Dieters often become “frustrated” … because they think that if they maintain their lower-calorie ways, the pounds should continue to fall off. “This appears not to happen … even when weight-loss interventions are continued.”
This quote from dietician Marion J. Franz is part of a recent report published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Franz and colleagues analyzed 80 weight-loss studies to determine which of calorie-cutting, exercise, or a combination of the two are most effective for weight loss. In trials that used calorie-cutting alone and in those that added exercise, weight loss typically hit a plateau after six months.
I first read about these strange results on CrankyFitness, and like Crabby McSlacker, the results made my brows furrow. What’s the deal with plateaus anyway? If weight loss is a simple matter of maintaining a deficit, then shouldn’t maintaining a consistent calorie deficit yield continued weight loss?
After engaging in a bit of Excel brain crack, I’ve come to this conclusion: plateaus are a reality of weight loss because the less you weigh, the fewer calories you burn, and the harder it is to maintain a deficit.
Take a 60 kilo version of myself, a 5’1 female who’d like to shed a few pounds. At 60 kgs, I burn about 2000 Calories  just by doing usual life stuff. I cut my calories down to 1800 per day and get my weight down to 55 kgs. Since I weight less, my daily calorie need is going to be lower, about 1860 calories. So now the 200 calorie deficit I started with is only a 60 calorie deficit. Hence, I’m losing less weight every day.
So how to get around this? Here’s a diet I’d like to test:
- Decide your goal weight
- Determine how many Calories you’d burn each day at that goal weight
- Restrict your Calories to those calculated in step 2.
- Do some exercise
When you eventually get to your ideal weight, you’ll already be eating what’s necessary for ‘maintenance mode’, so even if you ease up on the exercise, you won’t put the weight back on.
I tried this for my 60kg self with a goal weight of 50kgs. I’d need about 1800 Calories per day to maintain that weight. So if I restricted myself to 1800 Calories and exercised for 60 minutes per day, I’d hit 50kgs on day 283.
So why don’t more people do this?
Link to Reuters article (via CrankyFitness)
 This value is based on the Harris Benedict Equations for Total Energy Expenditure for a 28 year old, 60kg, lightly active female.