Top 5 Ways to Break Fat Loss Plateaus That You Never Thought Of
You have been dieting for a few weeks now. You’re eating much less than normal. When you do eat, it’s the protein packed with a variety of vegetables. You’re doing cardio nearly every day. You’re at the gym 5 times per week.
You’re applying everything you know you need to get leaner, but there’s just one problem.
What you see in the mirror is staying the same!
To make matters worse, you’re low on energy, you’re weak, your cravings are through the roof, and your weight is unstable.
If this sounds like you, and you’ve been standstill for about a week now, then it’s likely you have reached a plateau in your fat loss diet phase.
Now before we talk about the 5 ways to break plateaus, let’s just make sure we cover the basics first. Have you:
Decreased your daily caloric intake.
Made sure you’re not eating or drinking any extra calories that you’re not tracking or that are a part of your diet. “Snacking” is a lot more dangerous than you think.
Increased your output in some way by upping your total activity. This can be through doing more steps everyday, increasing your cardio time, taking a group fitness class or adding in high intensity exercises into your gym workouts to name a few.
Made sure that your intensity when performing these activities hasn’t dropped due to being demotivated or simple laziness.
If you have tried all the above, you’re doing more activity than you think is reasonable, and you’ve decreased calories to an extremely low amount (1500 or less for guys, 1100 or less for girls), then you can apply the following tips. The caloric amount said is my general rule of thumb, but ideally you want to learn what your personal Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is, and just never go below that. There are times in bodybuilding competitions where lower calories may be necessary, but no matter the reason, it’s not safe to be in this state for long. It’s absolutely not acceptable for a coach to keep you in this state for longer than 2 or 3 weeks max either. You should build your metabolism back up before continuing.
So for the top 5 tips, let’s begin.
1. Lower Stress
For optimal fat loss to occur, you want to be in a state of low stress most of the time, for your body to convert body fat into energy efficiently. Stress should be high when exercising, and low when resting. For the majority of the population nowadays, it remains elevated even after exercising.
When stress is high, the body increases your 3 stress hormones Cortisol, Adrenaline and Norepinephrine. These hormones are needed as neurotransmitters. So when a task is performed, your body is tense, you consume a stimulant (caffeine/alcohol/non herbal drugs ect.), you’re stressed mentally or suffer mental health issues, your body will be triggering these hormones to respond. While these hormones are being produced, your brain will signal that the body is in a “fight or flight” state, so it will slow your body’s ability to convert body fat into fuel. Instead, the body’s goal now is to conserve as much energy as possible.
It’s funny. These hormones won’t know the difference between a tough gym circuit that and being chased by a lion through the woods. The latter will obviously release a lot more of these hormones. You kind of need to be alert here. However, the way they are triggered is the same.
So here’s the answer to this plain and simple. You need to decrease overall stress so that these hormones are only elevated during exercise.
To do this, here are some tips.
Lower caffeine intake, or take a couple of days off every couple of weeks, It would even be suggested to take two weeks off once a year, or if you’re finding yourself too reliant on caffeine just to get through the day.
Decrease alcohol consumption. Alcohol is proven to raise cortisol drastically after having more than 0.5g alcohol per kg of body weight (1 standard drink = 10g of alcohol) in one session. If concerned, stick to whiter colored drinks (eg. white wine, vodka) as they have less effect on stress hormones.
Stop over training. When in a state of being over trained, your Central Nervous System (CNS) will be overly active, creating greater levels of cortisol. If you “must” train, make sure your rest is adequate and you decrease the amount of intensive training (eg. HIIT/Strength).
Supplementing Ashwagandha and a Vitamin B complex. Many people are low in B Vitamins.
Work on your mental health. Will elaborate below.
Symptoms for elevated stress include poor sleep quality, constantly tired, brain fog, always hungry or never hungry, massive sugar cravings, snap at people quickly, depression and anxiety.
2. Mental Health Issues
Surprisingly, but unsurprisingly, mental health is the cause for many fat loss plateau or even fat gain issues. This isn’t just from emotional eating either. Hormonally you’re ill-effected through raised stress (as talked on above), but also through an imbalance of certain acids. These acids are Quinolinic Acid and Kynurenic Acid. People with an imbalance between these two acids are notably depressed as seen in studies. Now this acid imbalance is also a cause for gut, mitochondria (a membrane in your cells - needed to produce energy) and cognitive (brain function) issues. The first two effecting fat loss directly! What is also interesting, is the opposite can happen. The imbalance between acids can come from nutrition rather than hormones, and lead to you feeling depressed.
The fix? Look into how we can make ourselves feel better (:
By feeling better, this acid balance will become more stable. Also by making this acid balance more stable through nutrition, we will feel better. See how it all comes in a full circle through our mental health and nutrition as a whole?
Here is how to help this imbalance.
A Ketogenic diet (less than 20g carbs) produces Kynurenic Acid. So if you have been on a high carb diet for a long period of time, this could be a good fix if you go into ketosis for a small period of time.
Intermittent Fasting lessens the production of Kynurenic Acid, so a trial and error here could be the best bet. If you feel better after fasting a few days, then good. If you feel worse, then just don’t do it.
Fix your diet. If your diet is high in sugar or low in nutrients or both, you’re putting your gut, mental health and overall health at stake. There’s nothing more to say here than to be mindful of what you put in your mouth. You’re the only person that controls this.
Meditation lowers cortisol, leading to a release of good hormones, leading to better balance of these acids.
Practicing gratefulness as a daily task. To be fully aware of what you’re grateful for, and to practicing being thankful for things in your life has shown an increase in good hormones and a decrease in cortisol, which will lead to a better balance in these acids also.
Feeling nature. By being in touch with nature with your senses, or doing a practice called grounding where you feel the earth with your bare feet and hands, you’re lowering total bodily inflammation as shown in studies. This in turn will help fat loss, but as an added benefit, there are meditative benefits to being in touch with nature also.
Symptoms aren’t needed here. Most people can use a better approach to what they eat, and everyone can use mindfulness more than they are already if they don’t already practice meditative activities.
3. Gut Issues
Are you noticing random gurgling noises in your gut? Your gut should work in silence. If you eat too quickly or eat something unfamiliar then yes it will make noises, but if this is a frequent thing, It’s highly probable that there’s issues going on here that you don’t know about.
When you have gut issues, your body will likely respond through inflammation. Common issues are Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS), Leaky Gut, Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO) and Acid Reflux along with many others. When your body inflames, white blood cells release chemicals into the blood or effected area to protect the body from an issue. This gives off the look of being “bloated”. Bloating isn’t necessarily a literal cause, instead it’s a symptom of inflammation.
While the body is concentrating on inflammation, the finite resources that the body has is being utilized by the immune system to inflame, rather than to produce an efficient mitochondria (remember, we need this for energy). When the mitochondria is inefficient (it will be with gut issues), your energy production becomes less, which means less total calories burnt each day, which means less fat loss!
Now fixes with the gut are much more variant than with fixing stress, humans have over 1000 species of bacteria living in our gut, it could be anything! So instead, we’ll cover the basics to allow for a good healthy gut.
A Ketogenic diet (20g Carbs) or an Ultra Low Carb Diet (50g Carbs) for as long as it takes for the gut to settle. Glucose (from carbs) can create a poor situation for bacteria by starving good bacteria and feeding bad bacteria. When there’s an imbalance between bacteria in the gut, inflammation is likely to occur. Lower carbs will help good bacteria thrive in most cases and starve off bad bacteria.
Consuming Short Chain Fatty Acids daily. These come from many vegetables, grains, legumes, some fruits and any foods high in dietary fiber. This creates an environment for good bacteria to thrive.
Probiotics through foods or supplements. This only helps certain cases, and isn’t a magical ingredient to a healthy gut. But it’s worth a try! Make sure you have at least 3 strain types of Lactobacillus and at least 3 strain types of Bifidobacterium in the supplement for the best result. Just look for those weird titles on the back of the nutrition label listed at least 3 times each. Organic/Greek yogurt is high in probiotics, however some react poorly to lactose, which will negate the positive effects of the probiotics. So it depends on the individual.
Symptoms for gut issues include frequent gurgling sounds, stomach cramps, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea, “bloating”, intense sugar cravings, brain fog, depression and lethargy.
4. An Elimination Diet
If you’re constantly “bloated” or inflamed and you can’t figure out why. You’ve even tried some of my tips to help reduce inflammation but nothing’s happening. Now it could be down to eliminating certain foods or food groups. This is a last resort circumstance when trying to diet. Plus, it’s only something you should do temporarily unless genuinely allergic or intolerant to foods.
It’s entirely possible to develop temporary intolerances. Also through a production of T Cells from the Thymus, your body can begin to react to specific foods. I have had two cases in clients where avocado has become the cause for inflammation, even though it’s a healthy food source, and it’s unheard of to be allergic to avocado. Yet when this food was eliminated, the inflammation went down. It’s suggested to reintroduce foods again after a small period of time, as the system should be able to digest the food efficiently when you have given the body time to reset.
The answer is once again trial and error. First look at what you’ve been eating differently, or when in the day your stomach noises are the worst. Now what food did you eat last that may have caused those stomach noises? It could be ice cream, zucchini, avocado, or it could be lactose as a whole. Now try by only eliminating this food/group, but changing nothing else. If your gassy feeling and stomach noises go down, you’ve succeeded. Introduce that food slowly after a couple of weeks so long as symptoms don’t reappear. If this didn’t somewhat fix the issue within 3 days of eliminating, then try a different food, or even something like gluten or dairy entirely. Even if your blood tests show no allergy, you may still be intolerant to it.
5. Repairing Cell Damage & Improving Mitochondria Efficiency
Now this is one you’re probably the most unaware of. Your cells are what metabolize the food you eat into energy. Your mitochondria (a membrane in most cells) dictates on how efficient this is, meaning when this is working properly, you use more energy. What does this mean? Your calories used is higher and you burn more fat!
It really does come down to calories in vs calories out, but in a very deep way. Your body uses more calories through activities like bouncing your knee up and down, raising body temperature, making you move more, fixing your posture, speeding up recovery, the list goes on. All these small modifications are improved or slowed depending on how efficient your mitochondria is (along with a few other causes). When your body improves these functions, you burn more calories.
Now, ways to improve mitochondria function, is also similar to how you repair damaged cells. Here’s a few ways.
Try a prolonged fast. By fasting for 20 hours or longer, you will apply a certain stress to the cells, forcing them to multiply, repair, renew and become more efficient. Start by trying a 12 hour fast, then build up over time until you can fast for a full day. I personally will fast for around 30-35 hours for these benefits about once a month, or if I’m facing metabolic issues.
A Keto diet is proven to enhance mitochondria efficiency in some cases, but so is having adequate glucose intake. So the fix here is to move between a Keto Diet (20g carbs) and a moderate/high carb diet depending on your output at the time. If you’re more focused on endurance training or not training much, a keto diet could be more optimal, but if you’re an athlete requiring short bursts of intensity, a high carb diet might be preferable. Just make sure you give your body a chance to try both. Everyone’s different!
Making sure you’re not deficient in vitamins. Common ones are B12, B6, Iron, Vitamin D and Iodine (Kelp works for this). When you have a deficiency, it can cause cellular functions to slow. Make sure you’re eating your food varieties, and then supplementing what you can’t eat. Iron and B complexes on a vegan diet is a common one.
Try High Intensity Interval Training and/or Strength Training 2-3 times per week to stress these cells to become more efficient. This is only applicable if you don’t suffer from any stress related issues, as it would make these worse. This will produce amazing benefits if you’re currently in a good state.