Why did your routine suddenly stop working, and what can you do to push through this weight loss plateau?
Understanding Weight Loss Vs. Fat Loss
“Weight loss” is a tricky little devil because it doesn’t differentiate between changes in fat, muscle, and water.
The goal, of course, is to lose maximum fat and minimum muscle, and to keep water retention at a healthy minimum. When you step on the scale and register a pound lighter than the day or week before, you probably assume that you’ve lost a pound of fat; if you weigh the same or more, you probably assume that you’ve lost no fat, or gained. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Nothing swings weight up or down as easily as water retention, for example. If you eat a lot of sodium and carbs, and drink little water, you will retain quite a bit of water, giving you that puffy, smooth look. This can easily add 3-5 pounds in a day, which can be quite disturbing if you happen to hit the scale in this state. On the flip side, you eat little sodium and carbs and drink plenty of water, your body will flush water out, giving you a harder, more defined look, which might lead you to think that it was a great day of fat loss.
The unpredictability of water retention is one reason why I only weigh myself once per week, on the same day, in the morning, naked. Weighing yourself multiple times per week, or worse, per day, will quickly kill your confidence and mess with your head.
I also recommend that you choose a “weigh day” that doesn’t contain a cheat meal, as this can often add a pound or two of water that will come out by the end of the following day (my experience, at least).
What is a True Weight Loss Plateau?
A true weight loss plateau is a situation where you’re no longer losing fat.
I consider that I’ve hit a plateau if my weight hasn’t changed in two weeks. As I’m only going for one pound of actual fat loss per week, no change on the scale after one week of dieting isn’t necessarily a reason for concern-I could’ve lost that pound of fat but happen to be retaining a bit of water, or maybe my bowel movements weren’t as regular in the prior day or two. No change in weight after two weeks of dieting tells me that I’m definitely stuck.
Some Fat-Loss Facts to Keep in Mind
Before I cover how to break these plateaus, I want you to know a few things about losing fat.
1. Weight Loss Plateaus Are to Be Expected
Just about everyone experiences weight loss plateaus. If you have no idea what I’m talking about and are able to reach single-digit body fat percentages with complete ease, count yourself lucky. It’s very common for people to hit several plateaus on their journeys to a six pack because, well, the human body is just stubborn when it comes to shedding fat.
Everyone I’ve trained and otherwise helped has experienced the same phenomenon, but the thresholds vary. I’ve known a few rare people that can diet lower than 10% without adding cardio, but most people can’t break double-digit body fat percentages without a very strict diet and regular cardio routine.
2. The More You Lose, the Harder It Gets
The leaner you become, the longer it takes to lose fat healthily (the key, as you want to preserve as much muscle and strength as possible while losing fat). If you’re at 25% body fat, it’s very possible to lose 2-3 pounds of fat per week for the first several weeks. If you’re at 10% body fat and are making a run for single digits, however, 2-3 pounds of fat per week would be impossible without dangerous drugs.
For me, once I get below 12% or so, I’m very happy to see just one pound of fat loss per week, and I have to work for it.