Tomorrow I’ll be leading a discussion with my “Friends in Low-Carb Places” work support group on the topic of “tactics for breaking weight loss plateaus.”
Here’s my approach to this issue with three prefaces:
1.) In the continual journey to better health, it’s all about n=1 experimentation to see what works well for you and what doesn’t work well for you, meaning that one size may not fit all and that mileage may vary person to person even under similar approaches. I also read a fair amount of articles, books, blogs, and studies about nutrition and exercise, always trying to take away something I could potential experiment with at a later date (part of how I generate different hypothesis to try on myself).
2.) So if, after a few weeks of my scale weight stalling and not losing inches, I view this not as a personal failure or defeat but rather as valuable feedback and motivation to experiment or tweak some variable in my low-carb lifestyle. Again, going back to Einstein’s definition of insanity, applied to weight loss. The low-carb aspect (limiting to 20g or less net carbs per day) of my lifestyle change was the one constant throughout because not suffering through constant blood sugar swings was and is a positive.
3.) When I was losing weight (though not so much in maintenance mode nowadays), I kept a fairly detailed food and exercise diary so that when it came time to experiment I had a baseline to analyze against. Like any good science experiment, especially on oneself, it definitely helps to keep some kind of record or journal. Each tweak or experiment (and I would only add one variable at a time), I would run for about two weeks and re-assess my results. Sometimes they didn’t work but most of the time they did.
Here are some of the variables I’ve tweaked:
- Upping my fat intake while lowering my protein intake (to reduce incidence of gluconeogenesis, which is easy to do on a low-carb diet)
- Cutting out gluten and wheat
- Cutting out or limiting my use of vegetable seed oils (i.e. soybean, corn, canola, cottonseed), substituting use more saturated fats like butter and coconut oils, and sometimes olive oil
- Cutting out or limiting my use of artificial sweeteners
- Cutting out or limiting my use of sugar alcohol products (like Atkins bars, Detour bars, sugar-free candies, etc…)
- Cutting out or limiting my use of caffeine (I found out that I was using caffeine to substitute for proper amounts of sleep)
- Cutting out or limiting my use of dairy products
- Increasing my green vegetable intake
- Cutting out or limiting use of products that have MSG in their ingredients (I notice that my appetite gets more ravenous for some reason)
- Cutting out diet soda completely (seems to make me crave sweeter things)
- Dining in more frequently versus dining out
- Try more grass-fed meats and organic vegetables
- Supplements: Magnesium citrate or chelate, vitamin D3, probiotics, vitamin K2, CoQ10, L-Carnitine, Tonalin CLA, multivitamins (I’ve experimented with different combinations of these over time)
- Sleep (trying to get 7 or 8 hours instead of 5 or less–sometimes with aid of melatonin)
- Intermittent fasting (for the most part I still eat one large dinner per day)
- Eating twice or three times a day versus once a day
- Walking laps during work breaks or lunch
- Spending more time outside in the sun
- Full fasting (24-36 hours)–I occasionally did this once a week but only when I was sure I was in nutritional ketosis
- Calorie cycling
- Exercising in the morning vs. afternoon
- Exercising once versus twice a day
- Exercising 2 to 3 times a week versus 5 to 7 times (I noticed that exercising sometimes correlated with increased hunger)
- Substituting resistance training for machines
- Free weights
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
- Endurance cardio vs. sprinting
- Racquetball versus treadmill or elliptical machine running
When you lose 150 pounds in 16 months like I did and maintain almost all of it for awhile afterward, plateaus are quite common and normal. What matters is how you view and deal with it.
Also keep in mind, too, that as you lose weight and become healthier, your body changes and adapts as well. What worked starting out may not work or work as well a year from now.
Finally, eating even less and/or exercising even more (on my old calories in calories out view) only goes so far. I’ve learned to appreciate and respect the human body as a complex micro-ecosystem that evolved over millions of years instead of just as a simple calorie counter. Even today as I’m in maintenance mode, I find myself constantly self-experimenting with different aspects of my lifestyle as I learn new things about nutrition and exercise.