Why Does Fat Loss Stall? Talking Metabolic Adaptation + Plateaus

I talk a lot about fat loss - because that’s what I get asked about a lot. Given I’ve had my own successful fat loss transformation I have quite a bit to say on the topic. I remember when I first started I didn’t really know what a calorie was, or HOW to lose fat/ what the actual fat loss process in the body was. Now after years of personal experience, coaching clients to success and educating myself around the topic, I know a hell of a lot more.

How do we lose fat?

My transformation from 2017 - stage in 2018

My transformation from 2017 - stage in 2018

First things first - how do we lose fat? In order to lose fat, we need to be expending more energy than we’re consuming. Meaning we need to exert more energy through exercise/ daily activity than food consumed. This is called being in a caloric deficit.

There are a few different ways to be in a caloric deficit, and this will also depend on the individual. If you’re brand new to training, just weight lifting alone ‘newbie gains’ from resistance training and increased energy output can create enough of a deficit to warrant fat loss. But for the novice trainer, a better approach is weight training and eating in a caloric deficit (less food than required to maintain our current body weight).

Why do we stop losing fat?

Ok, so now we know the basics of how to lose fat - what happens if we’re doing this, sticking to our caloric deficit, training hard and we stop losing fat? You have just experienced the activation of your bodies defence system. Our metabolism slows to prevent starvation, hunger increases and we become better at storing fat rather than burning it. What was once a caloric deficit for us, has now became the calories our body neither loses nor gains weight on. We need to create another deficit - either by increasing energy output (training, steps, physical activity), or eat less food.

The best way to monitor this is through girth measurements, body fat measurement, photos and/ or scale weight so we know when we need to implement certain protocols.

When our metabolism adapts, we see a decrease in our BMR (rate of energy expenditure), a decrease in our NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis aka incidental movement like steps, fidgeting etc) as well as negative adaptations to key fat loss hormones such as leptin (tells us when we’re full), ghrelin (tells us when we’re hungry) and thryoid function.

The best approach for fat loss in my opinion

This is why a progressive approach to a long term fat loss goal is key. Start with being in the smallest deficit possible on the highest calories possible doing the smallest amount of exercise and movement possible. As your metabolism adapts you can either increase training, or decrease calories slightly as well as implementing diet breaks (bringing calories back up to initial maintenance calories through increased carb intake for a minimum of 3 days to mitigate the negative adaptations that occur from eating in a deficit).

When we plateau is when a lot of people lose motivation and tend to over-eat or reduce training and movement. Rather than doing less which is going to do the opposite to your results, this is when it’s more important to stay consistent and break through the plateau by making a change. Don’t sabotage your hard earned results, be smart about it and continue to achieve what you set out to by understanding how our body responds to what we’re doing to it.