176 why weight loss plateaus happen and what you can do about it

Breaking a Weight Loss Plateau: How to Reduce Body Fat When Nothing Seems to be Working

Reading Time: 6 minutes [1362 words]

Ever Wonder Why You Can't Lose Weight…

Even When You Do Everything Right?

Maybe You're Trying Too Hard!

Finally, Here Are The Facts You Need To Melt The Fat...Once And For All!

It's frustrating...maddeningly frustrating. You've sworn that this time it's going to be different. You're meticulously counting your calories. You're following your exercise routine strictly. You're not cheating with binges.

Yet the Mirror and Scale Aren't Lying

Fat man holding a measurement tape against white background

The numbers on the scale aren't budging. And the image you see in the mirror is so far from being “beach ready” that it's almost funny...if it weren't so depressing.

In spite of the heroic, almost super-human effort, you're stuck in neutral. The pounds stubbornly cling, as does the fat...especially around your mid-section, the area where you least want it.

In desperation, you may be tempted to do what all-too-many people do: double and even triple your efforts. Crank up the exercise intensity, slash calories even further to the bone, and make sure your already bland menu is even more spartan and miserable.

But More Sacrifice IS NOT the Answer

It may seem quite counter-intuitive that re-doubling your efforts may backfire. But that's what most people discover the hard way. When hard work, tons of sweat, and iron-like self-discipline is not showing the results that were promised, the reaction is usually a combination of depression, frustration, anger...and a decision to try even harder.

But before you go from running a few miles every other day to training for a marathon, and following some radical diets (The Elimination Diet, Vegan, Adkins, Paleo, Gluten-free, Pritkin, Master Cleanse, The Raw Diet, Fruitarian and Elizabeth diets, etc.), save yourself the effort by remembering two simple words…


Think about this. How in the world could you practically starve yourself and exercise until you drop -- and still not lose weight and fat? Why, why, why?

To answer that, consider how your body reacts to a restricted calorie regimen. Typically, after beginning a determined dietary effort, the pounds come off for the first few weeks. Some of this is fat, but the mirror doesn’t reflect that, due to the increased water retention that occurs when dieting. Then, seemingly without warning, the weight drops in spurts, at times overnight.

The explanation of this paradox is rather simple. When calorie restriction begins, the body retains water. As we lose more fat, we hold more water. When there is an increase in calorie intake, often due to a “cheat day” in which the dieter resumes a regular eating pattern, the pounds finally drop.

This is due to the adrenal gland releasing cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone” as a response to the stress of a dramatic drop in calorie intake. Also, many people trying to lose weight exercise far longer than usual, which kicks in an even more significant amount of cortisol release. In other words, too much stress, too quick. This sets the stage for the body to retain water in excess amounts.

Now, when the “re-feeding day” occurs, cortisol levels plummet...and the pounds finally drop. This is the logical, scientific explanation for this strange phenomenon. And it also tells us in plain language exactly why starvation diets and hours and hours of exercise don't immediately reward you with rapid weight-loss.

But there is one more piece to add to the puzzle: the role of sodium. To further elaborate, let's turn to professional athletes, for whom cutting weight is a tool of the trade.

An Example From the Sporting World

   Many athletes in the fitness world have become adept at manipulating the fluid balance in their bodies. In particular, competitive bodybuilders and combat athletes (wrestlers, boxers, and mixed-martial artists) know how to take the weight off quickly, and add it back even quicker.

   Bodybuilders need this ability to stand on the stage “ripped,” which is defined as having very low body-fat, to look larger and more muscular. Combat athletes need this knowledge to weigh-in at the limit of the weight division they compete in.

Some ways of doing this are dangerous. But by relying on fluid, carbohydrate, and sodium intake for short periods of time, weight can be lost and gained safely. Here is a simple formula that many athletes use:

  • Eight days away from the competition: double water intake, which leads to an increase in urinary fluid loss and water conservation in the body. Stay with this for two days.
  • Six days away from the competition: double water intake again. At this point, you are imbibing more than four times the usual consumption of water. This stimulates more water loss. Also, carbohydrates are restricted to 50-100 grams daily, and sodium intake is increased by adding a small amount of salt to drinking water. This routine continues for four days.
  • Two days away from the competition: water consumption is slashed four-fold. For example, you were consuming two gallons of water daily, drop it to one-half gallon. At this point, your body is used to excreting significant amounts of fluid, and it takes a while to adjust. The result? The sudden drop produces a negative water balance. Essentially, you're dehydrating your body by forcing it to lose water in higher amounts than you're taking in. Also, increase carbohydrate to 200-400 grams per day, which will flood the muscles with stored glycogen and draw water into the intracellular spaces. This gives a muscular and leaner look at the same time. Finally, avoid all sodium. Cut all salt out of your diet and avoid all foods high in sodium. Similar to the water manipulation described above, your body had become accustomed to excreting significant amounts of sodium and will keep doing it, which results in more sodium leaving the body than coming in.
  • One day from the competition: cut water intake in half once again, maintain increased carbohydrate intake and keep sodium as low as possible.
  • Gameday: avoid water until after the weigh-in, then refuel with water, sodium, and carbohydrates.

What This Means to the Average Person

  1. Never attempt a starvation diet. If you dramatically slash your calorie intake, the result will be most unpleasant: water retention, which, as you now know, will sabotage your weight-loss plans. Keep your calorie restriction to approximately 20-25% of normal when you are trying to lose weight.
  2. You don't need to put in hours and hours of excise every day. At first glance, this seems contradictory. More exertion = more weight loss, right? WRONG! Too much exercise will pump massive amounts of cortisol into your system, which will increase water retention, thus creating another obstacle to weight-loss. Stay active, but don't overdo it, and don't feel guilty about taking a day off to rest and recover.
  3. Have a “cheat day” or “re-feeding day,” when you eat just about anything you want. This is not a green light to go berserk and attack every doughnut shop in town. Let common sense prevail, and don't go overboard. But as mentioned earlier, raising your calorie intake will relieve stress, lower cortisol, and result in a few pounds coming off. This seems implausible, but the science is there. Just try it...it works.
  4. Monitor your sodium and potassium intake. Never forget that sodium is a mineral that loads up the cells with water. Therefore, it is evident that excess sodium intake will result in water retention. Want proof? After being super strict with your diet hit a restaurant for a huge, salt-loaded meal and get on the scales the next day. Potassium works precisely the opposite, as it lowers the fluid level of your cells. Sodium pumps it in; potassium pumps it out. Be always aware of your sodium/potassium ratio, since most folks consume far more sodium than potassium...and most people are overweight. Don't follow the crowd!

Losing weight is never easy. But the way all-too-many people attempt it makes a difficult task nearly impossible. However, now that you are armed with the knowledge of the science behind weight-loss, you will be able to avoid the landmines that snag so many, take the pounds and inches off...and keep them off!





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