What you are about to read is my quest for understanding of why stalls happen. While most of this topic will be referring to the Atkins Diet. that I have been on, it is still relevant to anybody on any diet. When I first started Atkins, I was quite successful, I lost 70 lbs the first 8 months on the plan, but then the weight loss stalled for the next 8 months. During this time I didn’t lose any weight, and would go up and down the same 5 lbs. This became very frustrating, and I was on the verge of quitting. However, I was lucky, I had the Atkins forum members, my support system, who refused to let me quit. In addition, Colette Heimowitz, Atkins nutritionist, helped save me from myself. She helped me come up with a plan, tweak my program, and explained to me about stalls, plateaus, and set points. With her guidance, I was soon losing again, but I wasn’t satisfied with knowing how to make changes, I wanted to know why stalls happen. Thus, the journey began. I spent several weeks pouring through books, and countless web pages on this subject; the problem was I could never find a definitive answer in one place. Therefore, I had to piece the puzzle together, and as I did, I gained a clearer understanding about why the body eventually refuses to let the weight go, and how to get things moving again. This puzzle is by no means complete; there are numerous medical reasons for a weight loss stall that I won’t be going into. Instead, I will be focusing on how set points affect us mentally and physically. In addition, I’ll be talking about the importance of knowing your Basal Metabolic Rate, (BMR), and the role these numbers play in helping reach your goals. Also, I’ll be talking a lot about starvation mode on the body, and why eating less is not always the right solution when it comes to losing weight. In addition, I’ll show how hunger and compensatory behaviors sabotage our diet. Finally, I’ll provide 25 tips and strategies that I used to help break my stall.
Before I begin the thread posted on the Atkins forum, I want to define an official stall, or plateau. According to the book, The New Atkins For A New You, “the definition of a plateau is when you lose nothing—nadda—despite doing everything right, for at least four weeks.” In addition, you are only officially stalled if:
- You haven’t altered your exercise regimen or made any other significant lifestyle
- You’re not taking any new medications (including hormone therapy) that may be interfering with weight loss.
- You can honestly say you’ve adhered to all aspects of the program.
- Your clothes are not fitting looser, and have not lost inches.
I met all these criteria and was way beyond officially stalled—I was going for a record. This is where my thread on the Atkins forum begins.
Why do stalls happen? I could give a simple answer, but as many of you know that’s not my style. In studying why stalls happen I’ve been doing a lot of research on set points, starvation mode, ketosis, hunger, and the causes of cravings, as well as compensatory behaviors, and thought I’d share some of my findings with those who are interested. What I’ve decided to do is a kind of thinking aloud, letting you in to the inner workings of my thought processes. (I know, scary)
Before I begin, I would like to say, most people don’t need to worry about this information on Atkins. Atkins is set up as an easy program to follow, but for those who struggle, or just want some more information on why stalls happen they might find this information useful.
My Atkins journey started on January 2, 2009. Things went great for the first 8 months; I lost 70 lbs, and then nothing the next 8 months, with no loss in weight or inches, meeting all the criteria of an official plateau. What bothered me was I knew I was in ketosis, but I wasn’t losing weight. And taking into consideration that I was eating the same food toward the end of my program as I was in the beginning, I should have been. Or so I thought.
So, I asked myself, how can a person be in ketosis, and still not lose weight? To understand this I needed to understand what ketosis is.
The food we eat provides the fuel used by our bodies for everyday activities; it also provides the raw materials to help replenish the body. The three main types of fuel for the body are carbohydrates, fats, and protein. (I’m leaving out Alcohol here intentionally, which when consumed becomes the bodies fuel of choice). Typically, carbohydrates, the body’s first fuel of choice, and are used within a few hours of eating; when the engine is running on low, the body sends out hunger signals to replenish our energy stores every few hours. They are converted to glucose, stored in the cell walls, and are drawn upon when energy needs demand them. If not used they’re turned to fat. Fat’s primary role is to store energy, and when our primary source of fuel runs out, (carbs), our body turns to this stored energy for fuel. The third fuel, protein, is primarily used to build and replenish body materials, such as our organs, tissues, and muscles. On Atkins, our job is to deplete the body’s first fuel, carbs/glycogen, and turn our body’s into fat burning machines, either using stored fat, or dietary fat as fuel. This is a ketogenic state, also called, ketosis.
According to Sugarbane, Low Carb Living for Life, “In the absence of substantial carbohydrates your body will burn any fat you digest before it touches your body fat. So if you are eating a moderate to high fat diet (even if it is still low carb) then you are going to test positive for ketosis.” However, the New Atkins book says that we are not using either or, but rather a blend of dietary fat and stored fat. But if you are not losing weight after a long period, it is obvious you are not burning more stored fat than you are putting back into the body. Thus, you are technically in ketosis, but it’s not from using your body’s fat. The Truth about ketosis is: The only thing ketosis really tells you is that you aren’t taking in too many carbs. Thus, you could turn ketones testing strip all shades of purple, but they will not tell you if you are doing Atkins correctly, losing stored fat, or whether or not you are losing weight. They can only tell you that your body is using fat for fuel instead of carbs/glycogen.
Note: A ketogenic diet gets 80 percent of its calories from fat. However, some of our energy does come from protein and the cannibalization of our muscles. As we cannibalize our muscles, we can also repair those muscles through adequate protein intake. Add in a little exercise and there will be no significant muscle loss on the Atkins diet, as with other diets.
So, back to the original question, how can you be in ketosis and not lose weight? The answer is obvious, if you don’t have carbs/glycogen in your system, and your body is burning fat for fuel in the form of dietary fat, or stored fat, you are in ketosis. This explained how I could be in ketosis, and not tap into stored fat, but didn’t explain why I was no longer losing weight.
Note: Restricting your carb intake further than needed to past the point of ketosis is not going to do much good. When you restrict those few precious carbs that you are getting, you’re taking away vital nutrients. If you go down 5 net carbs, and are eating 50 fewer calories, those calories are not going to make magically put you deeper into ketosis and get you more weight loss. The only reason to go down in carbs is if you are metabolically resistant, or you suspect you are not in ketosis.
After defining a plateau, and discovering the truth about ketosis, I soon found out how dieting destroyed my Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
This is where I will pick up in the next chapter.