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TOPIC: what is a plateau, and does it really exist?

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February 11, 2013 7:25 AM
I'm not sure I buy into the whole notion of plateaus. I generally think they happen for 1 of 2 reasons:
1) people get lazy, either with their diet or with their exercise. Eating gets sloppy, workouts get soft.
2) people don't change their diet/workouts as their ability/weight/goals change.

If you're eating and working out based on your current goals/fitness level, why would you plateau?

Agree? Disagree? Why?
February 11, 2013 7:28 AM
Genetics? Some peoples genetics only allow them to go so far.

Plus a mixture of your points 1 & 2.
February 11, 2013 7:30 AM
QUOTE:

1) people get lazy, either with their diet or with their exercise. Eating gets sloppy, workouts get soft.
2) people don't change their diet/workouts as their ability/weight/goals change.


Generally agree, but there are a bunch more variables then the generalizations.. But either way, they do exist, and most people hit them.. its just how long do you stay in it before you change or refocus your goals.
February 11, 2013 7:36 AM
AGREE AND DISAGREE

"Stall out" does occur.

Best thing to do if for a 2-3 week period of no change in %BF, measurements, scale, etc.....

Don't workout and eat horribly bad for a couple of days....eat the whole freaking pizza, eat the ice cream (full fat baby) the good stuff

Then after Day 2 get back on track....It's like rebooting your body....

"Nutrition is a diet........Nutrition with exercise is a LIFESTYLE"
  36608635
February 11, 2013 7:41 AM
agree whole heartily - its part of the process though if you have lots of weight to lose....
  19250360
February 11, 2013 7:51 AM
QUOTE:

2) people don't change their diet/workouts as their ability/weight/goals change.


I'm on a plateau(ish) now and I kinda agree w/ #2. I have been busting my ass and I'm kind of stuck because my routine isn't working for me. I am actively changing it cuz I need to smash this next 50 asap... but recognizing that the plateau is kinda self-created is half the battle. I'm too conditioned to the workouts I do now (good problem?!?)... time to change it up! I'm adding a lot of strength training w/ the thought that building muscles will burn more cals. At least I think thats how it works.


Edit*** Yes they exist, No they are not mysterious or unavoidable
Edited by KristenE83 On February 11, 2013 7:54 AM
  29765980
February 11, 2013 7:55 AM
QUOTE:

I'm too conditioned to the workouts I do now


Does this really happen though? As I get "better" at something (either stronger with my lifting, faster with my running, etc) I push myself harder (I lift heavier, I run faster/longer, etc) and have never noticed my body get too conditioned.

Do they get conditioned to the workout, or conditioned to the intensity of the workout?
Edited by jacksonpt On February 11, 2013 7:55 AM
February 11, 2013 7:56 AM
QUOTE:

"Stall out" does occur.


why?
February 11, 2013 7:56 AM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

1) people get lazy, either with their diet or with their exercise. Eating gets sloppy, workouts get soft.
2) people don't change their diet/workouts as their ability/weight/goals change.


Generally agree, but there are a bunch more variables then the generalizations.. But either way, they do exist, and most people hit them.. its just how long do you stay in it before you change or refocus your goals.


Care to elaborate?
February 11, 2013 7:56 AM
What do you define as a plateau?
February 11, 2013 7:57 AM
QUOTE:

What do you define as a plateau?


That's part of my question. Seems like most people talk about them as a fairly sudden but somewhat prolonged lack of results/progress.
February 11, 2013 8:00 AM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

What do you define as a plateau?


That's part of my question. Seems like most people talk about them as a fairly sudden but somewhat prolonged lack of results/progress.


Let me rephrase: What metric are you using? Losing weight? Gaining LBM? Gaining Weight? Lifts going up?
February 11, 2013 8:04 AM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

What do you define as a plateau?


That's part of my question. Seems like most people talk about them as a fairly sudden but somewhat prolonged lack of results/progress.


Let me rephrase: What metric are you using? Losing weight? Gaining LBM? Gaining Weight? Lifts going up?


Seems like most people use the term with respect to weight loss, which is what spurred the post. IMO, strength related plateaus are more plausible as strength and mass are linked, and at some point you'll hit a ceiling with one if you're not also progressing in the other. At least in theory... not sure how that works out in the real world though.
February 11, 2013 8:06 AM
I think we are all just over-lawyering this. you can define "plateau" to be either real or un-real, so I think this is just semantics. do people stop losing weight (stop making advances)? yes. Is there a reason for it? yes, and the answer is usually some component of not pushing yourself hard enough (in line w/ your current fitness level) or getting lazy. I think the one thing that this question may actually have some use is the concept of a "set point" - ie/ is there a level (or levels) where it becomes hard if not impossible to get beyond. the answer is - who knows? the science is out.
  19250360
February 11, 2013 8:09 AM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

What do you define as a plateau?


That's part of my question. Seems like most people talk about them as a fairly sudden but somewhat prolonged lack of results/progress.


Let me rephrase: What metric are you using? Losing weight? Gaining LBM? Gaining Weight? Lifts going up?


Seems like most people use the term with respect to weight loss, which is what spurred the post. IMO, strength related plateaus are more plausible as strength and mass are linked, and at some point you'll hit a ceiling with one if you're not also progressing in the other. At least in theory... not sure how that works out in the real world though.


Well in the general context of obese or overweight I would say that yes plateaus exist if we define plateau as "not making any progress".

I think they exist mostly out of user error and I think they happen due to failure to maintain an energy deficit. My belief is that this failure comes from intake errors and adaptive thermogenesis. Hormones obviously play a role here but you can always create an energy deficit even if metabolic downregulation occurs. Impatience, lack of adherence, failure to take diet breaks at reasonable intervals, downregulation of NEAT, all kinds of things working against prolonged weightloss.

So I'd say yes they exist, but not in the context that people usually think. They usually think "I just can't lose weight and I'm doing everything right".
Edited by SideSteel On February 11, 2013 8:09 AM
February 11, 2013 8:09 AM
my take on plateaus:

1) If you are really eating at a deficit, they don't STOP weight loss, they slow it. It is your body's way of conserving energy to make the most of your intake, but your body can't overcome thermodynamics and magically produce energy.

2) Most people on here think they are plateaued because they aren't taking good enough measurements over a long enough period of time to tell the difference.

3) If you are eating at a small deficit and manage to slow your metabolism enough, you CAN stop weight loss, but only because you aren't eating at a deficit anymore. IE - typical TDEE = 2000 cal; losing weight at a 125 calorie deficit; manage to slow metabolism by 125 calories; new deficit = 0 = maintaining weight.

4) People tend to no recalculate their BMR often enough, which can cause a perceived plateau because you don't need as many calories now.

5) No plateau can't be broken by reducing calories again.

6) eating more to lose weight works in some cases, but is abused considerably on this site.
  11058666
February 11, 2013 8:10 AM
QUOTE:

my take on plateaus:

1) If you are really eating at a deficit, they don't STOP weight loss, they slow it. It is your body's way of conserving energy to make the most of your intake, but your body can't overcome thermodynamics and magically produce energy.

2) Most people on here think they are plateaued because they aren't taking good enough measurements over a long enough period of time to tell the difference.

3) If you are eating at a small deficit and manage to slow your metabolism enough, you CAN stop weight loss, but only because you aren't eating at a deficit anymore. IE - typical TDEE = 2000 cal; losing weight at a 125 calorie deficit; manage to slow metabolism by 125 calories; new deficit = 0 = maintaining weight.

4) People tend to no recalculate their BMR often enough, which can cause a perceived plateau because you don't need as many calories now.

5) No plateau can't be broken by reducing calories again.

6) eating more to lose weight works in some cases, but is abused considerably on this site.


^ And I agree with all of this
February 11, 2013 8:11 AM
I agree with you! I think that plateaus do happen pretty much for the reasons you listed. I think there can be additional factors such as water retention (for short term plateaus) and sometimes, I think that people don't see their weight move for a short period of time (or it's slower than they want) so they end up tracking but they aren't being as careful as they used to be. So in reality, calories are underestimated by a lot (most articles cite 30% as a figure) and of course, they are pretty much eating at their maintenance calories even though they are tracking within their goal.

I read an article once (I think on Mayo clinic but I'm not positive) and a doctor was quoted saying that he had people who came to him saying that they weren't losing weight even though they were only eating 1200 cal a day. He said that as soon as you put those people in a room and start feeding them 1200 calories, they immediately started losing weight. Part of it was underestimating calorie intake and part was estimating calorie output.

I've seen so many posts on here saying that people's weight loss will stall out if they eat below their BMR or don't eat enough but that simply is not scientifically accurate. Scientific study has shown again and again that if you aren't losing weight it is because calories in = calories out and are not less. [Though again if it is a short term plateau, it could easily be water retention due to any number of causes including TOM or muscle repair etc...]
  35761138
February 11, 2013 8:11 AM
QUOTE:

If you're eating and working out based on your current goals/fitness level, why would you plateau?

Agree? Disagree? Why?


I think that is the key right there. It seems to me that a lot of people set calorie goals at xxxx calories per day...and then shoot drastically below those goals by either not eating enough in general or doing butt loads of cardio to make a bigger deficit. Thus, they aren't really achieving their goals and these are the people that seem to have plateau issues.

Also, it seems that when you eat at a deficit...even if it's a relatively modest one, for some length of time, your body just adjusts to that caloric intake. I don't know if it really matters, but I take a diet break every 6-8 weeks and eat to right around maintenance for a week. I haven't plateaued yet, but I'm can't say definitively if that is the reason or not.
February 11, 2013 8:18 AM
1) people get lazy, either with their diet or with their exercise. Eating gets sloppy, workouts get soft.
2) people don't change their diet/workouts as their ability/weight/goals change.

If you're eating and working out based on your current goals/fitness level, why would you plateau?

Agree? Disagree? Why?

There are certainly exceptions to the two conditions that you outlined. For instance, research has shown that diabetics tend to stall after losing 5 to 10% of their body weight and some have an exceedingly difficult time getting beyond that.
  33895686
February 11, 2013 8:21 AM
QUOTE:

1) people get lazy, either with their diet or with their exercise. Eating gets sloppy, workouts get soft.
2) people don't change their diet/workouts as their ability/weight/goals change.

If you're eating and working out based on your current goals/fitness level, why would you plateau?

Agree? Disagree? Why?

There are certainly exceptions to the two conditions that you outlined. For instance, research has shown that diabetics tend to stall after losing 5 to 10% of their body weight and some have an exceedingly difficult time getting beyond that.


One of the most fit people I have ever known was diabetic...
  11058666
February 11, 2013 8:22 AM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

QUOTE:

What do you define as a plateau?


That's part of my question. Seems like most people talk about them as a fairly sudden but somewhat prolonged lack of results/progress.


Let me rephrase: What metric are you using? Losing weight? Gaining LBM? Gaining Weight? Lifts going up?


Seems like most people use the term with respect to weight loss, which is what spurred the post. IMO, strength related plateaus are more plausible as strength and mass are linked, and at some point you'll hit a ceiling with one if you're not also progressing in the other. At least in theory... not sure how that works out in the real world though.


Well in the general context of obese or overweight I would say that yes plateaus exist if we define plateau as "not making any progress".

I think they exist mostly out of user error and I think they happen due to failure to maintain an energy deficit. My belief is that this failure comes from intake errors and adaptive thermogenesis. Hormones obviously play a role here but you can always create an energy deficit even if metabolic downregulation occurs. Impatience, lack of adherence, failure to take diet breaks at reasonable intervals, downregulation of NEAT, all kinds of things working against prolonged weightloss.

So I'd say yes they exist, but not in the context that people usually think. They usually think "I just can't lose weight and I'm doing everything right".


Good stuff, thanks.
February 11, 2013 8:23 AM
QUOTE:

my take on plateaus:

1) If you are really eating at a deficit, they don't STOP weight loss, they slow it. It is your body's way of conserving energy to make the most of your intake, but your body can't overcome thermodynamics and magically produce energy.

2) Most people on here think they are plateaued because they aren't taking good enough measurements over a long enough period of time to tell the difference.

3) If you are eating at a small deficit and manage to slow your metabolism enough, you CAN stop weight loss, but only because you aren't eating at a deficit anymore. IE - typical TDEE = 2000 cal; losing weight at a 125 calorie deficit; manage to slow metabolism by 125 calories; new deficit = 0 = maintaining weight.

4) People tend to no recalculate their BMR often enough, which can cause a perceived plateau because you don't need as many calories now.

5) No plateau can't be broken by reducing calories again.

6) eating more to lose weight works in some cases, but is abused considerably on this site.


Exactly my thoughts... though way better said than I could ever do.
February 11, 2013 8:28 AM
QUOTE:

QUOTE:

I'm too conditioned to the workouts I do now


Does this really happen though? As I get "better" at something (either stronger with my lifting, faster with my running, etc) I push myself harder (I lift heavier, I run faster/longer, etc) and have never noticed my body get too conditioned.

Do they get conditioned to the workout, or conditioned to the intensity of the workout?


I think you get conditioned yo the workout. My weight loss has currently stalled. I increased my sprint speed from 7mph to 9mph and reduced the rest intervals for HIIT. There is a HUGE gain in body's ability to run faster but the faster sprint's aren't helping with weight loss.

Weight loss is dependent on so many factors in addition to calories in and calories out. For women especially hormonal changes are also added to the mix of factors. I notice that for me a regular sleep cycle is necessary to boost my weight loss.
February 11, 2013 8:40 AM
I see a plateau in two ways:

- in terms of weight loss, when despite significant efforts, and above target weight, no more weight loss is achieved.
This occurs sometimes due to changes in metabolism as weight is lost - due to the effects of metabolic adaptation due to lost weight but also long-term hormonal repsonse to calorie restriction. These plateaus can be also caused by underlying medical conditions hypothyroidism, T3-T4 feedback changes without thyroid disfunction, calcitonin activity, PCOS, etc... in some individuals, even high levels of cardio (4000+ weeks) do not "break through" and more severe calorie restriction can even lead to psychological response of binging, depression, etc.. Given that BMR variances for a persons with the same LBM are reported to be as high as 30% and even can significantly vary for the same individual - this isn't putting to question the old "calories in - calories out" paradigm just that a variety of factors affect true BMR level and the tools to estimate these are crude.

In terms of time, if you aren't changing at all after 3-4 weeks (and your plan is loss), I think it's fair to consider that what you are doing is not working.

tl;dr - it's a plateau after a month.

- exercise plateaus, in terms of specific training, no advancement is made in strength, performance, etc until an undetermined element is adjusted. Performance plateaus and breakthrough training or adjustments exist. But I guess we are not talking about that.
Edited by EvgeniZyntx On February 11, 2013 8:42 AM
  26854327

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