You start your diet. Great. You lose a few kilograms and you make sure everyone sees it. #Progress. But then something happens; the weight loss stops. What to do when weight loss plateaus are one of the hardest things to get right when it comes to weight loss for women, and men trying to lose belly fat.

This article will outline how this happens and how to stop it, to ensure you stay motivated as you strive towards your weight loss goals.

Why does my weight loss stall and how do I fix it?

what to do when your weight loss plateau

The truth is your body doesn't want you to lose weight!

We evolved to go long periods without food in hunter-gatherer times, and our bodies had to preserve fat tissue to keep us alive ahead of our next meal. When you diet, your body reads this as a threat to its survival and begins to slow your metabolism (1). It also begins preserving energy (1). This is what opens the door to a significant reduction in how many calories you burn daily (otherwise referred to as Total Daily Energy Expenditure or TDEE) (1).

And this reduction occurs on a number of fronts; when you start dieting your Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) is reduced (2). TEF is the number of calories burnt by your body to digest the food you eat.

Specifically, if you reduce your calories by 500, your TEF is reduced by 10 percent, meaning the energy used by your body to break down the food you eat will be reduced by 50 calories. It's not a lot, but it all adds up.

Moreover, your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is also reduced as you lose more fat (4). Males under 15 percent body fat have BMR reductions of 15 percent, and women with under 25 percent body fat experience a 17-20 percent reduction (5).

You might have also noticed you have less energy for calorie burning during exercise when you diet. Also, calories burnt by Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) are also reduced (8). NEAT is the calories burned independent of exercise; tapping your foot at your work desk, maintaining posture, typing, gardening, or general fidgeting.

And most of this reduction of calories burnt is due to a decrease in leptin (5,6), a protein that also acts as the body's appetite-controlling hormone (7).

So if you think that increasing leptin whilst you're dieting is a good idea, you'd be right.

Such is a snapshot of why your diet stalls. So now you know WHY you plateau, let's learn how to break through it!

What to do when you stall on your weight loss diet: How to keep losing fat

what to do when your weight loss plateau

After you lose body fat, you must account for a fresh calorie intake given your new TDEE. The body has an amazing ability to adapt to periods of a calorie deficit (9).

And you can figure out your new calorie intake simply by reducing calories by about 10 percent when fat loss slows below half a kilogram a week (10).

That is the first step to continually fight the fat; eating less food as you lose more weight.

Where people go wrong is throwing the kitchen sink at their weight loss efforts at the very beginning: 1 hour of cardio daily, 5 weight sessions a week, and a very aggressive calorie deficit.

Now this works, don't get me wrong. But as we've just discussed, the body fights back, and weight loss stalls. And they never adjust calories as they go.

The trick is to S-L-O-W-L-Y keep reintroducing weapons to surprise your body and give it NO CHOICE but to KEEP losing fat.

The second step is to introduce more exercise.

I always tell people to hold off on doing any cardio for at least the first 4-6 weeks. You need to have somewhere to go.

After about 6 weeks (earlier if you like) you can bring in Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) Cardio. LISS cardio is done at a low intensity; walking, rowing, using an elliptical machine or swimming. Around 30-45 minutes is a good amount.

A real-world example over a 12 week period could be as follows:

__________ 

Weeks 1-4 -- No cardio. Weights 5 x per week.

Week 4-6 -- LISS cardio 3 times per week. Weights remain at 5 sessions per week.

Weeks 6-8 -- LISS Cardio 5 times per week. Weights remain at 5 sessions per week.

Weeks 8-10 -- LISS Cardio 5 times per week, but doing 1.5 times the distance you were doing previously. Weight sessions remain.

Weeks 10-12 -- Liss Cardio 7 times per week (at 1.5 times the distance performed during weeks 1-8). Weight sessions remain.

DON'T FORGET: Reset your food intake by reducing calories by about 10 percent when fat loss slows below half a kilogram a week (10).

__________ 

Boosting Leptin levels: Eat MORE to lose MORE weight. 

Getting back to the body's appetite-controlling hormone leptin -- you've probably read the above headline thinking you're going crazy!

But you're not! It's true, overeating helps you lose weight in this context.

We established earlier that we must increase leptin when dieting because it slows down our metabolism. And guess how we'll do it?

By overeating carbohydrates as part of a process called the refeed day!

This is because carbohydrates are the most effective in boosting leptin levels (11). Whilst leptin may only be boosted within a 5-10 hour time frame by doing this (12), this strategy also allows us to:

1. Mentally have a break from our diet and avoid a harmful binge

2. Feel fuller thus keeping our diet on track

3. Replenish stored carbohydrates in our muscles (called glycogen) to supercharge future workouts (13).

Setting up your refeed day for continual fat loss

what to do when your weight loss plateaus

Whilst there are no iron-clad guidelines at the time of writing, the following will help you understand how often you need a refeed day:

MEN: 10 percent body fat or more = ONE refeed day every 2 weeks

WOMEN: 20 percent body fat or more = ONE refeed day every 2 weeks.

And if you're LESS than 10 percent body fat regardless of gender, then start with one refeed day per week and adjust from there.

Remember: the above is just a guide. If you think you need more, then go ahead. But just remember to not go overboard as a calorie surplus consistently hinders your weight loss efforts.

With that being said, your dietary fat intake will need to be reduced significantly due to refeed days (as fat doesn't bolster leptin levels [11]), and your carbohydrates (again, there are no established guidelines) will be calculated as follows:

Step 1: Double your carbohydrate intake

Step 2: Set fat intake at just 30 grams per day

Step 3: Reduce protein by 30 grams

Real-world example:

Ashley eats 100 grams of carbohydrates per day on her weight loss diet.

Step 1: 100 grams of carbohydrates x 2 = 200 grams of carbohydrates.

Step 2: Ashley eats only 30 grams of fat.

Step 3: Normally eating 160 grams of protein, Ashley will eat 130 grams.

So Ashley's macronutrient intake on a refeed day would be:

Protein = 130 grams 

Fat = 30 grams

Carbohydrates = 200 grams

The key is to remember to keep your dietary fat intake low. So you'll need carbohydrate sources high in carbohydrates and low in fat. These include:

- Pikelets

- Maple syrup

- Potatoes

- Rice

- Bread

- Low fat pastas

How to keep losing fat: Weekly diet plan for Men and women

With the inclusion of the refeed day, we now have our ultimate plan of attack for fighting our weight loss plateaus:

__________

Weeks 1-4 -- No cardio. Weights 5 x per week.

Week 4-6 -- LISS cardio 3 times per week. Weights remain at 5 sessions per week.

Weeks 6-8 -- LISS Cardio 5 times per week. Weights remain at 5 sessions per week.

Weeks 8-10 -- LISS Cardio 5 times per week, but doing 1.5 times the distance you were doing previously. Weight sessions remain.

Weeks 10-12 -- Liss Cardio 7 times per week (at 1.5 times the distance performed during weeks 1-8). Weight sessions remain.

DON'T FORGET: Reset your food intake by reducing calories by about 10 percent when fat loss slows below half a kilogram a week (10).

REFEED DAYS:

MEN: 10 percent body fat or more = ONE refeed day every 2 weeks (ONE refeed per week if you're UNDER 10 percent body fat)

WOMEN: 20 percent body fat or more = ONE refeed day every 2 weeks (ONE refeed per week if you're under 20 percent body fat).

__________

Such a plan will prevent your weight loss from stalling, and help you achieve your fat loss goals faster!

References

(1) MacLean PS, Higgins JA, Giles ED, Sherk VD, Jackman MR. The role for adipose tissue in weight regain after weight loss. Obes Rev. 2015 Feb;16 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):45-54. doi: 10.1111/obr.12255. PMID: 25614203; PMCID: PMC4371661.

(2) Ahima RS. Revisiting leptin's role in obesity and weight loss. J Clin Invest. 2008 Jul;118(7):2380-3. doi: 10.1172/JCI36284. PMID: 18568083; PMCID: PMC2430504.

(3) N.D. Luscombe, P.M. Clifton, M. Noakes, B. Parker, G. Wittert. Effects of Energy-Restricted Diets Containing Increased Protein on Weight Loss, REsting Energy Expenditure, and the Thermic Effect of Feeding in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care Apr 2002, 25 (4) 652-657; DOI: 10.2337/diacare.25.4.652

(4) McDonald L. The ultimate diet 2.0.

(5) Arne Astrup, Peter C Gøtzsche, Karen van de Werken, Claudia Ranneries, Søren Toubro, Anne Raben, Benjamin Buemann, Meta-analysis of resting metabolic rate in formerly obese subjects, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 69, Issue 6, June 1999, Pages 1117–1122, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/69.6.1117

(6) Morton GJ, Cummings DE, Baskin DG, Barsh GS, Schwartz MW. Central nervous system control of food intake and body weight. Nature. 2006 Sep 21;443(7109):289-95. doi: 10.1038/nature05026. PMID: 16988703.

(7) Eriksson J, Valle T, Lindström J, Haffner S, Louheranta A, Uusitupa M, Tuomilehto J. Leptin concentrations and their relation to body fat distribution and weight loss--a prospective study in individuals with impaired glucose tolerance. DPS-study group. Horm Metab Res. 1999 Nov;31(11):616-9. doi: 10.1055/s-2007-978807. PMID: 10598830.

(8) Martin CK, Das SK, Lindblad L, Racette SB, McCrory MA, Weiss EP, Delany JP, Kraus WE; CALERIE Study Team. Effect of calorie restriction on the free-living physical activity levels of nonobese humans: results of three randomized trials. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Apr;110(4):956-63. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00846.2009. Epub 2011 Feb 3. PMID: 21292847; PMCID: PMC3075130.

(9) Redman, L.M. at al. 2009. Metabolic and behavioral compensations in response to caloric restriction: implications for the maintenance of weight loss. PloS One. Vol. 4, No. 2, e4377.

(10) McDonald, L. 2016. Alan Aragon Research Review (AARR): How to Adjust Your Diet for Continuous Fat Loss [online]. [viewed on January 17, 2017].

(11) Dirlewanger M, di Vetta V, Guenat E, Battilana P, Seematter G, Schneiter P, Jéquier E, Tappy L. Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2000 Nov;24(11):1413-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0801395. PMID: 11126336.

(12) Kolaczynski JW, Ohannesian JP, Considine RV, Marco CC, Caro JF. Response of leptin to short-term and prolonged overfeeding in humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1996 Nov;81(11):4162-5. doi: 10.1210/jcem.81.11.8923877. PMID: 8923877.

(13) Brooks GA, Mercier J. Balance of carbohydrate and lipid utilization during exercise: the "crossover" concept. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1994 Jun;76(6):2253-61. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1994.76.6.2253. PMID: 7928844.