Weight loss plateaus and Metabolic Adaptation explained.
How do we lose fat?
In order to lose fat, we need to be in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is expending more energy than we’re consuming. Meaning we need to exert more energy through exercise/ daily activity than food consumed.
There are a few different ways to be in a calorie deficit; but this can vary from person to person. As a new person to training, an increased energy output can create enough of a deficit to be losing fat.
For a more advanced trainer, a better approach is to be eating in a calorie deficit along with your training. As above, consuming less calories from food than what you are burning off.
Why do we stop losing fat?
What happens if we are sticking to our calorie deficit, doing the same volume of training and the scales stop dropping?
This is called metabolic adaptation. Meaning, our metabolism slows digestion to prevent starvation, we get hungrier and we store that fat, rather than burn it.
The number that was your calorie deficit, has now become your maintenance calories.
Now, your calorie deficit needs to be adjusted to go back into a fat loss phase. This can be done by eating less food or increasing your energy expenditure. (physical activity, movement).
When metabolic adaptation occurs, we see a decrease in our BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), a decrease in our NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and negative adaptations to our fat loss hormones such as leptin (tells us when we are full); and ghrelin (tells us when we are hungry) and also, our thyroid function.
The best approach for fat loss
For long term fat loss, it is important that we create a progressive approach to maintain results. Start with as little of a calorie deficit as possible (100-200 calories), with a minimal amount of exercise that you can progress with.
As your metabolism starts to adapt, you can either increase your physical activity or decrease your calories in small increments (100-200 calories).
It can be disheartening when we reach a plateau; but it is important not to lose motivation. This is the most important time to stay consistent to achieve your results. The best way to monitor these results is through before/after photos, body scans, daily scale tracking or girth measurements.