Losing weight is extremely difficult for most people, as the process often seems complicated and in some cases even impossible. What often will have people fall off the wagon is when their weight seems to stall even though they feel they are working hard and eating right. Luckily though, weight loss neither has to be complicated, miserable or nowhere near impossible.
A weight plateau is the nemesis to any weight loss journey. You’re feeling great, you’re on a roll and your goals seem closer and closer and almost within reach. Everything seems to be going smooth as butter. All of a sudden though, your progress stops. You are doing everything right, but your weight has stopped moving. What’s going on? How can this be? Well, that’s a weight plateau telling you “hold on a second, not so fast”. Once your metabolism starts adapting to your current caloric intake you’ll hit one of these plateaus. Once you hit one, and your weight stagnates for what seems an eternity, it often seems like all hope is lost. Don’t worry though, there are a couple of ways to easily deal with weight plateaus.
How you can deal with weight plateaus:
If you don’t want weight plateaus to affect you or your progress, you’ll need to take control. The best antidote for weight plateaus are cardio and nutrition, and the more precisely you control these two things, the easier it will be to break through these plateaus without breaking yourself mentally or physically.
A lot of people think that cardio means one thing and one thing only: the longer I can stay on this treadmill, the more fat I will burn. This is one of the biggest misconceptions that keep people from reaching their weight goals quicker.
First of all, you’ll need to erase this misconception from your memory. Now, there are different types of cardio with the two most common being LISS and HIIT. Low Intensity Steady State, LISS, is a form of cardio where you maintain an intensity of around 50-60% of your maximum heart rate for the entire duration of the cardio. High Intensity Interval Training, HIIT, is a form of cardio where you couple a steady state pace with short intervals of maximum effort, repeated several times throughout the duration of the cardio. Both LISS and HIIT are viable forms of cardio, but there is quite an important point to note: HIIT cardio is shown to burn more calories than LISS for a given duration, which should make sense since the intensity level is higher. Interestingly enough though, the percentage of fat burnt from the overall amount of calorie expenditure has been shown to be higher in LISS cardio.
If you add up the numbers though, HIIT will end up burning more fat than LISS for a given duration of cardio. Say you burn 300 calories with 25 minutes of LISS and 700 calories with HIIT for the same duration. If 60% of the calories burnt from LISS comes from fat, you’ll have burned 180 calories worth of fat. If 30% of the calories burnt from HIIT comes from fat, you’ll have burned 210 calories worth of fat.
Second of all, you’ll need to know the different variables that you can control in order to make cardio work for you. These variables include the time, speed/resistance and incline settings. Now, the most important point to note about all these variables is START LOW. Do yourself a huge favor and start low on every single setting and gradually build up once you actually need it. So many people will do 45 minutes of cardio from day one of their diet, and before they know it they’re burning out and quitting because they find themselves fighting through 1 hour+ sessions of cardio, two weeks into their diet. The whole point about weight plateaus is that your body will inevitably adapt to any shock you expose it to, so you can imagine how little wiggle room you’ll have if you begin your diet doing 45 minutes of cardio. Do yourself the favor and START LOW.
Let’s say the speed setting on your treadmill goes from 1-20 kph and the incline setting goes from 0-15. If you prefer LISS, start off doing 10 minutes of cardio walking at a speed of 4 kph and zero incline. Execute this 4 times a week. Eventually, your body will adapt to this and your weight will stagnate. So what do you do now? Well remember, you now have three variables you can change to increase the difficulty of the cardio and further shock your body. Increase the speed to 5 kph, the incline to 3 and the time to 12 minutes. Your body will eventually adapt to this too, but the great thing is that you know exactly how to deal with it and you decide exactly which variables you wish to change. Best of all, you have a ton of wriggle room to increase the workload.
My personal favorite type of cardio is MIIT (Medium Intensity Interval Training), a lower intensity version of HIIT.
Jump on the treadmill and set it to max on the incline setting. Begin the session on a speed setting of 4.5 kph until you reach the 1-minute mark. Once you hit the 1-minute mark, increase the speed setting to 6.5 kph and once you hit 2-minute mark set the speed back down to 4.5 kph. Repeat this as many minutes as you wish. During my dieting season approaching the summer, I’ll do 15 minutes the first couple of months, and end up at around 25-30 minutes per session towards the end of my diet. During my dieting season, I end every weight lifting workout with a MIIT session, which typically equals 5 sessions a week. Here’s what 10 minutes of MIIT cardio looks like:
- Avoid running during the entire duration of the session no matter how tough it gets towards the end. You’re meant to walk at a normal pace and then at a fast pace, repeatedly.
- Keep your hands OFF the treadmill handle bars. The incline setting is meant to make it significantly tougher, and you’ll negate the benefit and extra calories burned by holding on to the treadmill.
Finally, you need to understand that you can do all the cardio in the world, but if you’re not in or around a calorie deficit, you won’t be losing any weight.
The majority of people often neglect the fact that training and nutrition goes hand in hand. People will train their buts off and be confused that they aren’t losing weight, when the answer is often simple: know your nutrition.
The number one misconception about nutrition is that it’s what you eat that is the key factor for weight loss. In it’s core that is simply not true. It is not WHAT you eat, but HOW MUCH you eat. Healthier eating will help you lose weight because healthier foods are often lower in calories, but a lot of people end up in a caloric surplus whether they are eating healthy or not. A good example is bread. Whole grain and whole wheat bread is way more nutritiously rich than white sandwich bread, but two equally sized slices will have roughly the exact same amount of carbohydrates and calories in them. What determines whether you’ll lose weight or not is whether you’re in a caloric deficit or not. (Click here to learn more about caloric intake).
Now just like with cardio, there is also a variety of variables that you can control within your nutrition in order to make sure you won’t have any trouble dealing with weight plateaus. The most obvious variables you can control in relation to your diet are your intake of carbohydrates, fats and protein, also called macronutrients. Depending on your type of diet, you will be able to adjust your intake of either fats or carbohydrates slightly every time you hit a new weight plateau. Using this method you’ll shock your body temporarily, which results in weight loss since you are now burning more energy than you are getting in. This weight loss will continue until your metabolism catches up and you hit another plateau, which at that point you will then have to lower your macronutrients again slightly to continue losing weight. People that prefer a high carb, low fat and medium protein diet should lower their carbohydrate intake every time they hit a weight plateau. People that prefer a more ketogenic type of diet that is high fat, low carb and medium protein should lower their fat intake every time they hit a weight plateau.
Hopefully you’ve gained a better understanding for weight plateaus and how to deal with them. Just remember; whether you choose to adjust the amount of cardio sessions, the speed, incline or duration of a session, your calorie intake or any variable really, it’s all a numbers game.
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