When Your Fat Loss Stalls: Seven Ways to Break Through Weight Loss Plateaus

I get a lot of emails from people who have lost some fat, but then stalled out and stopped making progress and want to know how to start losing weight again.  If you’re in that situation, this article is for you. 

If you’ve been struggling to lose weight but never lost any significant amount of fat in the first place, this article is not for you.  You were never eating fewer calories than you consume in the first place, and what you need to do is simply eat less, exercise more, and do a better job of counting calories.

On the other hand, if you’ve lost at least ten pounds of fat before plateauing, you were at least doing something right.  First things first: recalculate your calorie needs based on your new weight if you haven’t done so already. 

Second, read this article, pick one of the techniques in it to use, and commit yourself fully to doing it consistently for a month. 

1.  Feast/Fast

What it is: You have a dietary cheat day when you can binge on junk food, followed by a day when you don’t eat at all.

Why it works: When your caloric intake is severely, consistently restricted, you lose weight, but your metabolism starts to slow down.  A cheat day speeds it up again by upregulating your leptin and thyroid hormone levels.  Emphasis on consistently and severely though- if you’re not dieting hard, your metabolism isn’t slowing down. 

The fast day following the cheat day allows you to take full advantage of that metabolic boost to burn fat and boost insulin sensitivity, as well as giving your digestive system a day of rest. 

How to do it: For the sake of example, let’s say your cheat day is on a Saturday.  Friday evening, perform a full-body circuit training workout to deplete your glycogen stores.  After that workout, have a small meal that’s high in protein, and low in carbs and fat, then don’t eat anything else until Saturday.

On Saturday, go nuts.  You’re not only allowed to overeat- you’re required to eat 50-100% more calories than you do on every other day of the week.  You’ll gain little or no fat thanks to the previous night’s glycogen depletion- and since you’re fasting the next day, your total weekly caloric intake will stay about the same or maybe even be slightly lower.  Stop eating a few hours before bed. 

On Sunday, don’t eat anything at all.  Do a steady-state cardio cardio or light bodyweight workout sometime during the day.  No heavy weights or high-intensity interval training since you won’t be having a post-workout meal.  If hunger is bad enough to keep you up, have a small high-protein meal before bed; otherwise, don’t eat until Monday.    

2.  Work out twice a day, six days a week

What it is: Work out twice a day, six days a week, but not for all that long- volume per workout should go down as frequency goes up. 

Why it works: It maximizes the afterburn effect- the temporary boost to your metabolism that you experience after a workout.  The afterburn effect is often overstated in fitness writing- while it technically lasts up to two days, it’s only really significant for a few hours after a workout.  But it depends more on frequency than volume, so by working out more often, you can burn several hundred extra calories a day via the afterburn effect. 

How to do it: Take your existing workouts and break them up into shorter workouts of 15-25 minutes in length.  Your shortened workouts should still contain some of every exercise from the full workout, and work most or all of your body.   

For instance, if one of your current workouts is five sets of squats, five sets of pull-ups, and 20 minutes of cycling, you should split that up into two workouts each with 3 sets of squats, 3 sets of pull-ups, and 10 minutes of cycling.  As opposed to putting all the squats in one workout, and all the pull-ups in the other.    

3.  Replace your breakfast with caffeine

What it is: For breakfast, you have coffee or tea, but no food. 

Why it works: First off, by skipping a meal, you eat less.  Second, since you haven’t eaten since the previous day, your glycogen stores are already low and your body is drawing on fat stores.  By waiting to eat, you extend that fat-burning window. 

Third, there’s substantial evidence that your body produces more growth hormone while fasted- further helping with body composition.  Finally, being fasted and on caffeine puts you in prime position to get the maximal fat loss from a morning workout. 

How to do it: Don’t eat anything until noon.  For breakfast, have coffee or tea, optionally with non-caloric flavorings such as stevia, cinnamon, or vanilla extract. 

Work out sometime in the morning, after drinking your caffeine and before eating.  If you can’t make it to a gym in the morning, do a short bodyweight workout at home- you’ll burn more fat on an empty stomach fueled by caffeine. 

4.  Drink sugar water and add cinnamon to everything

What it is:  Two separate things actually.  First, you drink lightly sugared water every day.  And second, you add cinnamon to everything you consume, with the possible exception of the sugar water. 

Why it works:  Both of these techniques kill your hunger, for different reasons.  The sugar water weakens flavor-calorie associations in your brain, reducing secretion of the hunger homrone ghrelin.  The cinnamon slows digestion by slowing the rate at which food passes from your stomach to your intestine, reducing the insulin spike and subsequent resurgence of hunger that can occur after meals.

How to do it: Every evening, drink two glasses of water, each with a tablespoon of sugar dissolved in it.  Consume this on its own, separate from any other beverages, meals, or flavored things- at least an hour before your next meal and an hour after your last meal. 

Get a bottle of high-quality cinnamon and carry it with you.  Have some with every single meal, either by sprinkling it on your food or dissolving it in a beverage.  Adding it to the sugar water is optional- try it, but it cinnamon tends not to dissolve well in beverages that aren’t hot. 

5.  Get blood tests and fix your nutrient deficiencies 

What it is: You get your vitamin and mineral levels tested, then supplement anything you’re deficient in. 

Why it works: Because many vitamin and mineral deficiencies cause problems can affect your appetite, slow your metabolism, or reduce your ability to build muscle, causing more of your calories to go to fat.  For instance, zinc deficiency can cause low testosterone, chromium deficiency can cause insulin resistance, and iodine deficiency can cause (mild and reversible) hypothyroidism. 

How to do it: Find a lab to get your bloodwork done at and ask for the whole vitamin and mineral panel.  I recommend Spectra-Cell.

Anything you’re deficient in, start supplementing and make an effort to get more of it in your diet.  Get re-tested in three to six months. 

6.  Cut out fruit, sauces and condiments

What it is: Cut out all fruits that contain fructose, and all sauces and condiments that contain calories.

Why it works: Condiments are the easiest source of calories to overlook, and can easily cause you to mindlessly overeat.  You probably wouldn’t guess that a plate of orange chicken has a couple hundred calories just in sauce, but it does.  The easiest way to fix this is to just cut out sauces and condiments altogether rather than trying to moderate your intake. 

As for fructose, it has to be processed via different metabolic pathways than glucose, and that has a few implications for you.  Most of your cells can’t use it, and fructose metabolism bypasses an important rate-limiting mechanism that’s present in glucose metabolism, so it spills over into fat stores a lot more easily.  Also, since your liver is occupied with processing fructose, it has to suspend the breakdown of fatty acids until the fructose is dealt with.  Finally, fructose appears to produce less satiation than other carbohydrates, as it doesn’t suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin. 

How to do it: The only fruits that don’t contain significant amounts of fructose are the ones that aren’t sweet, like avocados, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. 

Most sauces and condiments contain calories.  Ones that don’t include mustard, vinegar, red wine vinaigrette, and soy sauce.  Check labels, Google nutritional values if you’re eating out, and avoid anything with over 10 calories per serving.  Replace sauces with spices for flavoring. 

7.  Carb and Calorie Cycling

What it is: You eat more carbohydrates and total calories on training days and fewer on non-training days.  Training days, in this case, are days you perform full weight training workouts- they don’t include days were you do only or primarily cardio. 

Why it works: Carb and calorie cycling work by improving nutrient partitioning.  The extra carbs on training days get pushed into your muscle tissue because of the exercise (you time them after the workout, not before), while the carb reduction on non-training days helps to burn fat, or at least avoid fat gain, depending on how much you’re eating in total.  For fat loss, the calorie reduction on non-training days should outweigh the added calories on training days.

How to do it: First off, this requires calorie counting.  Divide your week into 3 training days and 4 non-training days.  If you’re combining this with feast/fast, you’ll instead want 2 training and 3 non-training days.  In that case you would ideally perform another weight training workout on your cheat day, for 3 weight workouts per week. 

On training days, add 50 grams of carbs to your usual daily total, for 200 extra calories.  On non-training days, eat 600 fewer calories, and reduce carbohydrate intake by at least 100 grams.  If you’re not already on a low-carb diet, take all of those calories from carbs by reducing carb intake by 150 grams. 

This results in an added weekly deficit of either 1800 or 1400 calories- enough to lose about one and a half to two pounds of fat per month, above and beyond the caloric deficit you should already be producing if your diet and workouts are on point.    

How to actually use this

Pick one, and only one of these techniques, and commit yourself fully to it.  Don’t try to implement more than one at a time- that just reduces the chances you’ll do any of them consistently.  And whichever technique you pick, don’t “give it a try.”  Commit yourself fully to doing it, with perfect consistency, for at least a month. 

After a month, if you’re consistently following that one habit, and it no longer takes much effort or willpower to do- that’s when you add another one.  Most people “try out” a lot of fitness tricks, half-assing everything and never seeing results- but here we understand the value of focusing on doing just one thing at a time, and doing it perfectly.

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