During the weight-loss process, a lot of people reach a point where the needle on the dial of their scales gets stuck on one number and stubbornly refuses to go below it. It’s often the point at which well-meaning people around them start talking about starvation-mode metabolism or asking whether they’ve had their thyroid function tested.
The first question in these cases is a trivial one: how big is your daily deficit and is it up to date? A calorie-counting app will calculate a new daily energy re- quirement every time you enter a new body weight.
Those calculating by hand must, of course, remember to recalculate their requirement regularly. If I weighed 10 kg more, for example, my base requirement would be 100 kcal higher. In the same way, the body’s base requirement grows less over time as you lose more weight.
When your daily deficit is small, you can, of course, still one day reach a point at which your energy input and consumption are in bal- ance and no more fat is being broken down — which would happen more obvi- ously with a large daily deficit.
But that point approaches slowly and gradually. Medical conditions like hypothyroidism can only make themselves noticeable as a complete standstill in weight-loss when your calorie deficit is small. With a daily deficit of 1000 kcal, no one is going to suddenly stop losing weight be- cause of an underactive thyroid, which only slows the metabolism by about the equivalent of 100 to 200 kcal.
At most, people with hypothyroidism might no- tice that they’ve lost only 3 kg rather than the expected 4 kg after several weeks. Not using up any fat reserves despite doing everything right (i.e., eating con- siderably fewer calories) is an impossibility. A body cannot conjure up energy out of nothing, and if less energy is put in than it requires to function, it has to fall back on its reserves.
Thus ‘inexplicable’ plateaus always turn out to have an explanation. Once fluid retention has been excluded as an explanation, and it becomes clear that less fat has been burned than should have been, the explanation may turn out to be one of the following:
the base requirement can offer a very good initial estimate, but they shouldn’t be relied on to be 100 per cent accurate.
if, for example, your body has less muscle mass than average, its base requirement could be considerably lower than the figure produced by the formula.
Even with an inaccuracy of only 5 per cent, the difference can be as much as 100 kcal per day, which works out at half a kilo per month.
So, although those calculators are useful at first, as a guide, it makes more sense later to estimate your actual requirement on the basis of your personal data (deficit and actual weight loss).
cise per week into a calculator, those hours will be credited to your aver- age energy requirement. If you then either do less exercise than you pre- dicted, or you enter those same hours of exercise again by hand, the amount of energy the calculator will show you consumed will be far high- er than the actual value.
show the total number of calories burned during the entered time.
But we would still have burned some calories if we had stayed on the couch rather than running on the treadmill. If I enter into a calculator that I spent 24 hours lounging on the couch watching TV, it will show that I burned about 1900 kcal — my daily resting energy requirement. But if I enter that figure into my app, it will calculate a daily requirement of 3800 kcal for me, which is total nonsense, of course. It’s important to remember always to subtract the number of calories that would have been burned in any case. For me, with a daily requirement of 1900 kcal, that would be about 80 kcal an hour. So, when my exercise bike tells me that the number of calories I used in an hour’s training is 500 kcal, I can only count at most 420 kcal of that as extra calories burned.
(2010), have shown that the energy information given on convenience food packaging is around 8 per cent lower than the actual calories it con- tains. For restaurant meals, that discrepancy is as much as 18 per cent. That means that people who eat out a lot or who rely a lot on pre- packaged food need to be particularly careful and bear in mind that they
should err on the side of caution when counting their calories.
A 230 g package of pre-prepared food should really be counted as 250 g and when you enter the calories into the calculator, you should enter the higher value.
5.Inaccurate weight information. For a long time, I trusted the weights
given on food packets and accepted them as correct … until I noticed that some of them couldn’t be right — for example, when a 125-gram pack of mozzarella only turned out to produce two daily portions of 50 g each.
Weighing foods myself revealed that the information on the packet often deviates greatly from reality in one direction or the other. So it’s a good idea to weigh your food out yourself, especially in the case of high-calorie foods, rather than relying on the information provided by manufacturers.
6.Forgotten calories and ignored calories: it wasn’t until I’d been losing
weight for six months that it occurred to me to check whether the vita- min supplements I was taking contained any calories. And so they did: about 15 to 20 kcal per fizzy tablet. Multiple overlooked sources of addi- tional calories can accumulate and affect your deficit. It’s also important to factor in tiny bites of food that might seem too ridiculous to record. A sample of cheese at the supermarket, a sip from a friend’s glass of juice, a single nut … Those who can’t be bothered recording such tiny amounts should instead leave enough space for them in their calorie deficit and, if necessary, increase their target deficit accordingly. If there is no progress on the scales for several weeks despite a calorie deficit, it’s a good idea to run through the points listed above once again to identify any possible sources of error.
Once all these points have been excluded, then it makes sense to take your search for the reason to your doctor.
There are also theories that claim that fat cells sometimes retain additional fluid during weight loss, making parts of the body feel ‘squishy’. I haven’t been able to find any official evidence of these theories — only online texts on some fitness and weight-loss websites.
They describe the effect as being similar to normal fluid retention, including that the fluid is eventually ‘released’ and sud- denly disappears within a few days. This is then noticed as a large and sudden change in weight (the ‘whoosh effect’). The claim is that the whoosh effect can be triggered by, among other things, a very high-carb meal or by alcohol. I was prompted to look into this theory a little because I myself went through phases when my weight loss stagnated for several days despite my large caloric deficit. I wasn’t able to recognise this whoosh effect in me as being a result of carbohydrates or alcohol. But, now that I have maintained my weight at around 65 kg for several months, I have noticed how powerfully my weight is affected by my hormones. At a certain point in my menstrual cycle I usually lose around 4 kg over a very few days, then regain 2 kg slowly over the next two weeks, and then put on the other 2 kg again quickly within a few days. This is completely independent of my caloric balance, which remains relatively constant. On the basis of my experience, I wouldn’t consider an absence of weight loss to be a real stagnation unless it lasted longer than two weeks. And even then, that kind of stagnation is not ‘inexplicable’, but must be ex- plained by one of the following two reasons:
being seen on the scales;