Often when trying to lose body fat, many people will experience periods of idle results; the so-called “fat loss plateau”, making them unsure as to why their methods are failing them. Plateaus can spark confusion as to why one’s body isn’t responding the way it should and can cause frustration and inconsistencies when trying to lose body fat.
To help you break through fat loss plateaus, together with the Equalution Team, we have identified 10 mistakes that you may be making on your quest for fat loss. Plus, we’ve provided you with some hot tips on how to avoid them and ensure you can succeed on your fat loss journey.
1. Being Spot On Some of the Time
What may interfere with your results are inconsistencies within your own practices. Taking the weekend off, bingeing or have a grand weekly cheat meal may hinder progress through counteracting a caloric deficit, despite being only a single occasion. You don’t need to strive for perfection, but dieters will often spend their weeks toing and froing between opposite ends of the spectrum of being 100% on point, or the complete opposite: YOLO mode. This sort of behaviour does not facilitate the consistency your body requires to produce pleasing fat loss results. Even moderate deviations to your diet plan here and there can interfere with a caloric deficit, particularly if your deficit is a safe and conservative decrease from your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. Therefore, even a slight increase in your caloric intake can counteract your calorie deficit, hindering your ability to lose body fat. The initial stages of your journey will require your utmost consistency for optimum results. Dictate your efforts based on the stage of your journey you’re at; when you commence, you should be committing yourself 100%, to ensure you begin achieving results as quickly as possible, and signal to your body that it needs to begin using current fat stores as fuel. Further down the track, after consistent adherence and when you’ve become more comfortable in your skin, there is more opportunity to loosen up in your methods; perhaps do a little more dining out, track your macros more loosely or not be as particular with weighing food.
If you’re feeling the urge to slip on a restrictive diet, consider slightly increasing your daily calorie intake. Contrary to how this sounds, this may actually help you achieve an increased deficit each week instead of consuming low calories during the week and then having a blow out on the weekend. For example:
- Low daily calories with a weekend blow out equates to: 2000 calories x 5 days a week + 4000 calories x 2 days a week = 18,000 weekly calories
- Higher daily calories with no weekend blowout: 2200 calories x 7 days a week = 15,400 weekly calories
Increasing your intake by bringing you closer to maintenance calories (therefore only creating a slight deficit from your Total Daily Energy Expenditure) will give you more room to be flexible with your food choices and promote consistency. By keeping this deficit small, it is often possible to reduce or even eliminate the cravings that result in binges or blow outs, through having an ample daily caloric intake and room to enjoy a balanced range of food choices, yet STILL see results.
2. Picking at Food
This is a damaging habit that A LOT of people have, which has the ability to hinder fat loss results through progressively adding unaccounted calories on to your daily intake. Picking can generally stem from:
- An inconsistent eating pattern
- A restrictive caloric deficit
- Dieting for a great length of time
- Eating minimally throughout the day due to a busy work schedule
This can result in closet eating, after hours eating, grazing throughout the day or mini binge eating sessions. Think of your total daily caloric intake as money in the bank; if you keep chipping away at it during the day, handing over 50 calories here or 100 there, regardless of the fact that you’ve been eating small amounts of food, an accumulation of this behaviour can chip away at your caloric allowance and make you worse off than if you were to have eaten main meals. Weeks and months of this habitual behaviour can increase your daily intake by a few hundred calories a day, or even up to a thousand calories a week!
Consider having regular, larger meals. If you’re eating 2000 calories per day, aim for 4 x 500 calorie meals at each meal time of the day to ensure you’re satisfied and not picking in between meals. Use a low-calorie base to your meal like veggies, or salads, or other foods that are filling, such as rice or other grains.
3. Dropping Calories Too Low
Every person has a body fat set point: the level of body fat our body is accustomed to and will attempt to maintain. This is highly dependant on the person; each individual will have a unique set point, based on a range of factors including genetics, activity level and nutritional habits over the course of their lifetime. Whatever that set point is, your body wants to keep you there as long as it possibly can. If you drop your caloric intake too quickly, your body will adapt to make fat loss more difficult through changes to your metabolism; a phenomenon called “metabolic adaptation”. This is why when initially beginning a diet the fat may seem to fall off, however fat loss is often slowed down as you progress through your diet. This is due to departing further from your set point, and ypur body becoming more efficient at operating with less calories1. You become like a super-efficient, hybrid car, which in this case isn’t ideal2; your basal metabolic rate (BMR) lowers and the amount of energy you expend during activity is reduced, as is how many calories your body uses during its other processes, including breaking down the foods you consume.3,4 As you travel further below this set point, your fat cells shrink and excrete smaller amounts of Leptin, the hormone that signals when you’re full5. Interestingly, studies have shown that your Leptin levels drop far more than they should, based on the amount of fat you lose, and they stay low even after your weight has stabilised or some has been regained6. At the same time that this fullness signalling hormone is decreasing, Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, increases7. So you’re hungrier, less satisfied, and are burning fewer calories as you progress through your diet and your body fat levels get lower and lower.
Consider Reverse Dieting if you’ve been in a prolonged caloric deficit, regardless of if you still have fat loss to achieve. This process is effective and works by slowly increasing your intake towards maintenance level, while still eating in a caloric deficit. If your energy levels are suffering during a caloric deficit, consider a pre-workout supplement to ensure you have adequate energy for your training sessions. Our favourites at the moment are Core Nutritionals Core Fury Extreme or Platinum Labs Awaken.
4. Consuming too many Calories
Each of us has a TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure); the amount of calories our body burns on a daily basis inclusive of any physical activity. This number is dependent on a variety of factors which vary according to each individual. Exceeding this point of maintenance caloric intake through overconsumption of calories, less physical activity, or a combination of the two can counteract or abolish your state of caloric deficit, which can lead to staying at the same body fat, or even gaining fat, through a caloric surplus. The most effective way to ensure you’re in a caloric deficit is to find your maintenance caloric intake through calculating your TDEE and using your progress to determine the response of your body with this daily intake.
The best starting point for calculating your daily calorie & macronutrient requirements is to use the Harris Benedict Formula to calculate your BMR (your Basal Metabolic Rate – the the energy your body requires from food for functionality without factoring activity). Then using this figure, determine whether you are sedentary (little or no exercise), lightly active (1-3 sessions of exercise a week), moderately active (3-5 sessions of exercise a week), very active (5-6 sessions of exercise a week) or highly active (6-7 sessions of exercise a week and/or 2 sessions with a physical job). Then multiply your BMR by the following:
– Sedentary: BMR x 1.2
– Lightly Active: BMR x 1.375
– Moderately Active: BMR x 1.55
– Very Active: BMR x 1.725
– Highly Active: BMR x 1.9
This calculation will give you your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) – the amount of calories your body requires each day in light of your level of physical activity, which provides the closest prediction of your maintenance calories.
Even if you’re meeting the recommended daily exercise amount or making a conscious effort to make it to the gym, focus should also be paid toward what you’re doing for the remaining 23 hours of the day. What you do during these hours influences how many calories in total you are burning during the day, and may affect your fat loss if you are still consuming more calories than you are burning daily. As a result, how you come to select your daily caloric intake needs to be mindful of this, because if ignored, you may be subject to eating more than you’re burning, despite your exercise efforts. Your NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) refers to the calories you are burning in your day to day life, not inclusive of what you burn during exercise, sleep, eating (digestion) or other vital internal processes.
You can increase your NEAT by opting to take the stairs as opposed the escalator, parking your car further away from where you have to go and moving around during your work breaks.
6. Expecting Results Overnight
Consider this; how long did it take you to gain unwanted weight? How many blow out meals did you have? How many training sessions did you skip? The process of getting in shape, undoing damage and seeing fat loss results takes time and doesn’t happen overnight, just like gaining unwanted weight didn’t either. You may see incremental changes each week, however, you have to be willing to hang in there and allow weekly baby steps to stack up. Within the health and fitness industry, there is often an unrealistic perception of what results to expect within a certain time frame of dieting. For this reason, many people will be fixated on ‘a kilo a week loss’, ignorant to the fact that fat loss varies depending upon your starting position, how much fat you have to lose, the aggression of your methods, your activity level and your dieting history (metabolic capacity). Yoyo dieting is caused by trying a diet for a mere few weeks, expecting a certain number on the scales to appear, and then giving up if that unrealstic expectation is not met.
Aim for a more long-term outlook; rather than crossing out the weeks of adherence that bring you closer to the end of your diet, shift your attitude to an “in it for the long haul” approach. Do what is manageable and achievable for you day in and day out, and be willing to be patient in order to practice your method indefinitely. Failing to do so is the reason why so many people successfully lose a few kilos in a few weeks on a crash diet, only to end up a few kilos heavier than when they began, as their method was unsustainable and binge eating ensued. Take progress photos as comparing photos may more adequately portray your progress, rather than relying on a number on the scales with various variables. You can still attain great results within a couple of months of adherence, so ensure your methods are sustainable, but don’t expect results will occur overnight.
7. Binge Eating
There are a number of triggers which cause binge eating, but most commonly it derives from a history of restrictive dieting for a prolonged period of time, rigid dieting methods, or a poor relationship with food. It will often begin with an individual giving a diet plan 100% effort with no slip ups, only to then come crashing down in a big throw in the towel scenario and have a binge. When you pair a lowered metabolic rate due to a very low calorie diet with a binge eating session, it can lead to several kilos of fluid retention and some unwelcomed body fat gain in a very short period of time. The size and number of fat cells your body has work to determine your body fat set point. When you refeed after a deprivation period and gain back some of the weight you initially lost, fat cells that previously shrank will swell in size to their former, larger selves. Studies have indicated that this rapid weight regain can actually lead to the production of new fat cells as well8. These new fat cells are what can cause potential weight gain damage; the more fat cells you have accompanied by a reduced Leptin output from weeks and months of hardcore dieting results in signalling to your body that it’s still below its body fat set point9. In addition, your insulin sensitivity may be negatively impacted, and instead of insulin shuttling nutrients into muscle cells, these nutrients (such as glucose) may be stored in the adipose tissue as body fat10.
All in all, your body fat set point has effectively increased, so your body wants you to have more fat than when you first began dieting, which essentially means that binge eating after prolonged dieting leaves you in a very vulnerable position for fat gain. A third of dieters will experience the effects of this weight regain, often referred to as “Diet Over Shooting”11. So aside from the excess calories a binge can add to your overall caloric intake, if you’re a yoyo dieter or have been dieting for a long period of time, it could be the reason why you feel as though you’re going backwards.
If you suffer from binge eating, identify your trigger foods or trigger scenarios and create management strategies to avoid these. For example, some people can fall victim to a binge due to a social setting – so instead of going into such a setting with no limits in place, determine a guestimated “caloric buffer”; a cap on the amount of calories you can consume, so you can enjoy yourself and stay within your goal requirements. If you crave something, don’t deprive yourself of it and save it for one day of the week – simply work it in along with your other caloric and macronutrient intake requirements to ensure your diet is balanced and you aren’t substituting out all the good stuff.
8. Skinny Teas, Rapid Detoxes or Cutting Carbs
Quick fixes and celebrity endorsed diets can not outrun a sustainable and balanced practice of a consistent caloric deficit and macronutrient controlled diet. The reason why you may experience an initial drop in weight is due to the drastic caloric reduction which will predominantly cause water loss, as well as muscle and some fat. Crash diets and eliminating an entire macronutrient for the sake of a quick fix is about as long lasting as it sounds. Of course you’ll drop weight if you’re cutting a whole macronutrient from your diet, but this is due to the drastic caloric reduction and creation of a caloric deficit, not the absence of carbohydrates in isolation.
Don’t fall victim to any advertised quick fix plan, particularly ones which promote eliminating major food groups. Any time in which you have to remove something from your diet it is likely this restriction will be unsustainable in the long term.
9. Not Eating Enough (Or Eating Too Much) Protein
Protein has long been thought of as the secret macronutrient to weight loss, however if consumed in too high or too low a quantity, it can actually hinder your fat loss and consequential body composition goals. A balanced diet will see no more than 45% of your entire daily caloric intake coming from protein with a healthy range between 30 – 40%. The general recommendation is 1.8 – 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body weight. Aside from the thermogenic benefit protein as a macronutrient has, it is important when eating in a caloric deficit to ensure the maintainance of your current muscle mass. If you need help figuring out just how much protein to consume, give our Free Nutrition Plan a go.
If you struggle meeting your protein intake requirements each day, you can supplement with high-quality protein shakes and protein bars. They are also a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth, and can be used to create a myriad of healthy desserts, including pancakes, muffins and smoothies. Check out some simple, healthy and high protein meal ideas HERE!
10. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Much like stress, sleep deprivation increases cortisol (the stress hormone) which can wreak havoc on your fat loss goals. When you’re running off little to no sleep, your insulin sensitivity also decreases. A combination of these issues creates a below optimal fat loss environment. If you want to achieve fat loss, sleep needs to be a priority. It doesn’t outrun a caloric deficit but should be combined with adequate nutrition for pleasing results. You can’t be partying all the time, sleeping for a few hours, working and training, and expect your body to respond positively.
Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Limit your use of electronics before bed, limit caffeine in the evenings and prioritise some pre-bed winddown time to aid hitting this target. Supplement with a sleep aid, such as Core ZZZ, to help you wind down and achieve a deeper, higher quality sleep.
Final Thoughts: Are You Limiting Your Accountability or Seeking Professional Help?
Partaking on your fat loss journey and independently guiding yourself can become problematic for strategy and accountability reasons. More often than not, it’s beneficial to seek guidance and employ effective methods provided by a professional with experience and proven results in the field. That way, you won’t be hitting your head against a brick wall questioning the effectiveness of your methods, as well as having someone to keep you on track and hold you accountable. Without this, many people often lose faith in their practices, lack reassurance as to whether they are making progress and will deviate more frequently from their plan, due to the absence of someone checking in on them.
Find a professional who works with you on a regular basis, with weekly check-ins and implementing necessary diet changes, which will be effective for not only achieving your results but ensuring long-term adherence.
If you feel as though your dieting method has been ineffective in achieving results, and you are interested in seeking a proven, thoroughly researched method instead, we’d love to hear from you and discuss how we can customise a nutrition plan to your requirements, goals and food preferences. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
1. MacLean, P. S., Bergouignan, A., Cornier, M. A., & Jackman, M. R. (2011). Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. American Journal of PhysiologyRegulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 301(3), R581R600.
3. Miles, C. W., Wong, N. P., Rumpler, W. V., & Conway, J. (1993). Effect of circadian variation in energy expenditure, withinsubject variation and weight reduction on thermic effect of food. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 47(4), 274284
4. Jéquier, E. (2002). Leptin signaling, adiposity, and energy balance. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 967(1), 379388.
5. Löfgren, P., Hoffstedt, J., Näslund, E., Wiren, M., & Arner, P. (2005). Prospective and controlled studies of the actions of insulin and catecholamine in fat cells of obese women following weight reduction. Diabetologia, 48(11), 23342342.
6. MacLean, P. S., Bergouignan, A., Cornier, M. A., & Jackman, M. R. (2011). Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. American Journal of PhysiologyRegulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 301(3), R581R600.
8. Jackman, M. R., Steig, A., Higgins, J. A., Johnson, G. C., FlemingElder, B. K., Bessesen, D. H., & MacLean, P. S. (2008). Weight regain after sustained weight reduction is accompanied by suppressed oxidation of dietary fat and adipocyte hyperplasia. American Journal of PhysiologyRegulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 294(4), R1117R1129.
10. Löfgren, P., Hoffstedt, J., Näslund, E., Wiren, M., & Arner, P. (2005). Prospective and controlled studies of the actions of insulin and catecholamine in fat cells of obese women following weight reduction. Diabetologia, 48(11), 23342342.
11. MacLean, P. S., Bergouignan, A., Cornier, M. A., & Jackman, M. R. (2011). Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. American Journal of PhysiologyRegulatory, Integrative and Comparative