We’re now well into the third week of the challenge. You may have had a huge loss in the first week but now the loss numbers seem to be tapering off. What was working during the first week or two doesn’t seem to be as effective anymore, and at some degree, this is normal. However, when you plateau completely, it’s important for you to go over your detailed food logs with your trainer so they can help figure out what’s going on.
What is Leptin?
Leptin is a hormone secreted by your fat cells to tell your brain that there are plenty of fat stores, so it’s okay to burn fat as energy. Not dissimilar to insulin resistance, when someone is overweight, too much of the leptin hormone can desensitize the brain to where the brain no longer recognizes the signal that the body has enough fat storage to safely burn fat. Then as you start to lose fat, your body is now producing even less of the leptin hormone and your body now thinks you are starving, even though you may have plenty of fat stores left to burn.
What Does Leptin Have to Do with a Plateau?
When you plateau, it’s possible that your body is experiencing some degree leptin resistance. This is common on a low-calorie diet. Let’s say you’re consuming 1200-1400 calories a day and have been at it for four weeks. You’re working out, eating right, but now you have stopped losing the weight. It’s likely your energy is low as well, which means your workouts are now also less effective. These symptoms are likely due to your body’s metabolism shutting down to reserve energy because it doesn’t know you’ve got “enough” in the way of fat storage. Reducing calories might even work for a few days, but you will continue on this downward spiral of lowered metabolism and now, low energy.
How Do You Overcome a Plateau Caused by Leptin Resistance?
The good news is that even a small spike in carbohydrates may be all your body needs to get the leptin signals going again when you plateau. Here are some ideas:
- A Cheat Day – Do NOT read this as an “eat whatever the flip you want” day. A cheat day simply means that you elevate your calories with healthy carbohydrates by roughly 300 calories on ONE day during the week to stimulate a spike in your leptin production. It’s just enough extra calories (glucose) to remind your body that you aren’t starving. Continue to eat how you normally should for the remainder of the week.
- Fasted Workouts – If you workout in the morning, try working out on an empty stomach for a few days, but follow it up by immediately consuming about two servings of healthy carbohydrates (like oatmeal or sweet potato). Continue to eat normally for the rest of the day, and skip carbohydrates for your second or last meal if you need to make up for the extra morning calories. The rise in insulin after a workout is very effective in triggering a spike in the leptin hormone to signal your brain to burn more fat.
- Intermittent Fasting (IF) – This should be discussed with your trainer first before trying. Taking up to 24 hours to fast and then eating one carbohydrate-rich meal works similar in concept to the fasted workouts but should be used cautiously. It may not be right for everyone.
When you hit a plateau, resist the temptation to continue to reduce calories. It might seem counter-intuitive to consume more calories, but oftentimes, it’s necessary to kickstart the hormone leptin to do its job of telling your brain you have plenty and to rev up your metabolism.