Weight loss is more of a sprint than a marathon.You’d be working hard to follow a healthy, low-calorie diet only to realize after a while that the scale has stopped budging for no reason you can identify. You’ve hit a weight-loss plateau.

But don’t get discouraged. It’s normal for weight loss to slow and even stall. This all goes down to an evolutionary survival strategy encoded in our bodies to prevent starvation known as “Metabolic Adaptation”. Here’s the science behind that innate response and how you can overcome it to maintain the weight you’ve lost.

  • Those initial kilos were just water

When you diet, your body starts dipping into the stores of energy you’ve built up over time. The first to go? Glycogen.

Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in the body. The glycogen in your body is bound to water, and so, when you’re burning glycogen for fuel, the body also releases the water bound to it, which is why you might experience a major drop in weight during your first week of dieting. This is what is often referred to as “water weight”.

  • Your metabolism goes into slow motion mode 

To the body there is little differentiation between responding to famine or to dieting. In either case, the body will start naturally burning less energy to compensate. How?

First, your metabolism will start to move in slow-motion and a full-fledged hormonal response takes place – This involves dips in the levels of thyroid hormone, insulin, testosterone, and leptin (which signals your brain when you’re full), and spikes in the levels of ghrelin (hunger hormone) and cortisol (stress hormone).

Your body will simply go to any length at this point to conserve the little calories you’re having and push you to seek more food!

When you’re not eating enough, your body will also work tricks on you to make exercise a lot less appealing  – this is by increasing the levels of fatigue and weakness, both of which encourage rest and the conservation of energy.

  • Your brain also wants you to cheat

Human evolution has a funny way of always steering our instincts and physiology towards survival. And hunger is no different – if you haven’t had enough food or have started dieting, your brain will respond by upping your hunger, making those doughnuts in the office kitchenette even more appealing, and will ensure that this craving is impossible to ignore.

Research actually shows that there are changes in your brain after you lose some weight through which food would have a greater reward value. The neural circuitry that’s involved in food restraint becomes less active in the brain, so you would have to eat more to reach satiation, and you would be less aware of how much you’ve actually eaten.

You can also blame this on two hormones:

1) Leptin – known as the satiety hormone, which is secreted by fat cells and helps tell the brain when you’re full.

2) Ghrelin – known as the hunger hormone, which comes from the stomach and tells the brain that it’s time to refuel.

As you eat less calories and lose weight, your body produces less leptin and more ghrelin which decreases your satisfaction after meals, increases your appetite, and makes you feel intensely hungry.

  • Muscle stop burning as much as they used to

If you think that there isn’t more to say to prove that your body will do whatever it takes to maintain its weight – think again.

Another element that contributes to a weight loss plateau is the loss of muscle mass while losing weight, which further decreases your ability to burn calories. Furthermore, a caloric deficit makes it hard for your body to build muscle back up again. Muscle building, an anabolic process, relies on insulin. Low food intake can limit insulin secretion along with other anabolic processes all throughout the body.

But how do I get past the weight loss plateau?

Weight loss plateau is completely normal even if it’s unwelcome.

  • Try intermittent fasting
  • Get enough sleep
  • Have a diet rich in lean protein
  • Increase muscle mass 
  • Focus on mindfulness and mindful eating
  • Slow & steady wins the race
  • Speak to a Valeo Health Coach