A New Look at Weight Loss Plateaus
The dilemma of the weight loss plateau is summed up by a Calorie Count member who says, “It’s a lot of work treading water; getting no benefit from it. It’s a lot or work, waiting three months with zero scale movement…”
To which, I say, “Treading water with no scale movement? Welcome to the world of maintenance.”
Think of a weight loss plateau as a mini-preparation for maintenance.
A weight loss plateau is an undefined period of time (that feels like an eon) when the scale does not move despite one’s best efforts to make it. Weight had been dropping, nothing has changed, and then it simply stopped. Why, oh why?
First, a weight loss plateau in not about Calorie Creep. Calorie Creep is when weight loss stops because calorie intake has increased and/or output has decreased. Calorie Creep is about skipping exercise, laziness about logging, stress eating, or whatever excuse is in operation. A weight loss plateau is entirely different.
A weight loss plateau happens when (around) 10 percent of initial body weight is loss. Many clinical studies have confirmed the phenomenon. (Read about them in Break Through Your Set Point by George Blackburn.) Through a series of changes in the hormones that regulate energy balance, the body adapts to the downward spiral of declining weight by taking a break. Most people reach a plateau after losing weight for about 6 months or so, but people who insist on losing more quickly reach a plateau quicker too.
Embrace the plateau
A weight loss plateau is normal and good and this is the simple truth: a plateau is the time to build muscle – and calorie intake has to increase for that. A plateau is not time for discouragement, sitting on a pity potty, or the shooting oneself in the foot. Reactions to weight loss plateaus have to be managed because it is no time to lose ground.
Think of a plateau as a half time break. It is time to rest and replenish the stores. During the weight loss phase (i.e. before the plateau), fat is lost but muscle is lost too, and so the dismal dieter weighs less but the fat-to-muscle ratio is the same - and out of whack. By building the major muscle groups as well as the muscles of the heart and diaphragm that supports the lungs, the fat-to-muscle ratio is improved and hormonal balance is eventually restored. (By now, mostly everyone knows that muscle burns more calories than fat does, right?)
To build muscle, calorie intake must be high enough to spare protein for building. When calories are low, protein is burned for fuel and a little goes to repair. During the plateau, it is important to eat the number of calories it takes to maintain the new weight. And then, according to George Blackburn, MD, the planet's leading metabolic nutritionist, one must plan to hold the new weight steady for at least six months; after that, a calorie reduction will produce the loss of another 10 percent of extra weight at least.
And so weight loss plateaus are real and good and they happen like clockwork. And it only makes sense that they are just a mini-test for maintenance.
Are you willing to work along with a weight loss plateau?