It’s common on any weight-loss program to be cruising along losing weight as promised, then suddenly the weight loss stops although you’re still far from goal weight. This is the mysterious and infamous stall.
Once you know the cause for the stall, the way to break it becomes obvious. The most common reasons are:
- you’re not really following the full program any more; you’ve drifted off the path, often unconsciously
- instead of eating just until you’re full or satisfied on a very-low-carb diet, you’re stuffing yourself
- you need to start or intensify an exercise program
- you’ve developed an interfering medical problem such as adrenal insufficiency (rare) or an underactive thyroid; see your doctor
- you’re taking interfering medication such as a steroid; see your doctor
- your strength training program is building new muscle that masks ongoing loss of fat (not a problem!).
If you still can’t figure out what’s causing your stall, do a nutritional analysis of one weeks’ worth of eating, with a focus on daily digestible carbs (net carbs) and calorie totals. You can do this analysis online at places like FitDay or Calorie Count .
How Does That Help?
What you do with your data depends on whether you’re losing weight through portion control (usually reflecting calorie restriction) or carb counting. Most people lose weight with one of these two methods. (Exercise alone is hardly ever effective for significant amounts of body fat loss.)
If you’re a carb counter, you may find you’ve been sabotaged by “carb creep”: excessive dietary carbs have insidiously invaded you. You need to cut back. Even if you’re eating very-low-carb, it’s still possible to have excess body fat, even gain new fat, if you eat too many calories from protein and fat. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.
Those who have followed a calorie-restriction weight loss model for awhile may have become lax in their record-keeping. The stall is a result of simply eating too much. Call it “portion creep.” You need to re-commit to observing portion sizes.
“Doc, I’m Doing Everything You Say and It’s Still Not Working. Help!”
A final possible cause for a weight loss stall is that you just don’t need as many calories as you once did. Think about this. Someone who weighs 300 lb (136 kg) is eating perhaps 3300 calories a day just to maintain a steady weight. He goes on a calorie-restricted diet (2800/day) and loses a pound (0.4 kg) a week. Eventually he’s down to 210 lb (95.5 kg) but stalled, aiming for 180 lb (82 kg). The 210-lb body (95.5 kg) doesn’t need 3300 calories a day to keep it alive and steady-state; it only needs 2800 and that’s what it’s getting. To restart the weight loss process, he has to reduce calories further, say down to 2300/day. This is not the “slowed down metabolism” we see with starvation or very-low-calorie diets. It’s simply the result of getting rid of 90 pounds of fat (41 kg) that he no longer needs to feed.