If you have lost some weight and then found your body suddenly refusing to let any more weight go, you have reached a weight loss plateau.
This can be incredibly frustrating because obviously whatever you were doing up until this point WAS WORKING!
Now your body seems to be protesting.
Well, the short and accurate answer is, “it depends”. Oh boy, another frustration! You want answers and you want them now!
Well, research shows that there are multiple factors that can cause a weight loss plateau.
However, instead of giving you a long list and asking you to try to figure it out, I thought it would be easier to help you understand YOUR OWN personal reasons why YOU have hit a plateau.
There are three major reasons that someone would hit a plateau so I suggest you explore these first.
AND I want to give you some super-duper valuable tools to help you figure this out.
FIRST: Assess your caloric intake and the quality of your food. Like really.
The tool that you are going to use is a dietary intake app.
Whether you ARE tracking your calories already or not, consider these 3 things:
- If you have lost a lot of weight your caloric needs and your metabolism have changed and you may have to reduce the number of calories again.
- You may be under-eating. This may have worked for a period of time but now your metabolism has slowed down to be able to function properly with less energy. Try actually eating more!!
- Consider the quality of your food and food sensitivities. Don't just look at your calories, look at the quality of the food you are eating. We burn more calories breaking down whole foods than processed foods. So try switching to all whole foods and you will most likely see a big change.
- Sometimes just switching to all organic can make a huge difference. This is because there are chemicals in conventional foods that can block weight loss because they are known endocrine disrupters, or your body is just not able to process them well, causing inflammation.
This is important!!! Don’t brush it off! Investigate!!
SECOND: Use a fitness app in conjunction with a heart rate monitor.
It is possible that your cardiovascular fitness is now more efficient and you need to push yourself harder.
Using a heart rate monitor will help you understand several wonderful things about your body!
- First, know your resting heart rate (RHR). This will tell you how “fit” you are. Within reason, a lower RHR indicates better cardio health. Using your RHR you can then train in zones very deliberately. Instead of just following generic recommendations based on your age and sex, why not personalize it for yourself based on YOUR RHR. Doing this will optimize your workout and may be that one big factor that is blocking you from losing weight.
- You can measure your RHR by sitting quietly for 5 minutes and then measuring your heart rate for 5 minutes while just sitting there, and then taking the average. This is best done first thing in the AM upon awakening. I recommend using the Polar H10 bluetooth Chest Heart Rate Monitor. It is the most accurate way to measure heart rate during rest and while exercising.
- Track your workouts in an app to see how you are training. Most people respond very well to increased resistance training (using weights or body weight or bands, TRX, etc) because increased muscle mass revs up your metabolism. Make sure you are not just doing a bunch of cardio. And when you do cardio, train in your zones very deliberately.
- Make sure you are doing high intensity interval cardio training at least 1 or more times/week. This means getting your heart rate up into “zone 3” or 85-95% of max, for short intervals (30-120 seconds at a time) and then getting it back down to “zone 2” or 75-85% of max for short “recovery” periods (30-120 seconds). Then you interval back and forth between those zones for varying lengths of time for 10-20 minutes. This type of training is extremely efficient and you’ll see your caloric burn go up and your cardiovascular fitness improve quickly!
If you feel you might need some professional help with all this, contact me for a consultation.
THIRD: Know your heart rate variability and track it.
Heart rate variability is the variance in the rate of your heart rate from beat to beat. Unlike your RHR, we are looking for a high heart rate variability as you become more fit.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is an amazing tool that I recommend to ALL of my clients! It tells you how stressed you are and also indicates levels of inflammation in the body. It doesn’t tell you WHAT is causing your HRV to be high or low…but it does tell you that something is.
There are multiple studies showing that HRV does relate to overweight and obesity. People that are overweight tend to have lower HRV. 1,2,3,4 Also we know that HRV is a very accurate predictor of cardiovascular health and many other conditions including insulin signaling issues5,6, other hormonal imbalances7, sleep disturbances8, and inflammation9, which can all affect your ability to lose weight!
So, even though HRV may seem a little “out there”, inconvenient, or simply unknown to you, it is actually THE most important factor to consider when determining the cause for a weight loss plateau.
Measuring HRV requires a device to monitor your heart rate accurately and that will sync with an app or device that measures heart rate variability. I recommend the Polar H10 Bluetooth Chest Heart Rate Monitor (don’t buy from Amazon, buy from the source to ensure you’re getting what you pay for) and that syncs with the free app called Elite HRV. I like the Elite HRV app and they have the “morning readiness” score.
Another app is BioForce HRV (watch the video to get inspired about HRV) and that also syncs with the Polar products.
There are other ways to do this. But I found using the Polar monitor with the free apps to be very economical.
Once you have measured your HRV Morning Readiness score daily for 2-3 weeks you'll start to see a picture of what affects your HRV. So after you have established some pattern be on the lookout for the following factors that can block weight loss.
- Over-training: This is very common with people trying really hard to lose weight. This can increase oxidative stress and therefore inflammation and blood sugar, thereby BLOCKING WEIGHT LOSS. Yes, I said it, working out too much can be counterproductive to losing weight my friends. If your HRV is lower than the average for your age and sex, or you see it dropping the day after you work out, then suspect over training and STOP doing it!! Give your body time to recover!
- Stress: This is also very common. It is one of the biggest reasons why people gain weight and/or have trouble losing it.10,11 Don’t brush this one off! Pay attention to your stress levels and see how that affects your HRV. Also, pay attention to your attitude. If you are desperately trying to lose weight this can be a source of stress and anxiety, causing your HRV to tank and everything to work less efficiently. Slow down, relax, let your body do its work.
- Sleep: This is another biggie!! Lack of sleep and poor sleep all can lower HRV. And there are also tons of studies showing that poor sleep can increase your appetite due to hormonal disruption, making it much harder to control what you eat!12, 13, 14
To summarize. It is far more efficient and much better for your health in the long run for you to figure out why YOU are at a weight loss plateau. Don’t guess, test.
Using a good diet app and really assessing how much you are eating and the quality of your food should be the first thing you do.
Also assess your training and make sure you are consciously training in zones and not just “getting your heart rate up” or slugging away on a treadmill day after day. Be sure to add resistance training as well.
And finally, assess if there are underlying issues making it more difficult to lose weight now. Consider sleep, stress, inflammation, and of course over-training. Use HRV to get a window into these factors and to learn oh so much more about your body!
This will bring you into the realm of personalized health and nutrition, which is my mission!
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10215292 Heart rate variability in obesity and the effect of weight loss.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17884456 Impact of bariatric surgery--induced weight loss on heart rate variability.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23564378 Adiposity, muscle, and physical activity: predictors of perturbations in heart rate variability.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15735206 Diabetes, glucose, insulin, and heart rate variability: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657740/#R42 Associations Between Insulin and Heart Rate Variability in Police Officers
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3658316/ Stress as a common risk factor for obesity and addiction
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20941511 Stress at the intestinal surface: catecholamines and mucosa-bacteria interactions.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3619301/ Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3707179/ Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Caloric Intake and Activity Energy Expenditure
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4688118/ Elevated ghrelin predicts food intake during experimental sleep restriction