Why Does Weight Loss Stall?
Firstly, the important concept for everyone to have in their head is that humans have evolved with survival in mind. In evolutionary terms, looking good in swimwear doesn’t really come in to things.
To survive we need a certain amount of energy coming in daily as the act of living (and whatever activity you do beyond that) requires well, energy. We need a variety of nutrients from within that energy too, but we'll stick with energy as it's fat loss we are talking about.
The human body always wants homeostasis – that is to be in a ‘stress free state’ as much as possible. Sufficient energy, no stress, and at a weight that supports being stress free. There is no exact ideal weight there, but basically just not where the person has super low levels of body fat, nor is massively overweight.
Nowadays we have access to food 24/7, if you are hungry and there’s nothing in the house you can drive to the supermarket (which generally is never far) and get what you need. This is something that has only happened in modern times (relative to our evolution).
For hundreds of thousands of years we survived under conditions where food was scarce, therefore, when it’s available – eat it. Energy = survival.
You can probably see the connection between being programmed to take on calories, and the abundance of all this calorie dense food we now have access to. Add to that the fact that we move less than we used to and the conditions are there for weight gain.
But what happens when we are trying to lose weight and it starts to stall.
When you move into an energy deficit certain adaptations occur to promote survival (it’s a stress, and the body does not like this). This should make sense when you consider the environment humans lived in before modern times. A lack of energy (food) and the body will adapt to help our chances of survival.
Before I explain what happens, I want you to realise that weight loss can slow, progress can be masked, BUT, if you stick to the plan things work. Weight loss needs a calorie deficit to occur, so this all assumes that the person is actually sticking to that.
Everyone has the ability to lose weight through managing energy balance. If you misrecord, have bad days, lie about intake etc. – well that’s the reason things aren’t working, you can’t blame anything else.
So energy in is calories…..energy out, or the things that burn energy are…
The Need For The Energy We Burn At Rest Lowers.
Resting metabolic rate, the amount of energy burned just being alive. You burn a certain amount of calories here, but if your weight drops there is LESS OF YOU…hence you burn less calories. If someone weighs 100 kilograms and diets down to 90 kilograms there is physically less of that person than there used to be, therefore the amount of calories needed to supply adequate energy gets lower.
The gap between the calorie amount to maintain your weight and the calorie deficit you're in shrinks.
The Energy We Burn Digesting Food Also Lowers.
You burn a certain amount of calories processing the food you eat. When you diet, you eat less food…so you burn less calories here as well. This isn't a large piece of the puzzle and won't be responsible in a huge way BUT it does happen. It's not something you can try to change, but I do feel knowing these things helps frame the overall picture of what is happening in your body.
The Amount Of Energy You Burn Outside Of Exercise Drops.
The amount of energy you burn doing activity outside of exercise and staying alive. Think 10,000 steps. When you diet down motivation starts to wane here, you may be hungry, tired and cold…you’ll be less likely to want to move around so it’s another thing that takes a hit. You've got less energy coming in to your body than it needs, it's part physical, part psychological.
The Amount Of Energy You Burn Exercising Drops.
The amount of calories you burn doing exercise will readjust because of what I just mentioned with steps, but skeletal muscle can become up to 20% MORE efficient as you try to diet down.
Your muscle efficiency improves by way of a defence mechanism. Normally when you train you expend a certain amount of energy by your muscle tissue doing the work, but to promote survival and to stave off weight loss the body can compensate by doing the same work for 20% LESS output. Amazing when you think about it.
Survival mechanisms are incredibly strong. A woman’s menstrual cycle will actually shut down once they reach very low levels of body fat. This is an individualistic survival mechanism, as a woman does not need the menstrual cycle for her herself to stay alive. It costs energy to support, so once the person's survival is threatened the body will shut it down to save that energy.
It's important to note that the leaner you get, the more these factors come in to play. The article image shows when I dieted down to very low levels of body fat and all of these factors were in play. But you CAN and DO lose weight to that level if you stick to your guns.
None of this stuff is an out, if you're in a calorie deficit for long enough you lose weight. This piece explains that it's not as simple as doing it and weight dropping off though, your body is always trying to keep you away from any extremes in terms of weight.
If you spend a year at a certain weight, 3-4 weeks of going 10-20% over on your calories won’t make you put on huge amounts of weight straight away.
If you spend a year at a certain weight, 3-4 weeks of going 10-20% UNDER on your calories won’t make you lose weight straight away.
Your body wants homeostasis, it wants to be stress free and you need to stay the course for longer periods of time to force the necessary change.
If you know you are doing the right things, and you step on the scales and it hasn’t budged in a couple of days it’s a case of trusting the process as long as you are sticking to the plan.
I hope this helps with dieting down to lower levels, and scale weight being tough to deal with in the short term. Knowing the ‘why’ is incredibly important so don't get frustrated.
If you have any questions let me know.