Why Do You Stop Losing Weight When Dieting?

If you've tried to lose weight before, you know that the results aren't always linear. Your weight may go up and down from one day to the next. Sometimes, your progress may even stop. Although this is frustrating, it's a normal part of the process.

If you stop losing weight when dieting, you might have to adjust the number of calories you're eating. (Image: Blend Images/John Fedele/Tetra images/GettyImages)

When you stop losing weight when dieting, it's called a plateau, and there are several reasons why you might hit one. In some cases, it's because your metabolism has adjusted to your new weight. To get weight loss going again, you'll need to recalculate how much you should be eating and adjust your exercise plan accordingly.

Tip

You might stop losing weight when dieting because your metabolism adjusted to your new, lower body weight. You can jump-start weight loss again by recalculating your calories, revamping your exercise routine and managing your stress levels.

Understanding Your Metabolism

"Metabolism" is a broad term that encompasses all of the biochemical processes in your body that allow you to sustain life. Although your metabolism has a wide variety of functions, when referring to weight loss, the focus is on two specific aspects of metabolism: catabolism and anabolism.

In the context of metabolism, catabolism, which means breaking down, is when the body breaks down compounds to use them as energy. Anabolism, which means putting together or building up, is the opposite of catabolism. When used to refer to metabolism, anabolism is when the body utilizes different chemical reactions to build new compounds from smaller ones. Anabolism uses up energy, while catabolism releases energy.

Your weight is is determined by the ratio of catabolism to anabolism. If the rate of anabolism (or how much energy your body is using) outweighs catabolism (or how much energy your body is producing), you'll lose weight. If catabolism outweighs anabolism, you'll likely gain weight. If the two are equal, you'll maintain your weight. This is the science behind "calories in vs. calories out."

Basal Metabolic Rate

There are several different things that affect the rates of catabolism and anabolism. Your diet and your physical activity level top the list, but you also have an underlying basal metabolic rate, which is the amount of energy you use (or calories you burn) when you're doing absolutely nothing.

Even when you're lounging on the couch, binge-watching the latest Netflix original, your body needs some energy to maintain basic functioning. The amount of energy (calories) you need to stay alive white doing the bare minimum is your basal metabolic rate or resting energy expenditure.

Understanding Adaptive Thermogenesis

As you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate goes down. This means that you burn fewer calories when you're doing nothing. As a result, your energy or calorie needs go down.

In other words, if you start a diet at 200 pounds and then lose 25 pounds, the amount of energy (or calories) you need just to carry out basic physiological functioning decreases. If you don't adjust your diet and your physical activity levels to account for these changes, you may stop losing weight or even gain weight.

Recalculating Your Body's Needs

If you've reached a point where you've stopped losing weight while on a diet, it might be time to recalculate the amount of calories you need based on your new weight.

At 200 pounds, you might need to stick to 1,800 calories per day to lose weight. However, if you drop to 175 pounds, that number would change to 1,650. Lose another 25 pounds and you need only 1,500 calories daily.

If you're not constantly adjusting your calorie intake as you lose, you may be overdoing your daily food intake without even realizing it, which can stall your weight loss. There are many simple online calorie calculators you can use to keep track of your calorie needs as you go.

Burning Off Calories

In addition to watching the calories that are going in, you should also pay attention to calories going out. If you stopped losing weight while dieting, it might be time to add in exercise (or boost your intensity).

When you exercise, your body's immediate energy needs go up. As a result, both catabolism and anabolism go up to meet your body's demands. Catabolic exercises, like running on a treadmill, contribute directly to the loss of body fat because the involve the breakdown of fatty acids, as well as increasing calorie usage. Anabolism contributes to loss of body fat too, but not in the same way.

Adjusting Your Exercise Plan

If you're doing a lot of strength training, you're using anabolism to build more muscle mass, which may make you look leaner, but the numbers on the scale might stay the same.

Take a look at your exercise routine. Are you exercising enough? Are you incorporating both catabolic exercises and anabolic exercises? If not, develop a plan that includes three to five days of cardio-type exercises and two to three days of strength training exercises each week.

Checking Your Stress

Diet and exercise are the obvious choices when it comes to troubleshooting why you stop losing weight while dieting, but another big factor might be to blame.

Chronic stress is on the rise, and with it, stress-related diseases. According to a survey done by the American Psychological Association in 2015, 24 percent of adults report experiencing extreme stress, while 78 percent say they have at least one symptom of stress.

Chronic stress increases cortisol, a stress hormone that can make losing weight more difficult. Cortisol prompts your body to store fat, especially in your belly, and promotes inflammation.

Managing Your Stress Levels

If the scale has stalled, check your stress levels. Are you more stressed than usual? Are you handling your stress well? If not, incorporate come stress management techniques.

It's impossible to eliminate stress completely, but you can train your body to handle it better so that it doesn't cause as much trouble. Examples of good stress reduction techniques include:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Daily exercise
  • Journaling
  • Reducing your workload

Losing Inches But Not Weight

It's also possible that your body is still changing, even without seeing the numbers on the scale drop, especially if you're incorporating strength training into your exercise routine. As you build lean muscle mass and lose body fat, your weight might not change, but if you track your progress with body measurements instead, you might notice a loss of inches.

That's because muscle mass is denser than body fat. That means that lean muscle mass takes up less space. If you put a pound of fat next to a pound of muscle, you'd see that the muscle is considerably smaller. The scale can be a useful tool, but it has its disadvantages. Make sure you're taking measurements and recording your inches too.

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