Breaking through the Fat Loss Plateau

embrace cheat days

Let’s cover what both men and women seek the most, and that is breaking through the fat loss plateau. I’m focusing more on the term “fat loss” opposed to “weight loss”, which are quite different and my other article covered this topic “The Differences Between Weight Loss and Fat Loss”.

The only people that actually need to lose weight are the ones in wrestling, MMA, and the likes since a penalty or disqualification may occur by not being at a particular weight class. Other than those in need of technical weight loss, we should all strive to focus on fat loss. You know who you are if this applies, so let’s move on!

A calorie deficit diet is going to work well for the first few months for most people, but at a certain point within the diet program your fat loss potential just stops all of a sudden. What just happened was your body being sent into a fat loss plateau, which is basically little to no loss of body fat compared to previous weeks.

This is when panic starts to happen and bad mistakes are made; so let’s take a step back and think about the situation before making any changes to your diet and fitness regimens.

Here’s a look at the possible reasons for a fat loss plateau:

  • Weight Fluctuation
  • Calorie Intake
  • Water Weight


Weight Fluctuation

A set diet program that has been followed for several months is potentially going to produce bad results without changes being made. For example, a man weighing 180lbs. proceeds with a calorie deficit diet of 2,000 calories a day, and loses 15lbs. of body fat in two months.

This is great news, but now a fat loss plateau has risen and he can’t figure out why. The diet plan he’s been using just doesn’t do the trick anymore. Why?

The reason this occurred is because as the body becomes leaner, the potential for excellent fat loss decreases. This is not necessarily bad news because it shows that your body is close to reaching an excellent level of health in terms of body fat percentage.

However, this would usually only occur with people that are around the 20% and lower range of body fat.

fat loss diet

Measure Fat Not Weight


Calorie Intake Changes

The calorie lecture again…really? Painfully yes, we have to cover this because calorie intake has a crucial role in the way a person loses body fat successfully. While your body loses fat, your mass becomes less than before as well, which means your metabolism is going to decrease depending on the weight amount in mass lost.

For example, a person dropping their body weight through fat loss by 30lbs. is probably going to have their metabolism decrease around 15%. The reason for this is because the body doesn’t need as much energy now, so those calories being consumed from the diet program are actually more than required.

You don’t need to counter this effect by finding out ways to increase your metabolism. This is a natural process that is necessary for fat loss to occur, and attempting to reverse it could result in more harm than good.

Now, since this decrease in the metabolism has occurred, which we know because of the fat loss plateau taking place, we can re-evaluate calorie consumption to where you are consuming fewer calories than what are being burned by your metabolism.

Usually we look at calorie re-evaluation every 10-15 lbs. being lost. However, cheat days may be more beneficial depending on the situation, which I discuss at the end of this article.

Note: I cannot determine the daily calorie intake you require because there are a lot of variables such as gender, age, height, weight, BF%, daily activity levels, and more.

There are a variety of calorie calculators across the internet you can use to input this information and get an estimate. Remember, there is no exact measurement for calories – just approximations.


The Unknown Calorie Creep

Beware of creepers!…In this case we are referring to calories that you consume without actually intending to do-so. The calorie creep is one of the most common reasons a person goes into a fat loss plateau, and since it occurs unknowingly the issue could actually cause fat gains to return.

The way a calorie creep usually takes place is through improperly reading the labels on foods being consumed.belly fat

For example, a box of low calorie cookies state on the front “Only 100 Calories Per Serving!”. Human instinct usually assumes the box is a serving, but in reality there are four servings of calories being consumed, so that 100 calories is now 400 calories.

This miscalculation on a frequent basis is surely going to cause a fat loss plateau.

However, the packaging is sometimes purposely misleading so the product is able to sell better. Take a package of noodles from the supermarket.

We can automatically assume that one package is only going to feed one adult, but the label showing the calories per serving is actually for 1 out of 2 servings. Keep this in mind the next time you are reading labels for calorie counting.


Water Weight

Water weight is another common culprit for the reason behind a fat loss plateau. The macronutrient known as a carbohydrate binds to water, so if you follow a low carb diet the results are going to look amazing for 2-3 months since most of the weight loss shown is water weight only, and the actual body fat hasn’t really gone down very much.

This is one of the reasons you should always measure your results of fat loss over weight loss since water weight becomes a factor.


A few Extra Tips for Countering the Fat Loss Plateau

  • Increase the intensity of your workout
  • Increase protein consumption
  • Establish cheat days

These extra tips are going to increase your chances of losing fat again and defeating the dreaded fat loss plateau. Let’s take a look at these and get you started on the right path to burning fat.


Increase Your Training Intensity

mobility trainingOne of the biggest recommendations I see on the internet is to perform muscle confusion training programs, which is basically when you perform a different routine every week you train.

Changing things up is fun and keeps you motivated to stay fit, but to actually maximize your results in fat loss; you need to stick to a plan that is effective.

The best method is a mixture of strength training and cardio conditioning for 3-5 days a week. As the weeks progress, you should start increasing the intensity to allow better lean muscle gain and calorie burning.

An interesting fact is that the more lean muscle your body has, the more calories are being burned throughout the day to maintain your muscles – even while you sleep.


Increase Protein Consumption

I’m not recommending for you to follow one of those high protein, low everything-else fad diets. The main reason being because that type of diet can cause serious medical issues, which primarily involves kidney failure.

Instead, I’m stating to just eat more calories from foods with higher protein content, but not extra calories being added on. Protein not only assists with muscle repair and growth, but also helps keep your appetite at bay since it fills your stomach and digests slower.

Establish Cheat Days

This tip is also a good reason for why you may be suffering from a fat loss plateau. Cheat days are a specific day in the week that you are allowed to eat more calories and carbohydrates, which also applies to people who seek to lose a lot of fat. The reason for this is because of the decrease in your metabolism that we discussed previously.

When your body reduced its metabolism to support the reduced food consumption it slowed the process of calorie burning.

The most common thought would be to decrease the amount of calories being consumed instantly, but this is where we take a step back again to evaluate the situation. If you haven’t been adding in a cheat day at least once every two weeks, then this is going to be the most likely reason behind your fat loss plateau.

The further reduction of calories causes your body to store fat to protect itself against nutrient deficiency, which also hurts your metabolism significantly.

A cheat day causes a calorie spike, which leads to hormonal increases that continue the fat burning process until you hit the next plateau, which is most likely going to happen. The only reason this really wouldn’t work is because you consumed extra calories excessively instead of conservatively.

Brian Pankau

Brian Pankau

Experienced personal trainer and strength coach

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