Whether you call them stalls or plateaus or some other name involving a string of profanities that might embarrass a salty Navy Chief, stalls are natural. They are also frustrating, but you can’t make progress without them. When you hit a stall, you’re experiencing your body’s search for equilibrium.
Let’s back up a second
What is a stall? Well, typically, people call a stall any period of time where they don’t see the number on the scale get any lower. While, personally, I don’t like that measure, it’s the most common. The more important thing to consider, when assessing progress, is how loose your clothes are. If your clothes are continuing to get loose and the scale number isn’t moving…that’s not a stall. That’s just more proof that the scale isn’t useful as a tool for progress. However, if your clothes are not getting looser, and you’re continuing to eat ketogenically, then you are experiencing a stall.
One further exception is someone who has achieved successful fat loss and no longer has any need to lose more. That’s maintenance mode, not a stall.
How to break the stall
It’s important to remember this: You might not be able to break the stall. That’s just a potentially frustrating fact of life. Some people will achieve a level of equilibrium or homeostasis and that’s that; their body has regulated itself to the best of its genetic ability and nothing will coax it any more. Now, having said that, that’s a rare situation. The vast majority of people have plenty of options for breaking through a stall.
- Drink more water
- Get more sleep
Water has a way of fixing a lot of things, so long as you keep it out of your lungs. Water in your lungs is never a good idea. But, otherwise, drinking water has a tendency to help resolve a lot of issues. You’ve probably heard it said that your body is made up something like 75% water. So it would make sense that maintaining your hydration would be key in having your body function at an optimal level. When you eat a high-fat diet, your body won’t hold onto water like it does when you eat high-carb. That’s because your body doesn’t NEED to hold onto water when you eat high fat. Your body operates more efficiently when you remove the processed and simple carbs, so you’ll be moving more water through your system. So it’s important to stay hydrated.
Lack of sleep is one of the most common and least addressed culprits for not losing enough fat quickly. Getting the necessary 7-8 hours of sleep EVERY NIGHT will help. Getting adequate sleep stabilizes your leptin and ghrelin levels. Leptin is your “I’m full” hormone. Not getting enough sleep causes your body to produce less of it. Ghrelin is your “I’m hungry” hormone. Not getting enough sleep causes your body to produce more of it. This hormonal imbalance leads to bad eating habits, and can be the cause of your stall. Getting adequate sleep will help balance these hormones and several other stress hormones, and you’ll break that stall in no time.
If you’ve got your food dialed in, you can kickstart your fat loss by getting your move on. But you have to be smart about your exercise. There are three kinds of exercise that you should include: HIIT, LIA, and LHS.
- HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training
- LIA: Low Intensity Aerobic
- LHS: Lifting Heavy Stuff
This is also known as the precursor to puking. If you do it right, you’ll certainly want to puke. HIIT exercises involve going all out, pushing yourself as hard as you possibly can for a brief interval and resting for an even more brief period. For example, sprinting (NOT on a treadmill) for 20 seconds and resting for 10 seconds. That would make up one interval, doing eight of those will make you question your sanity, but it will also blast the fat away. You don’t have to sprint, you can do bodyweight exercises, bike (stationary or road), or any number of other exercises…but I do not advise doing HIIT with weights. If you did the math, you realize that a full HIIT session takes about 4 minutes. Do that 3-4 times per week and you’ll see results pretty fast.
Think of this as the opposite of HIIT. Low-intensity exercises are things like walking, jogging, or leisurely biking. The basic rule of thumb is that you should be able to carry on a conversation while engaging in the exercise…with someone else. Screaming at yourself, inside your own head, for exercising isn’t the right kind of conversation. The catch to this is that you must do it for a minimum of 45 minutes. 60 to 90 minutes is actually preferable. Do this 2-3 times a week.
The single most important method of exercise is lifting heavy stuff. Weights, tires, cars, whatever; you find some of the heaviest weight you can find, move it, and repeat. The idea is to move the heavy stuff as much as possible, but that won’t be much, because it’s hard to move heavy stuff. You’ll lift heavy stuff, and you’ll do it for low reps. If you can repeat a particular lift more that 12 times, it’s too light. If you can’t do it more than 3 times, it’s probably too heavy. But LHS will make you very strong, very fast and you’ll definitely see results fast. No, you won’t become a swollen mass of hulking vein-covered muscle. The excuse of “I don’t want to get all huge” is a ridiculous and ignorant. You won’t. But lifting heavy things will improve your overall physical and mental health.
Increasing your fat intake will do a lot to kickstart your hormones into fat burning mode. It’s possible that you are stalling because you are not in proper fat-burning mode. Increasing your fat intake will improve your chances for full-blown ketosis and continue to train your body to burn fat.
One of the most controversial topics in ketogenic circles is the effect of protein on ketosis. Data seems to suggest that a higher level of protein will kick you out of ketosis as your body will convert protein into glucose. Protein also has an up-regulating effect on insulin, not nearly as bad as carbs, but certainly worse than fat. Decreasing your protein intake can potentially mitigate some of these things. And, don’t worry, decreasing your protein will not cause your body to start eating its own muscle.
Stress is huge factor in stalls. If you experience stress at work, at home, or due to prolonged exercise, you’re likely to stall in your progress. You stall because you are constantly releasing stress hormones, which will prevent your body from losing fat. It will also increase your likelihood for illness, so that’s a double whammy. One of the ways you can decrease stress is by daily meditation, yoga, or a hobby that you enjoy. This fits perfectly with the ketogenic lifestyle because it allows you to get the most out of life. So, if you enjoy riding horses, gardening, cooking, or whatever, then engage in those activities. But don’t force the issue. You’re looking to decrease stress, not create an millstone around your neck.
This is almost counterintuitive, but for some people, increasing their good carb intake (good veggies) will help start to burn fat more. If all else fails, try this one.
I happen to be in a stall right now that has lasted for a couple of months. I have lost weight, and my clothes are looser, but I know I’m not where I want to be, so I’m beginning to incorporate HIIT and LHS. I’m also adjusting fat and protein. It’s a journey, and I’m in it for the long haul.
I’ll let you know how it goes.