Stalled weight loss can be very disheartening. I know, I’ve been there too! With a weight loss goal of 70 pounds, I lost 20 and just sat there for 6 months! It turned out I wasn’t doing anything hugely wrong, I just needed to fine-tune my diet and move more. When I did, the weight just started melting off with no real effort on my part.
I’m writing this post from a Primal/Paleo/Ancestral lifestyle perspective. That is how I live because not only does it allow me to easily maintain an optimum weight, but my health is greatly improved as well. I feel terrific every day with lots of energy to do the things I want to do. With that said, here are the things to adjust if your weight loss has stalled.
It is so easy to get more carbs than you should. For weight maintenance, you should consume between 100-150 grams of carbs a day. That is for any adult, no matter what your size or sex. So if you want to lose weight, you need to consume less than 100 grams of carbs a day.
How do you know if you are there? If you eat nothing that tastes sweet (including artificial sweeteners), no grains (including corn), no legumes (including peanuts, soy, peas), and no starchy vegetables (potatoes), then you are probably below 100 grams of carbs a day. That means your diet is all kinds of vegetables, meat, fish, fowl, eggs, nuts & seeds, dairy, healthy fats, water, tea, and coffee.
What if you just cannot give up sandwiches, rice, and fruit? You will need to write down everything you eat, estimate portion sizes, and look up the grams of carbs in everything. Over time, you will learn how much in carbs you can eat each day. 2 slices of bread in a sandwich is about 35 grams of carbs. Those big long slices of sourdough are closer to 35 grams of carbs each, so 7o grams if you have 2 slices in a sandwich. 1 burrito sized flour tortilla is about 25 grams of carbs. 3/4 cup rice (cooked) is about 35 grams of carbs. 1 banana is about 25 grams of carbs. If you have a sandwich on wheat bread for lunch, a banana for a snack and 3/4 cup (cooked) rice for dinner, you have consumed 95 grams of carbs, and since you probably consumed more carbs in dairy, nuts, and vegetables throughout the day, you are likely over 100 grams of carbs.
See how easy it is to go over 100 grams if you eat grains and fruit?
There is some personal variation. I cannot go over 75 grams of carbs a day if I want to lose weight. So if you are at 100 grams a carbs a day, and weight loss is stalled, try going lower.
If you have been really good with your carbs, and everything else in this blog is good as well, trying going ketogenic. This is where you eat less than 50 grams of carbs per day. At that rate, your body is burning fat for energy – hopefully that fat already on your stomach, thighs, and hips! Which it will if you do not consume too much other food.
The most recent guidelines for protein are to consume about 0.5 gram per pound of lean body mass, even for most athletes. Lean body mass is your weight without fat.
My lean body mass is about 100 pounds. When I weighed 205, my lean body mass was still 100 pounds. The rest was fat. For me, the amount of protein I eat per day should be no more than 50 grams. That is about 6 ounces of meat, fish, or fowl. BH has a lean body mass of about 140 pounds. His 70 grams of protein is about 8 oz of meat, fish, or fowl.
If you consider that most diners serve hamburgers that are 6-8 ounces, you can see how really easy it is to get too much protein. A chicken breast is usually 6 or more ounces or at least 50 grams of protein. A large bacon cheddar burger will be at least 70 grams of protein, possibly more. One large egg is 6 grams of protein. A couple of eggs with 2 ounces of bacon (a couple of slices) is about 29 grams of protein.
Excess protein converts to glucose (same as carbs), so even if your carb count is good, if you get too much protein, it is the same as if you ate too many carbs. Too much protein is actually very common. It is extremely easy to over consume protein.
It is especially difficult eating out, where protein serving sizes are generally more than I should eat in one day (much less one meal). Portion sizes in general in US eating establishments are huge. We have all gotten used to thinking that a 6 ounce hamburger, 6 ounce chicken breast, 8-10 ounce steak, 6 ounce fish are normal portion sizes. In fact, these are the size of 2 portions (or more).
On top of that, there is protein in dairy, nuts, seeds, and most vegetables. Even if you are not eating too much protein in meat, fish, or fowl, your total for the day may be too much.
For me, this turned out to be the main problem with stalled weight loss. I am 5’6″, female, and small skeleton. My protein needs are quite low. One 3 ounce serving of meat,fish, or fowl, 2 eggs, 1 ounce of nuts, and plenty of veggies gives me all the protein I need for the day. At most restaurants, a Cobb salad has more protein than that!
Most people are worried about too much fat. If you are following a low carb, reasonable protein diet, what you need to worry about is too little fat.
Healthy fat is your friend. When people figure out how few carbs they need, and how little protein, they ask me “What can I eat?!!”. The answer is more veggies and more fat.
We are all acculturated to eating low fat. We’ve been told that all our lives. It turns out, fat is a healthy part of a Primal way of eating. There are more problems with eating too little fat than eating too much. BUT what you want are healthy fats.
Research is also telling us that the accepted wisdom about what fats are healthy is completely wrong. All those polyunsaturated fats in your pantry and refrigerator – corn oil, canola oil, sunflower seed oil, margarine – are literally poison to your body. They cause hardening of the arteries and damage at the cellular level.
Everyone agrees the mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil are good for you. Eat cold water oily fish such as herring, mackerel, and anchovies for lots of good omega-3 fats. The saturated fats that are supposed to be bad are actually quite good for you as well. Butter, which is far yummier than margarine, is very healthy. If lactose is a problem, look for ghee which is butter with the milk fats removed. Coconut oil, which is a solid at room temperature, is also very healthy (and yummy).
If you choose meat, fish, and fowl raised in natural environments (pasture raised, grass fed, or wild caught fish), then the fat is healthy. I really enjoy smoked brisket. It comes in both lean and fatty. Everyone else wants lean. I ask for the fatty, which usually delights the person doing the smoking.
Add butter to your steamed veggies, full fat salad dressings (made with healthy fat), or hollandaise sauce to all kinds of dishes for easy ways to get more fat. Get chicken with the bone in and skin on (if it was raised in a healthy manner). Or use boneless skinless thighs instead of boneless skinless breasts in your recipes. You will enjoy your food so much more than the lean, dry, stringy, tasteless foods you have become accustomed to.
Compressed eating Window
You have been doing everything right and still the weight does not budge. It is time to try a compressed eating window. What this means is you only eat in about 6 hours a day. Overnight when you are sleeping, you body will be burning fat for energy. What you want to do is extend that fat burning metabolism as long as you can during the day.
When you get up in the morning, do not eat until you feel hungry. We call this eating WHEN – When Hunger Ensues Naturally. At that time, consume mostly fat. You might have a fat coffee (coffee with a tablespoon of butter, or a tablespoon of coconut oil, or 2 tablespoons of heavy cream). One guy I know drinks 1/4 cup of heavy cream. That is heavy or whipping cream, not half and half. 1 ounce of macadamia nuts is almost all fat. A couple of handfuls of olives are also high in fat. BH will consume a full can of large black olives in the morning. I get the low sodium olives.
Then, wait until you are hungry again before eating protein or carbs. Over time, you will find that it is after noon before you really feel like eating a meal. Then you will finish eating by about 6 pm.
This is something that really works for me. Some women say it does not work for them, some love it. Most men get used to it pretty quickly. Here is how I make it work for me to lose weight.
Get up, have a decaf coffee with 1 Tablespoon Kerrygold butter. This is typically about 8 am. Around 10 am, I feel a little peckish, so I have 1 ounce Macadamia nuts (dry roasted). At this point, almost all the calories I have consumed are fat, so my body is continuing to be in a fat burning mode. And since I have consumed so few calories, my body is happily burning fat off my belly, hips, and thighs.
Around 12:30 or 1, I want something more than fat. I will have a small meal, perhaps 2 deviled eggs and some veggies or salad. Around 4 or 5 I want real food. Then I make a nice dinner, with 3 ounces meat, fish, or fowl, steamed veggie with butter or hollandaise, and a lettuce wedge with 2 tablespoons full-fat, healthy fat, salad dressing.
Watch out for too much alcohol
Alcohol is burned first by the body, so if you consume it with other foods, and especially sweet foods, it is more likely that the other food will be stored as fat. Do not have sweet alcoholic drinks. The sugar in the fruit juice or soda will go right to fat. Beer has gluten (unless it is gluten free beer). The gluten protein can interfere with proper hormonal balance, causing your weight loss to stall just from that. Grain alcohols may be a problem because they are made from grain and again may contain gluten. If you like wine, lean toward the drier varieties (less remaining sugar).
Because alcohol is burned first (no matter what you eat), the current advice is to have alcohol without food. I am still seeing arguments on this point, and question it a bit since having wine or beer with meals is the way people have typically consumed alcohol for about as long as recorded history.
Remember to account for alcohol in your carb count. An 8 ounce glass of wine (large) is 6 grams of carbs (and lot of calories from alcohol).
I enjoy wine, both drinking it and making it, and will often have 2 glasses of wine after 7pm. I have to be careful how much wine I drink, because that is another way to get too many calories and stall weight loss.
If weight loss is a problem, consider giving up alcohol completely for a while.
Get up and Move!
Just that. You do not use exercise to burn calories, you use exercise to change your metabolism. Just moving more throughout the day is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Talk a brief 5 minute walk once an hour. Or stand up and stretch. Take a leisurely 1/2 hour walk after lunch, especially if you can do it in a park. At your desk, sit for a while, stand for a while. Fidget. Take calls on your cell phone and walk during the call. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park further away from the office or store to get a bit of a walk. Remember this is not for exercise, it is to simply move more.
Our bodies are designed to move all day. Sitting quietly all day, as we all learned to do in school, is actually extremely unhealthy. It causes metabolic changes that can prematurely age you. If your weight loss is stalled, be conscious of how much you sit still. If the answer is “a lot”, then try moving more to increase your metabolism.
Do not Over Exercise
Exercising too much can actually lead to you storing fat and prevent you from reaching your weight goals. Daily gentle cardio, say 20 minutes at heart rate 180-your age, helps increase your metabolism while keeping you in a fat burning mode. I’ll say it again, exercise is not for burning calories, it is for increasing your metabolism.
If you do not have a heart rate monitor, gentle cardio means you can breathe through your nose throughout the workout. You can easily carry on a conversation. You may not sweat, or only very little. It feels ridiculously easy. You are moving slowly enough that your body can draw on fat stores for energy. You finish feeling refreshed and energized (not hungry, tired, and depleted).
If you are exercising at a higher heart rate, but not full out exertion, you are doing the worse thing you can for your body. At a medium exertion, your body depletes glycogen instead of burning fat. At the end of the workout, you crave fast calories, which you may get from a sport drink or smoothie. Worse than that, your body is now in a fat storage mode, and will stay there for many hours. When you repeat this every day, you do actual damage to your body as well as staying more and more in fat storage mode.
Ever see a fat sprinter? No one has. Occasional high intensity, brief duration exercise is another way to rev up your metabolism. As with other exercise, this is not to burn calories, but to increase your metabolism.
An example of this would be to run, full out, as hard as you can, for 8 seconds. Then stop until you are recovered – maybe a minute or two. Then do it again 3 more times. That’s it. You are done.
Do that once every 7-10 days when you feel really good mentally and physically (do not do this if you feel under the weather), and in only a few sessions, you will see a definite change in your ability. You will also have great metabolic changes that will help you burn off excess fat.
Lift heavy things
You do not need to be a great body builder, but everyone can benefit from lifting heavy things. This can be your own body in the form of pushups, pullups, squats, and planks, the basic Primal exercises.
Most of us sit still too much. Our muscles and organs are gradually atrophying from too little use. Lifting heavy things for a few minutes a couple of times a week encourages your body to keep up muscle strength and keep your organs at top efficiency. Like other exercise, it is not meant to burn calories, but rather to increase your metabolism so you burn more calories at rest.
This is not meant to be a long weight lifting session. You might spend just 10 minutes or so doing some pushups, pullups, squats and planks. You can start with easier versions of the exercises (I am not yet up to being able to do a regular pushup!), but even easy versions build muscle tone. Do them with good form and enthusiasm for best results.
Get enough Sleep and Reduce Stress
Sleep matters. To have an ideal body composition you need to stay in homeostasis – a balanced state of your body. Poor sleep or not enough sleep can cause imbalances that cause you to crave carbs and store fat.
Set up the right environment for good sleep (dark, quiet, cool) and turn off electronics and most lights a couple of hours before bedtime. If you still have issues, talk with your doctor about a sleep study. Many people have sleep apnea and do not know it. This causes extremely poor sleep and is easily remedied.
Chronic, constant stress similarly puts your body out of balance. An occasional stressful event can be good for you since you body responds to be more capable at handling stress. Constant stress, on the other hand, breaks down your wonderful balanced systems, leading to all kinds of metabolic problems.
It may be that you cannot change your life circumstances, but you can change how you think about them and how you react to them. Look into practices such as mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, and yoga as ways to reduce stress in your life.