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Q&A: Troubleshooting a Weight Loss Plateau

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Q: I lost 25 pounds during the winter and it’s like someone put on the brakes. I haven’t lost anything for weeks. What’s the best way to start losing weight again?

A: First off, congratulations on a massive fat loss accomplishment—25 pounds is a serious amount of weight to lose. At this point there are a couple factors to explore.

First, understand that the plan that helped you lose the first 25 pounds will not work to help you lose the next 25, partly because it’s a new challenge and partly because your metabolism and bodyweight are different now.

Secondly, as you continue to improve, you need a plan that adjusts your nutrition or exercise program every two to four weeks from now on.

Let’s take a quick look at the main reasons why fat loss plateaus occur:

1. Wrong protocol

Basically this means that the program didn't work in the first place. Examples of this type of error include not performing resistance training, doing an excessive volume of low intensity aerobic work, and eating too many (or too few) calories a day. The easiest way to avoid this mistake is to work from an established program with a proven track record of achieving fat loss results. Obviously this wasn’t the case for you.

2. Non compliance

This is a big problem, either consciously or subconsciously. I’m a big fan of John Berardi's compliance grid, which basically states that a 90 percent compliance to any plan is necessary to evaluate the plan. So regardless of whether you’re following a high carb or low carb diet, for instance, based on 5 meals per day and 3 post workout shakes per week, that's 38 meals. If you eat less than 35 meals according to the plan, you are not "on" the plan, you're winging it. Again, this is not your issue.

3. Adaptation

This is not necessarily a problem per se—it's actually the goal of the fat loss plan. Exercising more or reducing calories are tools to help you lose weight or body fat, but the adaptation is exactly what we are looking for. In other words, the plan that we will use to lose 3 pounds of fat per week will only work for about 4 weeks before we need to adjust. We are actually trying to cause your body to adapt. We only adjust when we are not at the final destination, or goal, yet.

The last one (adaptation) is where we’re at with you. As we’ve said, the plan that took you from 225 to 200 will not work to take you to 175.

So let’s take one week off—no training and increase your calories a little bit. Basically, just relax from your diet somewhat and include 2-3 “cheat” meals. The rest of the week should be fairly clean in terms of what you eat, with a few more calories than usual.

Then we start over. Take your bodyweight in pounds and multiply that by 10 to get us a starting number for calories. You’re going to train at least four days per week for 60 minutes each time (two strength days and two metabolic days) so we’ll multiply that number by 1.5.

So, for example, if you’re 200lbs, we’ll start with 200 x 10 x 1.5 = 3000 calories. Subtract 500 from that number (so we’re at 2500) and divide that up into five, 500 calorie meals. We’ll weigh in every one to two weeks and make an adjustment based on your progress. If you plateau again, add activity or reduce calories.

Alwyn Cosgrove is renowned for his fat loss training programs and for being a dynamic and educational speaker. He’s the owner of Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California and the author of The New Rules of Lifting. Learn more at AlwynCosgrove.com.

Tags: Calories, Goals, Planning, Weight Loss