Monday, September 19, 2011

Getting Stuck at a Weight When You're Trying to Lose?

If you've started a weight-management plan and had some initial results, but now you're stuck at a particular weight, or even worse, gaining ever so slightly. You may have plateaued or staled for some reason. You step on the scale chanting for a lower number and it eludes you time after time. How can we break through this plateau?

I had this happen to me recently. I felt like I was doing everything right--Lowered caloric intake, exercising every day and eating healthy foods, but my weight would not drop even a half pound.

There are several reasons weight loss stops, but the main three are as follows:

  1. You're eating more calories than you realize.

  2. Your "metabolism" has slowed due to its awareness of your caloric restrictions.

  3. You're not moving enough or with enough exertion.

The best way to address the first one is to keep a journal and measure your portions until you have an intimate understanding of how many calories you're consuming on a regular basis and how many calories you need to lose weight. Remember to count how much sauce you're adding to your stir-fry, how much olive oil is in your salad dressing, those handfuls of nuts you're snacking on, that power bar at the gym, etc.

If you don't have a food scale, order one today off of Amazon. You can get a decent one for under $10-- mailed right to your door.

Keep track of your food for at least a week. There are several free calorie/exercise websites for tracking your progress. Make sure you understand exactly how many calories you need to eat per day in order to lose weight. Then, understand how many calories you're actually consuming.

I recently mentioned a free site I found, Cron-O-Meter; however, there are a number of these free sites available. Do a Google search for "Calorie Counting" and they will pop up. These sites will take your stats and give you a rough idea of the number of calories you need to being eating to lose weight. Then, they provide you with the tools to journal exactly how many calories you're actually eating in a day. In this way, you can see if you're really consuming too many calories or if you're body really is just slowing down its metabolism.

Which takes us to the second reason--a slowed metabolism. What exactly is a "slowed metabolism?" In dieting terms, it's really a misnomer. Metabolism describes the way our bodies convert food to fuel, but what is really probably happening is that our bodies are experiencing the “starvation response.” Millions of years of caveman evolution kick in, and our bodies think we might be starving, so our bodies release less of the hormone leptin and less of the enzyme lipase. This slows the release of fat cells for fuel. In fact, if you eat too few calories, you will have initial weight loss, but it will slow due to this. In starvation syndrome, our bodies will favor burning lean muscle instead of fat. Less muscle will slow your ability to lose weight even further, as your body will need fewer calories. The trick is to maintain a caloric deficit that is just under your target maintain weight, and eat the right kind of foods.

To keep your body from eating its own muscles, you have to make sure it has a constant supple of what it uses for fuel–-glucose. Your body makes glucose from carbohydrates. You know that you can overdo carbohydrates by eating the wrong kinds, such as the white starches, but if you give your body good sources of carbohydrates (from fruits and vegetables), you can avoid starvation syndrome.

In addition, studies have shown that too much fat in the diet can inhibit the metabolism of glucose. Years ago, a study was done by Dr. I.M. Rabinowitch that included 1000 case studies. The study was presented to the Diabetic Association in Boston. He proved that too much fat in the blood interfered with insulin (See

So, eat right (a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat). The next thing you should be doing to combat starvation syndrome is weight lifting or some sort of resistance training that stresses your larges muscles, like your legs (quadriceps), chest, and back.

The third item to address is whether or not you’re moving with enough effort. Here’s a simple way to know if you are working with enough intensity. If you can have a conversation and get out several sentences while you’re working out, you are not working with enough intensity. You should only be able to muster short sentences or a few words at a time. If you are walking for exercise, that’s wonderful, but if you’ve been at the same pace forever, and you can tell your life story while walking, you need to pick up the pace.

As Jim Morrison sang in the Doors debut album, “Break on through to the other side.”


  1. I'm a big fan of the perceived intensity measure of exercise - any machine can estimate how many calories you're burning, but only your body knows how hard it's actually working, which is the real measure. I read somewhere that "you should be able to speak, but not sing", which I thought was a cute way of putting it. (But that could be because I'm a singer, or used to be.)

    I'm also a die-hard believer in resistance training; I can do cardio for hours a day and never lose an ounce, but throw in strength training and I not only lose weight, but what I keep is pure muscle.

    Great post!

  2. Singing, yeah that sounds like a good way to measure it too. Thanks!