When you just started a diet, usually the pounds come off quickly, especially in the first few weeks. But what happens often, is that the weight loss stalls a bit after a while. This could have various reasons, but in this article I’d like to highlight 2 of them.
Your Basic Metabolic rate
Our body has a basic metabolic rate (BMR) which is the energy spent when the body is in rest. All of our bodily functions use energy, such as temperature regulation, heart, lungs, digestion, liver, etc. So yes, you could say that simply breathing burns calories. This BMR differs from person to person, depending on weight, height & muscle mass for example. An untrained person with a sedentary lifestyle will have a lower BMR than Dan Bailey.
This energy (or calories, rather) is the minimum requirement on a daily basis, not counting your extra activities, such as walking, doing daily chores, running, crossfit, etc.
Very often when trying to lose weight, people tend to go extremely low with their calorie intake very suddenly. Sometimes the calorie intake is even cut in half.
So how do you estimate your BMR?
There are various formulas to calculate your BMR, but there are also a lot of handy online tools to be used. Since these tools run with estimates, always leave some room for error. A more precise way to measure your BMR, is via a breath test or bodpod, but these are more costly.
Let’s take an example of a male, 32 years old, weighing 95 kilos and 1m82 tall.
According to the tool, he needs at least 2060 calories to sustain himself on a daily basis. He wants to drop some weight fast, he decided to cut his calorie intake down severely, averaging around 1200 calories a day. He also starts an exercise program, training 4 days a week at moderate intensity. On average, this will add about 400 calories on top of his BMR. This is a calorie deficit of about 1200 daily. Since half a kilo of body fat is about 3500 calories, he reckons he can drop about 10 kilos quite fast. At first, he drops weight very quickly, so that’s excellent! But all of a sudden, the weight loss stalls, sometimes even goes up a little, so what happened?
He’s not eating enough
Wait, you’ll say, “not eating enough? But isn’t weight loss achieved by eating less? Correct, but there is an easy (incorrect) assumption that the lesser you eat, to more weight you will lose. Since he’s is eating well below his BMR, all sorts of alarm bells are going off. His body is going into survival mode, since it’s not getting enough energy in to maintain all the important bodily functions. What it simply does, is slowing down those processes that usually help burning fat.
Some examples of what could be happening:
- Decrease in muscle mass
Muscle actually uses energy all the time, so the lesser you have, the less energy you need.
- Thyroid function slowing down
The thyroid basically controls the metabolism, so when it slows down, you will burn less energy.
- Lower energy levels
This is like when your body simply goes into first gear (or even stationary) it simply keeps energy levels low, to preserve as much energy as possible. You will feel less inclined to be active.
Don’t cut back on calories too extremely, estimate your BMR and expenditure through activity.
A good aim is to then cut back 300-500 calories a day.
This way, your energy levels will sustain, your body will not go into survival mode and you will burn fat.