Weight Plateau. Please help me break it.
March 29, 2007 3:56 PM   Subscribe

I eat right, I exercise, and yet my weight is a plateau. Is there anything I can do about it?

I'm male, 26, 5' 9", of medium build and weigh 175 lbs.

I have been at this weight for the last 5 years (give or take 3 lbs either way). I have always watched what I eat and have been a low exerciser until about 9 months ago.

Currently, I'm doing 3 hours of exercise (running) a week. I log and eat, on average about 1500KCals a day, and yet my weight will just not go down.

I would like to loose about 10-15lbs if possible, but short of starving myself I can't seem to see what else I could do. For the last month I upped my exercise to 4 hours a week and cut my calorie intake to 1250 a day. It has been extremely painful, and I just weighed myself ... to learn I'm still 175!

Why is my body fighting this so hard? Is there anything else I can do to try and get rid of this weight?
posted by gadha to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If you add lean muscle and lose fat, it's entirely possible that your weight will increase as you become healthier - because muscle weighs more than fat.

It's important not to get so focused on the number, more on the body shape. Do you have excess fat in any one particular area?
posted by jbickers at 4:03 PM on March 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

There is a known phenomenon where if your body believes it is in danger of starvation, it will retain body fat in order to keep you alive through a time of famine. In other words, you may be eating too few calories, making your body think that you are in danger of starving and need to retain stored energy. Try upping your calorie intake for a few weeks (obviously by adding more fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein, not by adding candy and soda) and see if that helps break the plateau.
posted by decathecting at 4:07 PM on March 29, 2007

Response by poster: jbickers: to give you an idea about my body shape. Chunky thighs, slight love handles and a paunch. Doesn't seem to change from that.
posted by gadha at 4:09 PM on March 29, 2007

Add some weight training to your regimen. Right now you say that your exercise is all running, but if I were you I would split my work between two days a week of running and two of lifting. When you lift, you'll add muscle, which will then burn calories all day long, as opposed to aerobic exercise, which tends to burn calories during the exercise only. Also, if your chest and shoulders get thicker, it'll make a slight paunch/love handles look a bit more balanced, instead of looking huge in relation to skinny arms. If you don't have access to a gym, there are some good, low equipment workouts here. Are you getting the right kind of foods? 1500kcals isn't much; maybe make sure you're getting plenty of protein, vitamins, etc?
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 4:27 PM on March 29, 2007

People tend to underestimate the calories they are eating and overestimate the calories they are burning. Is it possible that you are underestimating your caloric intake? For example, I sometimes forget about a small chocolate I grabbed from a coworkers desk -- things like that can add up.
posted by bananafish at 4:39 PM on March 29, 2007

I'm in this exact same boat. But, as some consolation my thighs are chiseled (since all i do is run). So, I hope that the balance is coming from that..... Have you at least noticed fat off your face gadha? That's been for me.
Alas, the paunch is powerful. I'm afraid that direct stomach busting exercises are the only thing to help in this sense. Either that or I'll have to swim.....which is ok, but you can't listen to music.
posted by narebuc at 4:40 PM on March 29, 2007

you're going to hurt yourself if you do any more; i suggest go back to what you were doing and stick with the 175; I'm your hight and 230 and would love to be just at 200. You do not need to lose any more and if you keep at just 1250 cal, you're not going to get all you need-->malnutrition!
posted by uncballzer at 4:49 PM on March 29, 2007

Are you drinking enough water? When I started drinking 8+ cups a day, the weight really started coming off. If you're drinking a lot of coffee, make sure you drink even more water. If you build muscle, you will really retain water.

Are you sure that 1500 calories a day plus vigorous exercise isn't wreaking havoc on your metabolism? I would say that it is. I would up your caloric intake to more like 1750, and yes, start weight training. Building muscle will help your metabolism.

It doesn't have to be so hard and painful!
posted by pazazygeek at 5:01 PM on March 29, 2007

For one, you are not going to hurt yourself if you work out more than three hours a week. I might not run more, but work out more if you want. Other than that, I am going to join the "you might be eating too little club."
posted by dame at 5:05 PM on March 29, 2007

1250? That sounds horribly unhealthy. Exercise more if you must (4 hrs a week is not that much, I was up to 6 in peak rollerblading season), but you shouldn't be starving yourself. Maybe pay more attention to what you're eating rather than how much.
posted by juv3nal at 5:05 PM on March 29, 2007

If you are regularly skipping meals, that could be a culprit. Eat frequently, and never let yourself get very hungry. Also, all calories aren't equal. If you haven't already done so, try eating whole grains and beans instead of white rice, potatoes, and white bread.
posted by wryly at 5:08 PM on March 29, 2007

Lift man, lift! When you eat little and get most of your exercise through cardio you lose muscle. Eat some protein and lift heavy, and I would bet that you find yourself able to eat more and looking much better.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:08 PM on March 29, 2007

Homeostasis is a bitch.
posted by gramcracker at 5:10 PM on March 29, 2007

um, i think your body is that weight because that's your natural build. it seems like a perfectly healthy weight for your height. how do you compare with other members of your family?
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:10 PM on March 29, 2007

When my wife and I had twins, I got a lot less sleep and ate a lot less -- and for the first time in my life, my beanpole shape (which I'd spent years trying to bulk up, to no avail) grew by twenty pounds.

Then, as the kids got older, I got more sleep and went back to my old (bad) eating habits -- and have dropped almost all of that weight.

Keep in mind that I didn't exercise before, and I don't exercise now, other than taking the stairs instead of the elevator and being a generally kinetic individual.

I didn't make the connection between poor sleep habits and weight gain (the eat-less-and-gain-more starvation prevention thing I knew about, though) until I read an article about research showing such a connection.

So, other advice from other folks aside, are you getting a full night's sleep?
posted by davejay at 5:13 PM on March 29, 2007

Try to get a scale that has a body fat percentage calculation. That will help you factor in the muscle gain... your weight might be the same, but your BF % should hopefully go down.
posted by every_one_needs_a_hug_sometimes at 5:17 PM on March 29, 2007

3500 calories = 1 pound of fat
This is the approximate deficit you need to create for yourself each week, through eating less calories or burning more. I'd check your caloric intake again - are you really only eating the portion size? Are you missing things like sports drinks or soda?

Also, consider the exercise that you're doing - how much is running and how much is jogging or walking? Be sure to figure these into your calculations.

Lastly, whether your weight plateaus or not, you're doing your body a great service with the eating right and exercise - don't get discouraged.
posted by chrisamiller at 5:25 PM on March 29, 2007

You are eating too little. 1250 calories per day for a guy your size is unrealistic and unhealthy, and would be even if you were just sitting on your ass. You're probably letting your muscles atrophy and retaining fat.

You're only ten pounds above "normal" on the average BMI chart (I know, because you and I are the same height). Give yourself a break and eat some more fruit or something. Once your body "realizes" that you're getting the nutrition you need, but that you're going to keep exercising regularly, it will gradually let go of the fat.
posted by bingo at 5:53 PM on March 29, 2007

If you are at a plateau, the best thing to do is change up your workout regimen, and try to eat small meals 6-8 times a day. This throws your body off and it speeds up your metabolism.
posted by Elaisa at 6:01 PM on March 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

You aren't eating enough. Plus you need to crosstrain.

I agree with whoever said that you need to put some weight training in there. I also think you need to do your cardio 5-6 times a week.

Also, get a heart rate monitor and do some research on base building. You might be running too fast and too hard. The concept is that at a particular heart rate your body learns to burn fat rather than carbohydrates. If you are training at too high a heart rate the opposite occurs. After base training for about 8 weeks you can add harder workouts.

These principles worked for me when I lost weight.
posted by konolia at 6:09 PM on March 29, 2007

PS you absolutely MUST eat more. Your body will cannibalize your muscles for protein and what that means is you will be burning fewer and fewer calories as your muscle mass shrinks.
posted by konolia at 6:11 PM on March 29, 2007

Well, it definitely sounds like you need to eat more but be very wary of thinking of food purely in terms of the energy it provides.

Fats (not saturated or trans) and cold pressed oils (olive, flaxseed etc) are the highest quality source of energy, above complex carbohydrate, above simple carbohydrate (sugars, processed foods). Try to eat foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, loads of vegetables, fruits and fish, lean meats, little starch, little to no sugar.

Pack the nutrients in, sleep long and well and keep a lid on the glycemic load you're placing on your body (avoid high GI foods).

World's Healthiest Foods is a good resource. If you're good at logging and measuring, something like the Zone diet might help you. If you're not, then something like the Paleo Diet might be a good resource for you, but eating well doesn't need to be terribly hard and you might not need either. I believe both espouse some good guiding principles though.

Someone mentioned homeostasis, and I think that's probably your real problem in terms of the kind of progress you want to make. Your body isn't going to adapt (change) without some kind of impetus, stimulus or stressor which will require it to. You've adapted to what you've been doing - the running.

So give your body something new, something that will require it to adapt. Lift weights, go swimming, run or do other exercise at higher intensity for shorter periods. Take up a sport and train for it. The more varied the better. If you're looking for a program or suggestions then I believe CrossFit and SimpleFit (CrossFit lite) might be helpful, but do your research and don't jump in the deep end tooooo quickly.

Finally, I'll add my name to the chorus of those who said it's better to pursue strength, fitness and health than to chase a magic weight number – that number is no indicator of fitness, performance, strength or even appearance.

Oh, and good luck :)
posted by eek at 6:59 PM on March 29, 2007

I hate to doubt you, but you have the same build as my boyfriend. As someone who recently lost 45 pounds by counting calories eaten and burned, targeted at 1200/day on a spreadsheet, down to the ounce of beans, I can testify to the relative impossibility of just about any guy actually eating that little and getting adequate protein and carbs to work out 3 hours a week.

Use this website, get a food scale, track your calories and use a workout method (like an elliptical) that calculates your calories burned based on weight. That, at least, will give you a concrete idea of what it feels like to burn 100 calories. For me, it's seven minutes of light sweat and 170 bpm.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:26 PM on March 29, 2007

The Body For Life plan is pretty decent. It pretty much echoes what everyone has said above.

The first thing I'd start doing is eating more (even 1500 calories is probably not enough), probably with more meals per day (6 smaller meals instead of 2 bigger meals - which tends to be what most people do). WHAT you eat is just as important. This article is from women's health magazine, but the advice shouldn't too different for men.

The other thing you should start doing is lifting weights - the program in the Body For Life book is pretty good. The book also really pushes Interval training for cardio - so that might be something to look into.

Another thing that I found really helped me in the weight loss game was yoga. I didn't really start shedding weight till I was doing yoga regularly. It gets you very in touch with your body, so you tend to eat better (at least I did). It will probably help prevent any injuries you might face from your other exercise activities.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:01 AM on March 30, 2007

Wow, you need to eat more - I'm a small chick and I eat ~1800 a day and I'm losing weight. Like others have mentioned your body is probably going into starvation mode and is holding onto that fat.

You might want to try something other than running every day, just to mix it up in terms of your cardio. Your body can get "bored" with the same exercise routine every day. And definitely add some weight-training - you're a guy and that muscle should build up fairly fast, which will burn more calories while you're at rest.

I second the recommendation of yoga - it helps me so much in terms of strength and flexibility and it's also giving me an extra push to my weight loss and general all-around fitness.
posted by sutel at 7:12 AM on March 30, 2007

Carb cycling.
posted by Blue Buddha at 7:34 AM on March 30, 2007

I found that as I lost weight (doing the same thing you've been doing) I also lost muscle mass - so my resting metabolic rate lowered considerably - I hung out in the mid 170s for a long time too (I'm the same height as you) - I think the suggestion for weight training is a good one
posted by soplerfo at 9:05 AM on March 30, 2007

Adding my voice to the chorus... You're probably eating too few calories and have reset you body's weight regulating mechanism. This can alter your metabolic rate and appetite. 1500Kcals is the absolute lowest amount of calories that the average male should consume in a day without expecting to alter this.

You should slowly add a few hundred calories back to your diet. Keep in mind that your metabolism has slowed down and that if you resume a caloric intake level at which you previously held a constant weight, you will probably now gain weight.
posted by 517 at 9:23 AM on March 30, 2007

Another vote for "eat more and crosstrain."

If your body thinks you're starving, your metabolism is going to slow way down. Also, I'm sure you've adapted to running by now, and have probably stopped gaining much benefit from it. Take a week or two off running and try something else, then continue running as part of a more varied exercise routine.

Also, check out this guy's blog for lots of good information on losing stubborn weight.
posted by tipthepizzaguy at 9:32 AM on March 30, 2007

Also" The body just plateaus, sometimes for long times (months, even). Don't worry. Eventually the weight will start coming down again. The human body is designed to gain weight, and really fights losing it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:01 PM on March 30, 2007

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