this weight plateau (or even gain) issue affects both guys and girls, throughout my coaching I’ve found that women tend to be more prone to large weight fluctuations than men. Therefore, ladies, this article is for you.
Flicking back to the above, what do you do when the scale starts giving you the middle finger? For most, it’s one of two things –
- You go on some sort of crazy restrictive elimination diet.
Convinced that calorie counting doesn’t work, and that your plan’s flawed, you throw everything to one side, and embark on the latest shake-based diet, go out and spend a fortune on fat burning pills and powders, or worse still, go on some sort of horrific detox.
- You binge
Depressed that all your hard work is for nothing, you make up your mind that dieting just isn’t for you.
Why worry about such trivial things as body fat and barbells when you can be fat and happy eating sweets all day.
So you do.
Your one day “off” your diet quickly turns into a weekend. That weekend in to a week, and before you know it, you’re back on your old routine of a croissant and a latte for breakfast, ready-made sandwiches and crisps for lunch, huge carb-laden dinners and mountains of cookies, biscuits and chocolates for snacks. Not to mention a load of alcohol.
What if there was a 3rd Option?
Good news my weight-battling friend, there is….
It might sound incredibly condescending to say so, but one of the best things you can do when you’re frustrated with your weight is to relax.
Getting stressed will only worsen the issue, and lead to the aforementioned restrictive diets (which are terrible for long-term health) or a massive binge.
Plateaus will always happen, and it might not necessarily mean that you’re doing anything wrong.
Reasons For Weight Plateaus –
- You stopped counting or tracking
In the first example, our lady was pretty diligent.
She was tracking her macros, eating pretty well, and embracing the concept of flexible dieting (i.e. eating small amounts of “cheat food” but still hitting her numbers.)
For some, however, weight fluctuations can be put down to a lapse in adherence.
If you know you’ve fallen off plan (and you will know) then the key is to get back on it ASAP.
Not tracked for a few days? Better bust out MyFitnessPal again and start logging. Had a “naughty” weekend away with the girls – get right back on plan Monday morning.
If you do slip, it’s no big issue – you’re human and we all do it. But the key to rectifying this is to not beat yourself up about it, and just get on with what you were doing before.
- You Have a New TDEE
TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is a fancy way of saying how many calories you burn in a day.
Outside of genetic factors, your TDEE is influenced by the amount you move around and your bodyweight.
A higher bodyweight = more calories burned = you lose weight on a higher calorie intake.
As you diet and lose fat, however, your bodyweight decreases. This means it takes fewer calories for your body to maintain your day to day activities, you burn less, and therefore you need to eat less. This is why something as simple as reducing your calorie intake just a little is guaranteed to kick off fat loss again.
- Down regulation of Metabolic Hormones
In a minority of cases, a drop in the production of hormones that regulate your metabolism (mainly T3 and leptin) can cause a metabolic slowdown and a weight plateau.
This usually only happens with women who have been dieting for a sustained period of time, and/or are on a very low calorie intake and performing excessive cardio. If this is you, you may well need a diet break, as we’ll discuss a little later.
- Time of the Month
The menstrual cycle can play a big (and rather annoying) role in weight loss.
During your period, you’ll retain more water. This will almost inevitably result in a scale weight increase. (I’ve seen anywhere from 0.5 to 3 kilograms in female clients.)
Therefore, I strongly recommend keeping track of your weight on a month by month basis. So instead of getting down in the dumps when your weight jumps up after three weeks of dropping, take a look at your weigh-in from four weeks previous. For example –
Week 1 – 61.5 kg
Week 2 – 61.2 kg
Week 3 – 60.5 kg
Week 4 – 62.1 kg
Week 5 – 60.1 kg
Week 6 – 59.3 kg
Week 7 – 59.0 kg
Week 8 – 60.0kg
Were you to judge each week compared to the last, weeks 4 and 8 would seem like dieting disasters. Keeping a regular record like this, however, enables you to compare your weight to your last cycle, and judge progress much more accurately.
Trust in the Process
One of the main reasons why people freak out when their weight starts shooting all over the place is due to not knowing WHY it’s happening.
Fortunately though, 95% of fat loss is a relatively straightforward process in the physical sense, so hopefully the above reasons have laid a few worries to rest.
The solution to reason number one is simple – have some accountability and get back on whatever diet you were on. (While I’m a proponent of flexible dieting – i.e. hitting certain calorie and macronutrient goals, while eating mainly nutrient-dense foods, but allowing yourself small amounts of “junk” on a regular basis, the same goes for whatever plan you’re following. That means back on the Paleo wagon if that was your diet of choice, out with the bread and pasta if you were on Atkins, and so on.)
As for point two – a reduction in calorie burn, that’s as easy as eating a little less.
You needn’t work out a whole new calorie intake for yourself, – a drop of 50 to 100 calories per day is more than enough to get you going again. I recommend just dropping 50 calories (mainly from carbs and fat) if your calorie intake’s below 1600/day, around 75 (again, mainly from carbs and fat) if you’re in the 1,600-2,000 range, and going the whole hog with a 100-calorie cut if you’re lucky enough to be dieting on over 2,000 calories.
If we’re talking point three – a drop in metabolic hormones; provided you’re dieting sensibly and generally feeling okay, I’m a big fan of diet breaks.
Give yourself two to three days to break your diet just a little.
This is not an excuse for a binge, but simply means not being quite so strict. Here are my “rules” for a diet break –
– Eat three meals per day
– Each one should be eaten at a table, with no TV/phones/computers
– Include a lean source of protein at each meal, as well as at least two servings of vegetables or fruits
– Eat these first, then have something else – whatever you fancy.
– Eat slowly, and only to the point of satisfaction – NOT ‘til you’re fit to burst.
Why the Scale Hates You
While weight plateaus (and increases) are certainly a real kick in the teeth, have you considered that actually, you might not have plateaued at all?
The scale is a cruel mistress, and while weight is a quick, useful gauge of progress, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Often your weight can jump up, but you’ve actually got leaner.
Remember, weight is just a number – it’s meaningless.
Would you be happy if you lost 2 stone but looked exactly the same? Probably not.
How about if you reached your dream physique, and the scale still read the same as when you started? I’d guess so.
See, in the grand scheme of things, weight really isn’t all that important.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Above all, try not to stress about your weight. Use other measures of progress –
How are your clothes fitting?
Do you feel better?
Have you been complemented recently?
And what about your measurements? If you’ve lost inches around your waist and hips, who gives a crap what the scale says?
Likewise, if you have genuinely plateaued, fear not. The tactics you need to keep on progressing are insanely simple – eat a little less, move a little more and enjoy the process of getting leaner, fitter, healthier and happier.
Mike is a fitness and nutrition writer from Southampton, UK who is also a strength and conditioning coach who I respect very much. You can follow him on the above links and I would strongly recommend doing so.