You’re sticking to your diet and exercising regularly, but nothing seems to be changing. You work harder and eat even less, and it still doesn’t register. What’s going on? Why is this happening?
There could be several reasons behind your plateau. Here are some of the most common reasons that people encounter and how you can work around them:
1. YOU’RE DOING THE SAME THINGS
Maybe you started following a program, but you’ve progressed so much that your old program no longer challenges you. In order to keep growing muscle or burning fat, you need to change things up to get things moving again. The body adapts to stimuli, so make sure that you’re not doing the same things over and over again.
Add another rep to all your sets (Example: 4 sets of 6 reps instead of 4 sets of 5 reps)
Add another full set (Example: 4 sets instead of 3 sets)
Shorten your rest times (Example: 2 minutes instead of 3 minutes)
Increase the load (Example: 2 x 20-lb. plates instead of 2 x 10 lb. plates)
2. YOU’RE UNDERESTIMATING YOUR CALORIC INTAKE
If you track your caloric intake but aren’t seeing your efforts translate into pounds lost, it might be because you’re underestimating your caloric intake. For example, restaurants that provide nutrition information may serve bigger serving sizes than what is originally listed, meaning you could be eating more than you are inputting into your food journal or calorie-counting app.
When estimating the caloric content of food, it’s better to overestimate rather than underestimate. This ensures that you’re not going over your caloric goals for the day. Also, to avoid discrepancies in tracking your calories, try to prepare your food yourself. This way, you can control how much of each ingredient is added, and you can use the extra calories you “save” on other foods.
3. WATER RETENTION IS MASKING FAT LOSS
Women who are susceptible to water retention may have a harder time spotting visible changes in their physique on a day-to-day basis. In some cases, the dieter will not see any changes in scale weight or physical progress for days or weeks until a “woosh” effect occurs. A “whoosh” effect is a sudden drop in weight that happens almost overnight following days or weeks of stalled weight loss.
This is because water levels that fluctuate throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle can affect both scale weight and physical progress, which can make it appear as though fat loss has stalled, when in fact it has not.
Instead of weighing yourself daily, make it a once-weekly thing instead. You could also get the average of your daily weigh-ins and use that as your data point. If your weight goes down from week to week, you’ll know that you’re still making progress even though there may be spikes here and there.
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4. YOUR BODY IS RECOMPOSING
Newbies to weight training have the remarkable ability to lose fat and build muscle at the same time. This is also known as the “newbie gains” stage. Paying close attention to changes you see in the mirror rather than the weight on the scale, can be a more accurate measure of progress. Recomposition usually takes place in the first 6 to 12 months of your journey in the weights room.
For advanced trainees, recomposition is still possible, but through other methods such as calorie cycling or keeping caloric intake close to maintenance calories.
5. YOUR BODY IS ADAPTING AND COMPENSATING FOR THE ENERGY GAP
The human body is a wonderful thing. In the absence of energy, you body will find a way to conserve energy to help you survive. This is a form of adaption, and two common manifestations of metabolic adaptation when dieting are a decrease in basal metabolic rate (BMR) and a decrease in non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Your BMR is the energy needed to keep you alive, while your NEAT is the energy expended for all activities except sports, sleeping and eating.
When you’re dieting or in a caloric deficit, the body tries to be thrifty by switching off less-than-vital functions that burn energy. This could mean anything from less fidgeting to losing your reproductive capabilities. As a result, you now require fewer calories to maintain your newly-thrifty metabolism, which means you have to eat even less or exercise even more to keep weight loss going.