Has this happened to you? You’re steadily losing weight on Atkins, and suddenly the scale refuses to budge or even gives you back a pound or two. This is not unusual, and there is no reason to panic. Here are five possible reasons why:
Water Weight. Did you know your body is approximately 60% water, and some tissues like muscle are more like three-fourths water? For a 200-pound guy, that means you are carrying around about 120 pounds of water. That water makes up the majority of your blood, and it gives your cells shape and a fluid medium to bathe in. Your body works hard to maintain a delicate balance of water distribution while accounting for water intake and water excretion. That system moves a couple percent up or down depending on a variety of factors (menstrual phase, fluid/electrolyte intake, exercise, etc.). If you have 120 pounds of water, a 1.5% variation is 1.8 pounds of water. So water weight could swing nearly 4 pounds between 118.2 to 121.8 pounds, depending on when you get on the scale. Keep in mind that some people are more sensitive to fluctuations in water weight than others. Also, when you exercise for the first time or do a novel form of physical activity, the muscle fibers can become swollen and inflamed, causing a temporary water imbalance. That swelling stimulates pain receptors and contributes to the delayed onset muscle soreness. It’s only a temporary soreness and swelling; when you exercise again the effects are considerably dampened. This can also affect your scale weight. That’s why we recommend weight averaging and monitoring your weight loss trajectory over several weeks or months to get an accurate weight loss picture.
Muscle vs. Fat. Which weighs more, a pound of muscle or a pound of fat? That was a trick question—of course, a pound is a pound, no matter what the substance. But fat and muscle have different densities, and therefore they vary in volume. In other words, fat takes up more space than an equal amount of muscle. That’s why two people who weigh the same can look very different depending on how much fat and muscle they have. This is also why you should evaluate your progress by inches lost, how your clothes fit, and which notch you use on your belt versus relying solely on the scale. It can also explain why weight loss might slow or stall if you start exercising on Atkins. If you add resistance training to Atkins, you might be accumulating muscle while losing body fat, which is great—but it could translate into a slower weight loss according to the scale, even as your clothes begin to fit better and you begin to reshape your body. You are losing fat and inches, since resistance training protects muscle but does not impede fat loss.
Weight Loss is Not Linear. Most physiologic processes do not proceed in a perfectly linear fashion. Rather the body tends to oscillate between rapid and slow phases or in some cases, quantum leaps. A good example is the growth spurt in teenagers experience when they may shoot up as much as 3 to 4 inches in one school year. Weight loss is no exception. Think of the adage, “two steps forward, one step back”. Notwithstanding some of the previous explanations, a weight stall could simply be your body’s natural course. In most cases, the temporary plateau will switch directions as long as you stay the course.
Is Your Goal Weight in Sight? As you get closer to your goal weight, your body starts to defend against further weight loss. If you have 50 pounds to lose, the first 30 or 40 tend to come off easier because you are further away from your body’s ideal weight. That last 10 to 20 pounds will usually take longer, and require more discipline, as your body senses its target weight is approaching. The key is to be patient and let the Atkins Edge do its thing.
Stress and the Scale. Stress plays a profound role on weight loss efforts. When you produce a lot of cortisol (the stress hormone), your body will produce more insulin to buffer the effects of cortisol. Insulin, as you know, is the fat-storing hormone and will cause you to store fat around your waist first. It will also retain sodium in your body, causing your body to retain water, which, as you learned, could account for weight gain. Instead of just relying on the scale, get a tape measure and measure your waist regularly; hopefully you are still losing inches even if the scale is slow to move. It’s also important to find a way to relieve your stress, and exercise is a great option. It will help you burn more calories, build muscle (which will increase your metabolism), and is good way to let off some steam. Just 30 minutes a day may do wonders.
Don’t Give Up; This is Part of the Process
It’s normal to lose in fits and starts. You can stay on Induction longer if you’re OK with that. You may wake up a month from now and be 5 pounds lighter, seemingly overnight. Before you get discouraged and lose your commitment to long-term healthy eating habits, understand that this occurs in any slimming-down process. Stick with the program and your weight loss will kick in again.
Remember two things: First, your body is not a machine. Nor is it a duplicate of anyone else's body. How your body responds to Atkins can’t be compared to someone else who is doing Atkins. Your body has its own system, its own agenda and it own timetable. In the long run, it nearly always responds to sensible management by the person in charge—you. Be patient.
Second, loss of pounds is not the only way to measure success, and the scale is the least reliable reflection of fat loss. Look at the other markers. Are you feeling better than you used to? Do you have the energy to do things you want to do? If so, then something is happening to your body. Do your clothes feel looser? Have you tried on those clothes that “felt a little too tight” just a few weeks ago? Continue to measure yourself regularly. If you're losing inches, the scale will eventually catch up.
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How did you get past a weight loss stall? How often do you weigh yourself and what else do you do to measure your progress? Please share your thoughts with the Atkins Community and also let me know what you’d like to hear about in the future.