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.

TRAINING FOR FAT LOSS- ARE YOU DOING IT RIGHT?

As some of you may be unaware, I’m currently 2 weeks deep into a mini cut (short period aggressive fat loss phase) to shed some fat gained from my rebound post competition (WBFF Bikini Competition October 2018). In the spirit of sharing every step of the way as I promised to you all over on my Instagram I want to share with you how I optimise my fat loss results through my training systems.

This weeks YouTube!

This weeks YouTube!

Last week on my YouTube I covered how to calculate your BMR, TDEE & PAL (a bunch of fancy abbreviations for figuring out your baseline calories to ensure you’re eating in a caloric deficit). This week, let’s get our heads around training for fat loss (head to my YT if you’d rather listen to me talk about it than read it here). The goal of training for fat loss is to drive up the mobilisation of fatty acids out of where it’s stored in our body through cortisol and adrenaline which increases our calorie expenditure creating an optimal environment for fat loss.

There are different strength qualities that are used when programming for clients depending on their goals. A strength program will look different to a fat loss program which will look different to a program with the goal being hypertrophy. These strength qualities are:

sophieallenstrong
  1. Relative strength 1-5 reps

  2. Functional Hypertrophy 4-8 reps

  3. Hypertrophy 8-20 reps

  4. Strength Endurance (fat loss) 10-20+ reps


Don’t get too stuck with the strength qualities, I’ve lost fat eating in a calorie deficit whilst working in the relative strength - functional hypertrophy strength qualities. Something I’ve recently learned is that you CAN still get strong if you’re working in higher rep ranges (strength endurance). There are a lot of studies out there that prove a certain rep range, rest period and time under tension will achieve certain adaptations in the body. To avoid confusion we’re going to focus on hypertrophy and strength endurance strength qualities. When it comes to fat loss, it’s not just about how many reps you’re doing, the factors I consider are:

  • Number and type of sets (superset, tri-set, giant set)

  • Number of exercises

  • Time under tension (TUT) through tempo, reps + sets

  • Rest periods

  • Progressive overload


* For fat loss, I like to program anywhere from 20-40 sets total

* 6-8 exercises

* Around 1-3 seconds per rep with a moderate speed (tempo)

* 6-30 reps

* Insufficient rest periods to fatigue muscle fibres, preventing full recovery to create more metabolic damage (10-180 seconds)

* Ensuring you’re increasing your weights on at least the A series each week for hypertrophy adaptations (increasing the size of the muscle), as the more muscle mass we have the more optimal our bodies are for fat loss according to studies.

I like to program more exercises as a full body workout for my fat loss clients, as this is an incredibly effective way to mobilise our fat from its storage with a better chance to oxidise (use fat as fuel).

In terms of exercise selection, using bigger compound movements such as squats (all variations), deadlifts, leg press etc.. will allow us to move more weight, recruit more muscle fibres + energy, so I like to start with these for the A and B series, and then finish with more metabolic work/ isolated movements to jack up the heart rate!

Hopefully this has give you a deeper understanding to how/ what and why we should be programming for fat loss. Personally when I understand the science behind why I’m doing something, it pushes me harder and forces me to use my time more effectively.

These are some of the guidelines I use for my programs (see below), along with cardio and step periodisation. Don’t forget, the biggest key to any fat loss goal, is ensuring you'r nutrition is on point and that you’re eating in a caloric deficit! Nutrition programs available too ;)

Thanks for reading, now go get yo sweat on! X