Fat loss is nonlinear; Recognizing and dealing with stalls.
I’m down about a half-pound since Sunday, which is a little below par for my anticipated and desired 2.5 to 3.0 pound/week fat loss pace. Am I concerned? Absolutely not.
Over the past 11+ years of bulking and cutting, once thing I quickly learned is that fat loss and muscle gains are rarely linear. While there are points at which adjustments to diet and/or training are required, it’s important to resist the urge to make changes before it’s really necessary. Cutting your calories unnecessarily will slow your metabolism and reduce your energy level.
I’ll cite one quick example from last year’s cut…
On January 25, 2014 my scale weight was 177.8; four days later I’d lost less than a pound (still good progress, and not even close to an actual stall), and weighed in at 177.0 pounds (-0.8 pounds).
With absolutely no changes to my diet or training, I saw considerably more progress over less time just a few days later…
On February 2, 2014 my scale weight was 176.4 pounds; on February 5, 2014 my scale weight was 173.0 pounds–a loss of 3.4 pounds over three days.
There are a couple of important takeaways here:
- As I mentioned above, resist knee-jerk reactions. Don’t even consider changing your diet and training because your progress slows slightly. Be patient, and give it a little time.
- If scale weight changes mess with your head, resist the urge to weigh yourself every day. If you step on the scale every day (or multiple times per day), and the number you see affects your mood, then you need to stay off the scale between “official” weigh-ins (which I recommend doing once per week).
Also, remember that scale weight can be deceiving. Please check out my Fat Loss 101 article, “The scale is not nearly as important as you may think.”
So all of this begs the question, “How do I know when I’m actually stalled, and what should I do about it?”
First, know that plateaus are an unfortunate part of the fat loss game. It can be very frustrating when you’re doing everything right and the scale, body fat caliper and soft tape measurements are not moving in the desired direction, but don’t panic!
Here are a few things you can do:
- First, try doing nothing. Seriously. Often a stall is temporary, and no adjustments to diet or training are required. Many times if you just stay on target the fat will begin to come off again. A lot of people make the mistake of cutting calories if their scale weight is not going down nearly every day. This common error will not only be counter-productive in the long run, you’ll go around weak and hungry. I’ll usually give a stall a week or two before I even think about making any changes to my diet or training.
- If a couple weeks go by and you’re still stalled, adjustments are in order. The first thing I suggest is that you take a hard, honest look at your diet and training. Are you really eating clean? Are you really doing all your workouts, and performing those workouts with just intensity? Are you consuming alcohol? Are you “cheating” and not logging all your calories? Again, be brutally honest with your answers and tighten things up if you’re slacking. If your diet and training are on-point, then try cutting your net caloric intake–either by reducing your calories or increasing the amount of exercise you’re doing. How much? That’s up to you, but I find that a 10% reduction in calories works pretty well for me. So, if I’m stalled with a daily caloric intake of 2,800 calories, I’ll trim that to about 2,500 calories.
- A clean refeed might do the trick. A refeed is a temporary increase in calories which can help boost your metabolism, top off glycogen stores and replenish leptin levels. If you’re experiencing intense cravings, constant hunger and are in danger of falling completely off the wagon, a refeed day can really help combat those things. There are a few ways to go about a refeed, but what I do is increase my calories for one day by about 50%, with an emphasis on carbohydrates. I’m not talking about pizza and beer–keep your food sources 100% clean and healthy. You’ll be amazed at what a difference a refeed can make. Don’t be shocked if the scale goes the wrong way for a day or two following the refeed, this is normal.
Above all else, when you encounter a stall stay positive, remain focused and know that the stall is only temporary.