Here’s a question from a Paleo Plan member about stalling out on weight loss…
Jason and Neely:
I have a question for you. How do I overcome this weight loss plateau? I have been living the Paleo lifestyle since January and have proudly lost 28 pounds. Ideally I have another 10-15 pounds to go.
I typically eat the same thing for breakfast during the week: hard boiled egg and fruit. Lunches are leftover dinner (protein and vegetable). My snacks are fruit and vegetables (raw). I work out (lifting weights and cardio) 5-6 days per week. I would love any suggestions as I have been ‘stuck’ at this weight for 5 weeks.
This is a common (and very frustrating) problem! I’ll try to shed some light on your situation. I really don’t know what’s going on with the little info I have about you, but here are some ideas.
1. You may be eating too many calories.
Often when you lose weight, your body gets to a lighter set point and then you need to eat fewer calories in order to lose weight. You might be plateauing because you’re eating the same amount of food that you were eating 28 pounds ago. I’m not saying that I think you’re gluttonous or anything like that; sometimes it’s really hard to tell that you’re eating too much.
I’d go to myfitnesspal.com and log what you eat for a few days and see if you’re over your recommended caloric intake. If that’s the case, no need to go nuts and cut out massive amounts of calories, unless you’re actually eating WAY too many of them. Maybe just cut it down by about 200 calories per day and see how you do.
2. You may be exercising too much (or too little).
Exercising 5-6 days a week is a lot, and many people’s bodies don’t like it, so you may have water retention or other signs of inflammation going on. Exercising too much can negatively affect your cortisol levels, which can inhibit weight loss. I know that, “You’re exercising too much” may sound counterintuitive, but I actually see this phenomenon a lot, and it happens to me personally as well. If I exercise too much, I gain weight. It happened when I started doing CrossFit this year, and as soon as I stopped CrossFit, I lost the weight. I’d ratchet it down to 3 days a week for a while and see how that goes.
Conversely, of course, if you were not exercising at all, or doing very little low impact exercise, your body could just need a kick in the pants. Sometimes a bit of intense weight lifting or high intensity interval training is just what your insulin levels and muscle fibers need to get things moving.
3. You may not be sleeping enough or well enough.
Make sure you’re getting 8 hours a night (seriously) in a dark room with no noise. If you need to, wear ear plugs and an eye mask. Or sleep in a room where there’s no snoring spouse. If you don’t get enough sleep, you tax your adrenals and your cortisol levels can get out of whack, which can in turn inhibit weight loss, like I mentioned in the last point.
4. You may be eating too many or not enough carbs.
When you go into myfitnesspal.com, make sure to make a note of how many carbs you’re eating. If you’re eating fewer than 100g a day working out as much as you do, then you may need more. Experiment with carb “refeeds“, where you eat more carbs than usual one day a week or so. See if your body responds to that. If you’re eating over 200g a day, you may be getting too many carbs. If that’s the case, then you can start experimenting with eating fewer carbs – less fruit, sweet potatoes, etc. Those are very rough numbers, and everyone is different, but those are some general guidelines to start with.
5. Try eating more protein in the morning.
In fact, try eating more food in general in the morning. A lot of Paleo people eat just eggs in the morning, and it doesn’t seem to fill them up for very long, so they end up snacking a lot through the day, often on nuts or fruit, which in my opinion just make you hungrier :)
Add some meat to your breakfast, whether it be sausage, leftover burger, chicken, or whatever. Just get some more protein and fat – and some veggies would be nice, too – in there and see if you feel more energetic, more satiated, and have fewer cravings through the day.
6. Caffeine can hold people back from losing weight.
If you’re a coffee, green/black tea, decaf, etc drinker, consider giving caffeine up to see if it improves your situation. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it affects your adrenals and therefore your cortisol levels (and thyroid and sex hormones, and on and on), and again, messing with your cortisol can inhibit weight loss. Caffeine can also affect your sleep, even if you only have one cup a day. And not getting enough sleep, well, I already went over that in point 3.
7. Make sure you listen to your body’s hunger and exercise cues.
If you’re really tired, don’t work out hard that day, and go to sleep early. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. If you’re done eating and there’s still food on your plate, push the plate away. If you feel weak, lethargic, have achy joints, headaches, feel unmotivated, anxious, depressed, or your athletic performance is waning, those are all signs of overtraining. The cure for overtraining is to stop training so much! :)
8. You may have a tricky food sensitivity.
Sometimes food sensitivities make people retain water, which can make you look puffy and weigh more than you actually would without all that water. Beef does this to me. If I eat beef, I wake up the next morning with puffy eyes and painful joints, weighing a couple pounds more than usual. So don’t dismiss any foods as culprits – it can be anything. I’d start with the first 7 tips above first, though, and if all those fail, move onto testing foods by removing them from your diet for a couple weeks and then trying them again.
9. See a specialist.
I don’t know how many of these things apply to you, but this is what comes to mind when I hear that people are having weight loss plateaus. I have a feeling you’ll have some success if you start experimenting with these things. If you don’t, then I’d strongly suggest going to see a Paleo friendly naturopathic doc. You can find one in your area on www.primaldocs.com. They’ll do some testing to figure out what’s going on. Who knows? Maybe you have yeast overgrowth or a parasite that’s causing weird stuff to happen. Maybe your thyroid is out of whack and you need to take herbal and nutrient supplements for a while. It could be a lot of things. Maybe your sex hormones are out of balance and need some nutrient support.
I hope this helps! It’s a little overwhelming, I know, but start with number 1 and work your way down the list. And be as honest as you can with yourself about all of them! You’ll never know if something is affecting you negatively unless you experiment with it.