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When Weight Plateaus in Spite of Caloric Deficit

This entry explores a seeming conundrum: from 7 July through 22 July, a total caloric deficit of 8080 calories was achieved. This should result in a loss of 2+ pounds of body fat. And that’s not counting metabolic needs for muscle repair and growth.

So why does morning body weight show apparently no change, almost flatlining? *

Certainly this sort of thing can feel discouraging unless one realizes what is going on.

Over 2011 and 2012 I observed similar apparent conundrums, but the resolution is fairly straightforward, and I call it “physiological remodeling”.

If the weight changes little*, there are various factors accounting for this that have proven themselves over a personal 2011/2012 study period, during which I kept detailed records, including a log of everything I ate, weight, calories burned (from power meter):

  • Fat is burned and muscle is added; some of this nets out.
  • Under a heavy training load and particularly after hard efforts, the body takes on additional fluid; this seems to be part of the recovery/repair process (taking rest for a few days can show a drop of 1-2 pounds!).
  • Glycogen stored in muscle tissue requires water and about 80% of that weight is water. Over time, the body might also increase its muscle stores of glycogen as fitness improves and training demands increase, as a natural adaptation to stress.
  • The body is designed to survive: as body fat is burned and calories are always in deficit, metabolic processes adapt to extract every last calorie from food, and to be more efficient in using it.
  • Increased fitness tends to slightly decrease energy use by using more efficient fat burning energy sources.

All of these things add up!

Steady caloric deficit vs body weight

Roll with the punches

Sometimes recovery also says clearly “eat more today!”. It is important to respect this feeling and realize that the discipline involves eating more occassionally to respond to a physiological imperative.

And so on 22 June after two weeks of deficits, I ate slightly more calories than I burned that day. Roll with the punches so to speak: too much calorie stress and the body won’t recover well, and worse, will actively resist the desired goal of cutting body fat.

* Weight always taken after rising in the morning, for consistency, on a highly accurate medical grade scale.


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