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Atkins for Life by Robert C. Atkins, M.D.
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Stalls and Plateaus - Are you Stuck?

What is a Stall? What is a Plateau?

A stall is an extended period of time without weight loss. Usually 3 or more months. A  plateau is a shorter period of time without weight loss usually 3 or less weeks. This includes lack of progress on a scale and by a tape measure. 

NOTE: Sometimes it is possible to lose inches while not losing pounds. This is especially true if you do any type of weight training or heavy exercise. Muscle and fat weigh the same so you can be losing fat while building muscle and not lose any poundage. Yet if you measure yourself you will see there is a decrease in inches and your clothes feel looser. So take accurate measurements before you begin a diet so that you have a frame of reference. Also I recommend keeping a set of tight clothes to try on regularly to see if they are fitting better. This will help give you a better reference than just using a weight scale.

You can count on hitting 4 to 8 plateaus during your weight loss depending on how much you have to lose. These plateaus are just your body's way of adjusting to the new composition of fat to fluids etc.. As you lose fat, water rushes in to redistribute itself and to prevent your body from going into shock, your system will compensate for this to help ease the transition. Some plateaus of this type can last a month so don't be alarmed. Just stick with your diet plan and don't panic. If you begin to gain weight (more than a few pounds) then you need to reevaluate things.

Many people believe that there are such things a metabolic setpoints. These are like memories your body holds onto of where you maintained a weight in the past. For example, if you once spent a few years around 180 pounds, then your body retains a memory of this weight and will create a setpoint at this weight. It's theorized that when you are losing weight and hit one of these metabolic setpoints, your weight loss may plateau or even stall at the setpoint in an attempt to maintain this weight again. But there is no concrete evidence to support this theory. So if there is any truth to it, you might use this info to prepare in advance for these points and up your diet regime at these setpoints to prevent a stall from happening. 

Since Low Carb eating tends to preserve more lean muscle mass than low-fat low-cal dieting does, you may find that your ideal weight is a tad higher than you previously held when your muscle mass was less. For example, someone who's ideal weight was 140 on a regular high carb diet may find they can wear the same clothes as they did previously at 140 at a higher weight such as 145 or 150. So if you are within 5 to 10 pounds of your goal weight reexamine your goal weight in light of this. You may be surprise to find out that you are already where you need to be.

Since dieting affects the thyroid's ability to create sufficient hormone to support your metabolic needs you should have your thyroid function checked regularly. It's just a simple blood test. As many as 25 million Americans have hypothyroidism and of that number only half know they have it! That half usually finds out about it when they try to go on a diet. No one really knows why Americans have hypothyroidism, some suspect food additives which attack the thyroid, others blame environmental toxins. The bottom line is that most doctors know little about the symptoms and even fewer diagnose it. In any event, it's a good idea to take a Thyroid Health Supplement of natural vitamins and herbs which are well known for supporting proper thyroid function. The thyroid controls your metabolism, regulates your sex drive and stabilizes your moods. If you are having problems with weight (despite good diet and exercise), problems with sex and or depression you may have a thyroid problem.

The Source of the Stall

Once you have determined that this isn't just a regular pause in your weight loss and are sure you are indeed stalled. You need to discern the cause of the problem and address it. You may find there are multiple sources contributing to your stall. Here is a list of the most likely culprits.

1. Overeating - This in my opinion is the number one cause of stalls on Low Carb. This is because most people are only counting carbs without regard for calories. Many folks consume way too many calories for their activity level and end up with either an excess (resulting in weight gain) or they are just breaking even. Some of the "Low Carb" treats and snacks on the market have considerable calories because they are also high fat. So try counting up your calories and see if you are just eating too much of a good thing. 

Eat 6 to 8 Mini-Meals a day instead of 3 big meals. By Mini-meal I mean 200 calories and 3 to 5 carbs per meal. You can redistribute the carbs as you want among the mini-meals. The advantage of this method of eating is that you never get ravenous thus you don't want to binge and it helps maintain a steady insulin level which promotes appetite control instead of cravings. Your body also doesn't feel like you are starving it and thus your metabolism remains higher than it would if you skipped meals or went prolonged periods without eating. Then you do the latter, your metabolism shuts down to preserve your weight. It's a very inconvenient primal defense mechanism that evolved to prevent people from dying from starvation too quickly. 

2. Too Many Carbs - The second most likely source is the ingestion of too many carbohydrates. People ask me all the time how many carbs they need to eat to lose weight. This number is not written in stone anywhere. There is no carb-limit commandment in a Low Carb Bible anywhere. The number of carbs you consume has to be individualized for YOU. Every person has a different level of insulin resistance and so you have to do a little trial and error on your own to find your personal "Critical Carb Level" (also called CCL). Some folks can increase their carbs as suggested on Ongoing Weight Loss and continue to lose just fine. Others can not. You may be one of the metabolically challenged people who find they must remain at Induction Level for the entire diet. 

There are also things called Hidden Carbs. These are usually in the form of Sugar Alcohols. If you have looked at Low Carb products at all you will have noticed terms like "Net Carbs" or "Effective Carbs" on labels and packaging. These are the number of carbs left after deducting the number of carbs coming from sugar alcohols like Glycerine and Malitol as well as Insoluble Fiber. Some people react to the hidden carbs as they would to regular carbs. If you are stalled and sure your regular carbs are within normal dietary limits, look for hidden carbs. It's usually the Atkins Bars and other Low Carb Candies which sneak up and bite you in the butt. Try cutting these out.

You also have to make sure you are really counting carbs correctly. You'd be surprised at how many folks don't do this right. Many mistakes are in fact due to incorrect labeling thanks to the FDA's liberal policy that allows food manufacturers to "round down" their numbers to the nearest whole number. For example: Whipped Cream in a can says it has ZERO carbs per serving. The serving size is so ridiculously small as to be absurd. Who eats just a teaspoon of this stuff? If they can get a teaspoon to contain .9 carbs (that's 9/10ths of 1 gram) then they can legally claim a teaspoon has 0 carbs. What this means is that every teaspoon has nearly 1 gram in it so if you eat 10 teaspoons of whipped cream on your sugar-free jello then you are consuming nearly 10 carbs! This is just one of many examples. So the best rule of thumb is to count all products that are labeled 0 carb as 1 carb instead. The only exception to this would be most meats. You really need an exhaustive carb counter. I personally use Corrine Netzer's Complete Book of Carb Counts. It's the best.

3. Not Eating Enough - Believe it or not, starving yourself is counterproductive to weight loss. By depriving your body of food you signal a very basic response which tells the body to conserve energy. This lowers your metabolism and increases your fat storage capacity. You will actually lose weight slower when your intake is insufficient.

4. Dehydration - Water is the key to good health. Water is essential to lypolysis (the breaking up of fat molecules for energy). If you don't have an adequate water intake your body has a harder time burning fat. Most people do not drink enough water. The average person needs to consume 64 ounces of water per day and an obese person needs to consume that PLUS an extra 8 ounces for each 25 pounds they are overweight. Not only does water facilitate fat burning but it also helps move ketones out of your body. If you are in ketosis from eating low carb foods then you need to flush your system regularly.

5. Too Little Exercise - Exercise is crucial to keeping your metabolism going. It also builds up muscles which in turn will burn more fat. Many studies have also proven that exercise and light weight resistance training increases insulin sensitivity and thyroid hormone production. Both these will result in a healthier metabolism and increase your chances of long-term weight maintenance. Cross-training is a good way to keep your body happy. If you have been doing only one type of exercise, try adding some new twists like swimming, cycling or weight training. 

6. Food Allergies or Candida Overgrowth - If you are sensitive to foods like Dairy, Wheat Gluten, Corn, Soy and Egg Whites then you may find it stalling your weight loss. Food sensitivities such as the common ones listed above can trigger water retention, bloating, allergies and a host of other unpleasant symptoms. Some people feel that these foods aggravate a condition known as a Candida Overgrowth. It is believed that a diet rich in high carbohydrate foods combined with years of occasional antibiotic usage have allowed yeast to build up in our digestive tracts leading to an overgrowth. Yeast product glucose as a by-product of carbohydrate metabolism. So obesity is the biggest symptom of this condition. A low carb diet is just part of the anti-candida treatment. If you feel that this might be your problem you might want to try adding an anti-candida supplement such as CandidaClear to your diet.

For more information on reducing and eliminating yeast in your system you should visit these other informational sites:

7. Medications - Some medications are known to slow or prevent weight loss. Of these medications the most notorious ones are Hormones (such as The Pill and Estrogen supplementation such as HRT for menopause), Antidepressants (such as Paxil, Welbutrin, Zoloft and Celexa), Diuretics (water-pills for blood pressure control and over-the-counter brands as well), cholesterol-lowering medications (they prevent the liver from converting fat to glycogen), insulin and oral diabetic medications (but you shouldn't stop taking these or any prescription medication without a doctor's supervision). Some medications are available to help assist weight loss and can be ordered online without a prescription. Most insurance policies exclude anti-obesity drugs so finding the cheapest price for these is usually the best idea. Local pharmacies can charge a lot for these drugs. One of the most popular and successful medications is Meridia (Sibutramine).

Recommended Strategies for Breaking a Stall

1. Don't cut your caloric intake to less than 1200 calories per day. Increase the amount of protein in your meals. Eat small to moderate amounts of cheese or nuts for snacks. Use olive or flax oil for cooking and cream or eggs to make sauces for meat and vegetables. Keep your carb level down by avoiding white flour, sugar, fruits and starchy vegetables like corn or potatoes.

2. Don't starve yourself. Cutting calories to an extreme will not help you. Try cutting excess fat and calories to a reasonable level (usually 1200 to 1600 calories a day) and divide these up into frequent small meals (of about 200 to 300 calories each) every few hours. Eat a decent amount of protein with each meal to help you feel satisfied longer. Try to keep your carbs under 20 a day.

3. Try to increase your activity level. Increase the duration or intensity of your exercise schedules. If you have been only walking or cycling, try doing some weight lifts and vice versa. If you are not yet exercising try to add some sort of activity to your regular schedule. At least 20 minutes a day is recommended for beginners.

4. Increase your water consumption to stimulate lipolysis and clean your system of excess ketones.

5. Avoid eating within 3 hours of bedtime. Especially avoid any foods that are higher in carbs as this can trigger insulin production which in turn will inhibit fat-burning while you are asleep.

6. Start a food diary and record what you are eating and when you are eating. Purchase a good carb and food counts book to help you with your calculations.

7. Try one of the many "Stall Buster" fasts. They can sometimes help get weight loss moving. These are usually just short-term diets that only last a few days (a week at the most) Some of the better ones are as follows:

  • Atkins Fat Fast - This plan restricts calories to 1,000 per day with 90% coming from FAT.
  • The Meat Fast - This involves eating meat and not much else. No coffee or tea just lots and lots of water.

8. You might want to try "Stacking". This is a term that refers to the use of thermogenic supplements in a specific ratio that enhances your metabolic energy. The "ECA Stack" is the source of the term "stacking. The "E" stands for Ephedra. The "C" stands for Caffeine and the "A" stands for Aspirin. You can learn more about stacking from these other informational sites:

Ephedra is a controversial substance since it stimulates the nervous system and has been linked to some serious side effects in some individuals. If you have a history of high blood pressure, glaucoma, thyroid disease or are pregnant or nursing then you should avoid it's use. Note that Ma Huang is a natural source of Ephedra and should also be avoided if you have any of these conditions. Aspirin should be avoided if you are allergic to salicilates, taking blood-thinners or have a history of stomach or ulcers.

9. Consider some of the more successful dietary supplements known to enhance fat burning such as 5-HTP or Green Tea Extract. See my Weight Loss Supplements page for more details. 

Resources on the Web

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The material posted here on Low Carb for Life should NOT be considered medical advice and is NOT intended to replace consultation with a qualified medical professional. Please consult a medical doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications.

LowCarb4Life 2006