When we begin to lose weight the body starts to get its energy by releasing glycogen, which is the energy stored in our muscles and liver. Part of this is made up of water so when it’s burned for energy water is also released, which can contribute quite considerably to that initial drop.
If consistent weight training is not part of your fitness regime you will be losing muscle as well as fat, which causes your metabolism to slow down. Since energy is stored in the muscles if there is less muscle then the energy requirement will be less also. Typically as you get leaner your metabolism will start to slow anyway as your overall body mass will be less so your body doesn’t need as much energy to support your frame. What this means is the diet and exercise programs you have been following may no longer be appropriate and will need adjusting according to your body’s new requirements.
It is also common practice that when we start a new health and fitness regime we give it our all and make sure we follow everything to the letter, but as the time goes on we start to ease up a bit and stop paying such close attention to wha͛t’s going into our mouths or how much we are moving. The only way to overcome this and rule it out as a possible reason for a plateau is to start tracking what you’re doing again and ensure you are actually doing what you think you’re doing!
This can be true for both over and under eating and exercising. If you don’t eat enough calories for a sustained period of time your body will start to think you’re experiencing a famine so it will slow down your metabolism and hold onto the energy stores you do have in a bid to help you survive until food is available again. If your body doesn’t have enough fuel and you continue to exercise at an intense rate, your body will actually start to eat your muscle tissue in an attempt to get the fuel it needs.
Why those last 5kg are so hard to shift…
It is important to note that our body weight can fluctuate quite considerably depending on the time of day and month, this is largely due to water retention which can be caused by too much sodium in the diet, insufficient water intake and hormonal imbalances. Therefore a plateau should only be considered a true plateau if there is no change in body weight for 3 weeks. As mentioned above, at this point be sure to track what you’re doing as your first action and then consider other factors within your life, such as stress.
Stress and not switching off can also have a massive impact. It causes the body to think it is in danger so it sets off a chain reaction of biochemical events to try and ensure your
Adrenaline and Cortisol
The main culprits for this plateau or indeed weight gain are the hormones adrenaline and cortisol – their purpose is to produce and convert fuel for the muscles to enable you to react with speed and strength (to fight or flight), and also to store energy to ensure you will be sustained throughout the danger period. Of course if all we’re doing is sitting at our desk and thinking over and over, extra fuel is the last thing we need so as a result it accumulates, particularly around the mid-section.
This process can also lead to your digestive system being shut down because the body does not deem it necessary for survival. This means the body becomes toxic as the waste is not being dealt with efficiently and the appropriate nutrients are not being drawn out of the food so you become depleted of energy right down to a cellular level.
The reproductive system is also not considered a necessity during this time, which often results in irregular or painful periods and PMS. As well as having an effect on mood this is also another factor responsible for water retention and leaving the body in a confused state.
Sleep is usually disrupted when stressed too, because the body wants you to remain in a state of readiness in case you need to fight or run away. This disrupts the hormones ghrelin and leptin. These hormones turn your appetite on and off and tell the brain what to do with the fat (use for energy or store it). Lack of sleep will confuse the process and you will experience unnecessary hunger, not know when you are full, and store fat when it should be burned. Furthermore your ability to perform at your best and make good decisions depends on the amount of sleep you have had, so on a day after little sleep you may choose to forgo exercise and choose poor meal options.
How can we prevent stress impacting our waistline?
The first step is to tune into your body and listen to what it’s telling you. It is incredibly wise so if something’s up it will send you a signal, which could be anything from an energy dip or cold to an injury or even disease. With the busy lifestyles we now live it can be easy for our body’s communication to get lost amongst the endless to-do lists and constant thinking, and with the never-ending supply of information available to us it causes even more confusion as we get lost in the land of what we “should do” rather than what we actually need. Since it’s the mind that causes the body to respond to stress we must pay particular attention to that if we want to prevent it impacting our waistline and indeed our health. So giving it a little break here and there throughout the day is recommended. This will involve setting yourself some boundaries, for example:
- Do not allow yourself to use your phone or technology 30mins before bed and after you wake up in the morning. This allows you to start and finish the day in a calmer state as you’re reducing your exposure to extra stimulation at the time the body is trying to find its natural rhythm.
- Give yourself a little break away from your desk at lunch time. You can do this physically by getting out for a quick walk around the block, without your phone, and/or mentally by sitting quietly and taking 10-20 long deep slow belly breaths. Both of these activities help to reset the mind, reassure the body that it’s not in danger, and energise you for the afternoon.
- In fact, whenever you are feeling stressed, tired or lacking clarity take yourself off and do this breathing exercise – note, the toilet can be a great place to do this! Although you may think you don’t have time, taking a step back will actually propel you further forward with greater momentum.
- Ensure you give yourself some proper downtime throughout the week to do something you love and with people you love