Plateau Obsession

You know you’re obsessed with plateaus when you start to label them on your weight loss chart. No, really. I call my last one the “WTF Plateau” because after reviewing my records there is NOTHING that indicates why my weight loss was stalled for one month except that it happened — until 2 days ago when I dropped 4 pounds overnight. (And, no, I don’t have those female fluctuations in hormonal water retention any more.)

I have been reading about these pauses while dropping significant poundage – perusing forums, various “expert” websites, even tried searching the medical literature. Everyone seems to have the same basic answer, which I loosely interpret as: “Your guess/suggested reasoning is as good as mine.” In medicine, we call these WAGs or “Wild Ass Guesses”. If there is the faintest bit of evidence behind the proposed answer then it gets a SWAG, “Scientific Wild Ass Guess”.

I know you are holding your breath waiting to find out my discovery as to the nature of weigh-loss plateaus (I won’t bother with the ridiculous theories on how to break them – time seems to cure all):

  • The recent medical literature on weight loss plateaus all relate to post-op obesity surgery – not much help here (thanks guys & gals)
  • Plateaus are reported universally (among those writing about weight loss) and vary in length of time
  • Loss of lean body mass (muscle) before fat = decrease in metabolism. Makes for a good SWAG.
  • One can get into “starvation mode” eating too few calories and shut down metabolism – hard to buy since obesity surgery works so well so quickly and for so long
  • Your body adapts to whatever diet/exercise regimen you are on – show me some data. I want to see that obese people who are losing weight drop their metabolic rate significantly. This does happen once you reach goal and start maintaining , and I will be happy to deal with that burden once I get there.
  • Fluid retention – well, duh, ask any woman, but fluid retention for a month in a post-menopausal woman?
  • A calorie is NOT a calorie (just ask those who do low-carb eating) and getting stuck is from the relative consumption of too many carbs. Another SWAG, this one based on the thermogenic properties of macronutrients (takes more calories to burn up proteins and fats). In fact, there is evidence in healthy subjects that this is true. Does this apply for us really fat folks? Who knows – we don’t get studied much unless someone wants to operate on us.
  • Your exercise regimen is making you gain muscle mass, which weighs more than fat. DO NOT MAKE ME LAUGH. Maybe if I were losing from 130 pounds to 125 this might be the case, but losing 140 pounds, nope.
  • The scale is a sh!tty measure of weight loss efforts. I am beginning to believe this one from personal experience. Body fat percentage is probably what we are really shooting for here. The scale just cannot accurately assess body fat. Waist circumference is as close as one can come at home.

Bottom line. Weight loss as measured by a digital scale is not predictable over a prolonged period of time. Since BMI relies on weight, it also is a flawed measure.

So, why aren’t I deleting my weight loss goals and replacing them with body fat percentage? Good question.

Age-Adusted Body Fat Percentage Recommendations


Age Underfat Healthy Range Overweight Obese
20-40 yrs Under 21% 21-33% 33-39% Over 39%
41-60 yrs Under 23% 23-35% 35-40% Over 40%
61-79 yrs Under 24% 24-36% 36-42% Over 42%

Source: Gallagher et al. Am J Clin Nut 2000; 72:694-701

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2 thoughts on “Plateau Obsession

  1. I hear you completely and often find. There never seems to be a really good reason for why the body will all of a sudden lose or not-gain weight and like you pointed out, most of the reasons given are BS or don’t have data to offer as proof. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and just reaffirming how I should just forget my scale.

  2. WAGS and SWAGS – I love that! I measure once a month but weigh daily. The goal is that if the scale is not cooperating, maybe the tape measure will! Congrats on busting through that plateau:)

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