Weight Stuck for Months? | 7 Fat Loss Solutions You Never Considered
Are you stuck at the same weight for more than just a few weeks?
You’re probably sick of dieting and endless exercise routines. Maybe you lost some weight initially. But progress stopped a long time ago. Despite your best efforts the scale won’t budge.
Don’t give up! Chances are you haven’t exhausted all your options just yet. Check out our list of uncommon approaches to fat loss. Apply the recommended strategies to break the weight loss plateau.
#1 Create an “Emergency”
Adipose tissue (body fat) contains your primary energy reserves. In times of need your body can tap into those reserves to maintain its functionality. But there must be a serious reason to start burning fat.
Think of body fat as your savings account. Provided you’re getting a steady cash flow there’s no reason to touch your emergency funds. Only when there’s a real need you'll direct money from the savings to checking account.
The bigger the need the faster you drain your savings. Though you don’t want to transfer all money at once. The less is left in your savings account the more sparingly you use it. You always leave some small amount for emergencies.
What Causes a Weight Loss Plateau?
The energy currency used by the body is measured in calories. When you get plenty of calories you get to keep your fat. But when you reduce your intake you start losing fat.
If your weight is stable this means you’re getting plenty of energy from your diet. No reason to burn fat. To keep losing weight you need to be consuming less. As simple as this.
And yes, the rate of fat loss goes down with time. Sometimes progress is so slow that it looks like your weight is stuck. But more about this later.
Do You Eat Healthy Food But Still Can’t Lose Fat?
Snacking, cheat meals, or eating out can cause your weight to stall. You can consume excess calories without realizing it. But sometimes healthy foods can also be problematic.
Health and weight loss are not the same. Most healthy foods are low in calories. But not all. The quantities consumed also make a difference. Wholefoods are no exception. If you eat too much you’ll eventually consume enough calories to gain weight.
Here are a few basic rules to keep in mind:
- read nutrition labels and pay attention to the caloric content
- limit portion sizes and snacking
Some healthy whole foods are very caloric even in small amounts. You’re better off limiting or avoiding them when dieting. Examples include:
- avocado and guacamole
- nuts and nut butters (all kinds)
- olive oil (and other healthy fats)
- coconut (including coconut oil)
- dates, raisins
- protein bars (including vegan bars)
- trail mix and dried fruits
#2 Combat the Effects of Your Metabolism Slowing Down
Even if you limit energy consumption you'll still hit a weight plateau at some point. This is normal. There are two main reasons why this happens:
- You get lighter. So you require less energy to maintain your now smaller body.
- Fat reserves are getting low. The body becomes frugal when it comes to burning fat.
These are simple evolutionary adaptions. The body is trying to limit energy waste and be more efficient with the available resources. It thinks you’re starving. The assumption is that your life is in real danger.
Note that metabolism is barely affected. The above adaptations don’t change how you process food. You’ll still absorb all the calories you consume. But you start to use that energy very sparingly.
When Does Weight Loss Plateau Happen?
Losing weight means you’re getting less energy than your daily requirements:
- energy in (food) < energy out (activity)
You can’t survive for long if you can’t sustain your energy needs. So the body starts burning fat to balance the equation.
At some point your energy requirements go down. Either because you’re now literally a smaller person. Or because other (diet-induced) adaptions made you more energy efficient.
What used to be insufficient nourishment in the past is now enough to cover your needs. You’re no longer in an energy deficit. You’re now maintaining your body weight:
- energy in = energy out
To keep losing weight you need to lower your food intake again. Stick to your new target until you hit another weight plateau. Then repeat the process. As the diet progresses you’ll be eating less and less.
No need to constantly decrease calories. Do that only when you stop losing weight. There’s a huge genetic component to weight loss. Some people lose fat easily. Others may need to be more aggressive and adjust their eating habits often.
#3 Learn to Measure Progress Correctly
Your body weight is the mass sum of fat, muscle, and bone, organs, water, etc. Most components are not affected by dieting. Though muscle and water weight can change because of lifestyle.
There are other factors that may also affect your weight:
- food residue and bowel movement
- the time when you weigh yourself
- using a different scale or changing its location
- changes in stress and sleep
- diet composition and quality
Body weight can be pretty deceiving. That’s why you want to focus on fat loss. No need to use fancy ways to measure body fat. Look for the visual changes. Take pictures and measure your waist. Pay attention to how your clothes fit you.
Sometimes it may look like weight is barely decreasing. But in fact, you’re still getting leaner. This is usually the case when you have just a few pounds left to go. Progress is slow. Hard to track and measure.
However, if you have more than 5-6 lbs to lose you should experience a clear change in weight. Measurable fat loss will eventually result in notable weight loss.
Can I Be Losing Fat But Not Weight?
Theoretically this is possible, though it rarely happens. The two major exceptions are:
- You’re building muscle mass with the same speed as you’re losing fat. Usually happens to beginners or people regaining lost gains. This period doesn’t last long. Muscle building is generally much slower than fat loss.
- You’re losing fat but water retention is masking your progress. A common phenomenon which can be very frustrating. However, excess water is usually flushed out within a few days.
Most of the times fat loss will lead to weight loss. However, don’t stress too much over daily weigh-ins. Look at week-to-week changes. Pay attention to the general trend, not daily fluctuations.
The only exception is when you experience rapid muscle growth for weeks. But this means you have to be training with weights. If that’s not the case, body weight has to be going down.
#4 Limit Water Retention
Most (small) fluctuations in weight can be explained by water retention. Many things can make you hold more water:
- changes in sodium levels
- overall carb intake
- liquid intake (including that from food)
- hormonal changes (mostly in women)
- exercise and physical activity
- temperature and sweating
- stress levels and sleep problems
If you’re losing fat but also start holding more water, total weight may not change. Sometimes it may even go up. That makes it hard to track progress.
If you gained weight overnight, and you’ve been consistent with your diet, then it’s most likely water. Unless you go on an all-out binge it’s very hard to gain notable fat weight in a single day.
Can Extra Water Weight Explain Your Lack of Progress?
Water retention is only problematic when you’re already very lean. A couple of pounds of extra water weight can mask your progress when you have 2 lbs left to lose.
However if you have 50 lbs to get rid of, not much to worry about. Some 2-3 lbs of extra water can’t hide those 10 lbs you lost during your first month of dieting.
But if you’re clearly overweight and not progressing, don’t blame it on water retention. You need to step up your fat loss efforts.
Why Does Weight Fluctuate From Day to Day?
It’s almost impossible to avoid water retention. You can minimize it by keeping your daily routines identical throughout the week. But inevitably you’ll eat something different one day. Or maybe have a few beers on Friday night. All of this can affect scale measurements.
Don’t fuss too much about day-to-day weigh-ins. They’ll never be super accurate. Look for the overall trend across a few weeks.
#5 Exercise the Right Way
To lose weight you need to consume less energy than your daily needs. Diet can reduce your consumption. While exercise can increase your expenditure.
Unfortunately, exercise has limited application. You can restrain yourself from eating a whole pizza. Hence limit consumption (fairly) easily. But it’s much harder to out-exercise those calories. It will take you 4-5 hrs to burn all the energy from that pizza.
However, if you train smart you can:
- speed up your fat loss significantly
- avoid wasting time doing hours of cardio
Pick activities that burn the most calories across the week. But don’t get you too fatigued or consume all of your free time.
What Is the Most Efficient Way to Burn Fat?
Here are the pros and cons of the most common strategies. See how much time you need to invest for maximum benefits.
Cardio (Light to Intensive) – about 2x a week, low priority
Pros of cardio:
- decent amount of calories burned per session
- easy to implement, low skill-threshold
Cons of cardio:
- very fatiguing and time-consuming
- may lead to muscle loss
Weight Training (Moderate) – 3-5x a week, medium priority
Pros of weight training:
- a similar amount of calories burned as cardio
- builds muscle (makes fat loss easier over time)
Cons of weight training:
- relatively fatiguing and time-consuming
- requires a level of dedication
Walking (Low Intensity) – daily, high priority
Pros of daily walks:
- the most amount of calories burned per week
- very easy to implement, no skill required
Cons of daily walks:
- takes a good amount of time
- relies on consistency to be effective
Note: there’s nothing magical about walking. Any low-intensity task or activity will achieve the same results. The goal is to raise total daily energy expenditure in a sustainable way.
Adding 40-60 mins (or 2-3x 20 mins) of walking a day burns way more calories than a couple of cardio sessions. You can combine walks with listening to podcasts or spending time with your close ones.
Cardio and weight lifting burn more per session. But they are much harder to implement and are highly fatiguing. There’s a clear limit to how often you can train in a week.
Lastly, weight lifting and cardio burn around the same amount of calories. But strength training results in muscle growth. This has a very positive effect on your looks. Most people benefit more from this type of exercise than pure cardio.
Most of your focus should be on increasing (daily) light activity. You can also start exercising with weights 2-3 times a week. Then if you have time left, add a couple of cardio sessions.
#6 Change Your Diet Composition
We already discussed the role of calories. But controlling your caloric intake is not always enough to keep you lean. Theoretically, you can lose weight even if eating only junk food. Realistically, very few people can succeed using this approach.
The biggest problem is food taste and palatability. When you diet hunger goes up. Dieting also taxes your willpower. This increases the chance of overeating. Resisting processed food is generally not easy.
Junk food was engineered to taste amazing. It’s hard to control yourself and stop eating. You may unintentionally overconsume calories without realizing it. A piece of candy here and there do add up.
What Should You Eat When the Scale Is Stuck?
If you’re serious about losing weight:
- minimize the risk of mindless eating (including binging)
- limit highly caloric options in your immediate environment
Most foods that taste great are also highly caloric. By limiting your access to such foods you accomplish 2 things. First, you minimize the risk of overeating. Second, if you do overeat you’ll be eating less caloric foods. Hence less damage done.
To achieve that:
- don’t buy highly palatable foods
- get rid of all processed food at home or work
- avoid places where you’ll be exposed to such meals
Stick to whole foods. Make your diet a bit more bland on purpose. There’s no chance you’ll overeat on salad and lean meat. What you expose yourself to is what you end up eating. Take control of your environment. Don’t let it dictate your diet choices.
For a complete list of recommended foods check out:
#7 Don’t Be Overly Optimistic Like Most People
Weight loss takes time. The more you have to lose the longer it will take. Other obligations can also affect your diet. It almost always takes longer than you expect. Cultivating patience is key. Otherwise, you’ll panic and abandon your goal too early.
Pay attention to stressful events in your life. Fat loss doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Anything that affects you on a personal level can hinder progress. If you’re getting stressed out at work weight loss will slow down.
How Long Does a Weight Loss Plateau Last?
It may take up to two weeks before weight decreases notably. As you get leaner weight fluctuations can mask progress. Fat loss slows down so much that small changes just don’t register on the scale.
Anything longer than 2 weeks suggests you hit a plateau. Maybe your body simply adapted to your current approach. Further diet and exercise changes are needed in that case.
However, competing goals can also cause fat loss to stall. Many lifestyle factors can affect your ability to lose weight. Either by draining your willpower or physically exhausting you. If that's the case, you need to re-evaluate your priorities.
You can’t win 10 different battles at the same time. Make the necessary sacrifices. Accept that progress will be slow in some areas of life. Or that you have to put things on the back burner.
Until next time!
~Niki, Fitness Mastery Coach