When you start your fat loss journey, it can be thrilling to see the pounds melt away. But, for most people, there comes the point when you hit the dreaded plateau and what once seemed easy becomes discouraging.
If that happens to you, it’s time to shift your expectations instead of beating yourself up. The truth is, fat loss isn’t always linear, and that’s completely normal.
If you hop on the scale each morning, you probably already know it’s common to get a different number most days. One week you might be humming along, watching the number trend down. You might be shocked to see the number stay the same or even creep up a bit the following week.
Fat loss is a process that doesn’t move neatly from weight A to weight B. And that’s ok! Hitting a plateau doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. The real reasons fat loss isn’t linear might surprise you.
Three Reasons Fat Loss Might Stall
The human body is a complex system. Hormones are key players in how your body responds to your efforts to lose weight and trim fat.
While fat loss may progress smoothly when you first start, your body will quickly adjust certain hormones in an attempt to re-balance. It’s natural for your body to jump into action to protect you from a perceived state of starvation.
Key weight-influencing hormones will adjust to try to prevent further weight loss.
- Ghrelin may increase, which can make you feel more hungry.
- Leptin levels can decline, leading to a bigger appetite.
- GIP (gastric inhibitory polypeptide) secretion may increase, leading to fat storage.
- Changes in thyroid hormones may decrease your metabolic rate.
If you think about it from your body’s perspective, losing fat seems like a waste of valuable nutrient storage. Extra fat is your body’s insurance policy for a rainy day. But you know losing the excess fat is in your body’s best interest. To do so, however, you often have to coax your body to cooperate.
In addition, if you’re a woman, there is your monthly hormone cycle to take into account. At different times of the month, you may be retaining fluid, constipated, bloated, or too tired to exercise. All of these things can lead to a slowdown in fat loss.
Instead of thinking of all these hormones as working against you, cultivate a mindset of cooperation. Your body just wants to protect you. It’s ok to give it some time to make adjustments.
A slow down or reversal in weight loss could be a signal that your body is adapting to the changes you’ve made. Stay the course and give your body a chance to catch up. Once hormones levels have stabilized, you can likely get back into the fat-burning zone.
Your sleep quality and quantity are just as crucial for weight loss as the food you eat and how much you move. If you eat well and exercise daily but don’t get a good night’s sleep, you likely won’t see the fat loss you are hoping for. Insufficient sleep alone is even considered a risk factor for obesity.
So many critical body functions take place when you are asleep. And good quality sleep helps your body’s metabolic processes work optimally.
Some of the reasons you may hit a plateau if you run a chronic sleep debt include:
- Your brain may be more sensitized to crave junk food.
- Your metabolism may decrease, and your body may burn muscle instead of fat.
- Your glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity may be impaired, contributing to weight gain.
- You may be too tired to exercise or eat well.
There is no way around the reality that your body needs between 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep every night. If you’re doing everything else right, but aren’t seeing the fat loss you expect, take a hard look at your sleep habits.
Including exercise in your weight loss plan is an important key to success. Lifting weights and moving more are essential to long-term weight loss and weight maintenance. If you find yourself stalled on your fat loss goals, however, it may be time for a change in your movement routine.
When you first start exercising, your body responds quickly to the change—muscle mass increases, metabolic rate rises, and body composition (the balance of fat and muscle) shifts. But, after a while, your body becomes more efficient. The level of exercise and movement that worked initially is unlikely to continue giving you the same results. Your body gets better, and that is worth celebrating!
Now it’s time to mix it up.
There are two ways you can change how you are moving to help your body get back to burning fat:
- Change up your exercise routine. Once your body has adapted to the exercise routine you’ve been doing, you need to provide a new challenge. You can lift heavier weights, try out a different routine, switch to a new-to-you activity like biking or swimming or take a fitness class you’ve never tried before. Anything that changes up what you are doing can give you the boost you need.
- Move more during non-exercise hours. If you are only active during the time designated as “exercise,” you miss out on the fat-burning potential in all the other hours of the day. People who are more active throughout their day can burn up to 2000 more calories than sedentary people. So, find ways to add more movement to your non-exercise hours. Standing, walking, taking the stairs, sitting on the floor instead of the couch, and engaging in leisure activities that require movement, are all ways to take advantage of the power of non-exercise movement.
Don’t Be Discouraged.
When working towards a fat loss goal, keep your mind focused on the long-term. You want to look at the big picture and watch for changes month to month instead of day to day.
It’s normal for weight loss to happen quickly at times and slow at others. In the short term, you may see significant movement on the scale or not. You may have a few really great weeks of exercise and activity, or not. You may feel super energetic or not.
Remember that the ups and downs are all part of the journey. Fat loss is not linear. There will be times when your weight plateaus. But, as you commit and recommit, over time, you will reach your goal.