The Healthy Executive

Weight Loss Plateau: How To Break Through

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Reading time: 3.0 minutes (1800 words @ 600 wpm[1])

You eat right and try to stay active, but sometimes you just don’t see any results. Your scales are stuck.

That’s the situation I found myself in this month. I coach health online but after 12 weeks of weight loss progress I hit a plateau and my scales wouldn’t budge.

Frustrating!! Right?

Fear not.

The good news is I experimented with an effective solution for busting through a weight loss plateau.

Let me show you how.

Why Do Plateaus Occur?

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A primary reason behind stalled weight loss is metabolic adaption.[2]

Your body simply gets used to your current nutrition and activity levels then your metabolism slows down creating a new equilibrium.

So how do you break through the plateau?

I performed extensive research of current medical research as well as carefully examined real-world results backed up by solid evidence. I saw a lot of evidence and research that showed that ketogenic nutrition (aka Keto) was effective for breaking through weight loss plateaus. You can read the full details here on my Keto research and rationale, and preparation.

I decided to experiment with Keto firsthand and publish my experience and results.

An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory.

Psychology And Feelings

my health pyschologyI’ve written how the health and fitness industry is broken by myopically focusing only on nutrition and exercise. But real people operate in the real world, juggling both careers and families. So we deal with a lot of things in addition to our health.

Career and family commitments demand a lot from us. In my case this resulted in my body becoming unfit and overweight.

In addition to our bodily health, with also fight a health battle in our minds. I’ve detailed how I lapsed into toxic health psychology and how I battled to establish good health psychology.

My point is this: Our commitments, psychology, and feelings affect our health, and in turn our health affects our energy and how we think and feel.

With that in mind, here is my real world experience with ketogenic nutrition:

  • Productivity: My overall productivity on Keto is consistently high. I noticed fewer sugar “rushes and crashes”. Result: my motivation and enthusiasm stays higher for longer periods of time.
  • Energy: After I adapted to Keto I found my day-time energy shifted significantly. It became more even and consistent, and as a result I felt more calm and centered.
  • Sleep: When I am Keto I find that I fall asleep easier and wake up more lucid. My nighttime sleep seems deeper and more refreshing. I don’t wake up tired. I also wake up far less in the middle of the night (carbs hold and release water, leading to more frequent urination).image
  • Emotional: For reasons unbeknownst to me, a very close friendship imploded. Normally I would get stressed or depressed about this kind of thing. But I felt pretty emotionally balanced about it, and in some measure I think Keto helped me keep a calm and objective perspective.
  • Low Carb “Flu”: When following a low carbohydrate diet, for the first few days, there is an adaptation period during which most people report feeling run-down or tired. Some people report feeling irritable, out of sorts, and unable to make decisions. For most people these feelings disappear after the adaptation period.
    • Temperature Fluctuations: During my initial Keto adaptation I noticed my body temperature fluctuated hot and cold for about one day. From what
      I’ve researched, these fluctuations are related to thyroid hormone adaptations.
    • This Too Shall Pass: Based on my experience and observations, I would estimate that 85% of my adaptation occurred during my first week of Keto, and the remaining 15% the second week. From the third week on, switching in and out of Keto became effortless.

Healthy Executive Schedule

Here is the schedule I designed for my Ketogenic experiment. This schedule  deliberately takes into account real-world factors as I explain below.

DayNutrition Activity
Mondayultra-low carbs (<30g)rest day
Tuesdayultra-low carbs (<30g)rest day
Wednesday ultra-low carbs (<30g)rest day
Thursdayultra-low carbs (<30g)interval training
(12 minutes)
Fridayrefeed (carbs >300g)rest day
Saturday ultra-low carbs (<30g)strength training
(12 minutes)
Sundayultra-low carbs (<30g)cardio
(2 hours moderate
OR 1 hour intense)
  • Career: In this schedule I keep the workweek prioritized. Monday-Friday are kept very simple and streamlined in terms of nutrition and exercise.
  • Motivation: Who doesn’t like to reward themselves after a long hard week at work? I placed the carb refeed on Friday evening as something to look forward to.
  • Social: The reality is we like to eat out and drink with friends, so I aligned the carb refeed on Friday with this in mind.
  • Family: We spend weekends with our family. So I put just a 12-minute exercise segment on Saturday. On Sunday grab the dog and go for walk, take the kids for on a bike ride, or go run around the park.
  • Strength Preservation: The best time to do strength training or cardio is when muscles are topped off with energy and can perform strongly. The Friday carb refeed creates maximum muscular energy  (glycogen replenishment), so strength and cardio are timed on Saturday and Sunday to take advantage of this.
  • Hormone Timing: Strength training and cardio both deplete glycogen and help promote ketogenesis (fat-burning) faster. Cortisol levels begin to rise 2–3 days after a carb refeed, and may impact lean body mass through protein catabolism. To prevent catabolsim and keep strength gains, I designed rest days to fall on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Interval training on Thursday “primes” the body to get full effect from the Friday carb refeed.

Healthy Executive Nutrition

  • imagePrincipal Idea: Switch the bodys energy source from burning glucose (sugar from carbs) to burning ketones (fat).
  • Practical Implementation: Modify nutrition to switch caloric energy from carbohydrates foods to fats. In effect this is an ultra-low carb high-fat diet.
  • Keto macronutrients: 
    • 60–75% of calories from fat
    • 15–30% calories from protein
    • 5–10% calories from carbs (30g max).

Shop And Stock Keto Foods

imagePreparation is the “heart” of Keto success and does entail a one-time learning curve. But I found it pretty easy with some practice reading labels. Meats, eggs, cheeses, and leafy greens are the core foods. And I learned how to “pair” high-fat with high-protein foods for meals (such as eggs or shrimp cooked in coconut oil).

  • My Keto shopping list includes: Eggs, Bacon, Chicken, Turkey, Salmon, Shrimp, Cottage Cheese, Hard Cheeses, Nuts and Seeds, Coconut Oil, and Psyllium Fiber.
  • Portable Keto options are very handy when learning the diet or when you travel. In my backpack I always carry individual-sized protein shakes, nuts, jerky, and cheese sticks.
  • Leverage the wisdom of crowds: I routinely google “keto recipe ingredient” or “keto store name” or “keto restaurant name”. Within seconds I get great answers from others who have figured best Keto options for a particular situation (often on Reddit).
  • Learn how to prepare for the Ketogenic diet including the scientific rationale.
  • My exact Keto nutrition is logged meal-by-meal in my nutrition diary.

I analyzed my daily nutrition logs and crunched the numbers for for my 4.5 week Keto experiment. Here is what my macronutrients looked like:

MacronutrientLow Carb DayCarb Refeed Day
Calories (kcal)1,674 3,395
Net Carbs (g) [^1]28296
- Carbs (g)36316
- Fiber (g)820
Protein (g)134170
Fat (g)115156
[^1]: Net carbs = All carbs - Fiber

Healthy Executive Strength

imageFor this Keto experiment I cut back my exercise volume back 75% to basic maintenance level. I wanted to see the effects of Ketogenic nutrition on my lean body mass and strength levels. I was also curious about losing weight without spending lots of time exercising. Coincidentally I was also doing a lot of travel to Nevada, California, Arizona, and Mexico.

  • Result: My lean muscle mass stayed constant at 152 lbs according to measurements. My overall strength (as measured by aggregate push-ups, pull-ups, squats) increased slightly.
    • I suspect this has nothing to to do with Ketogenic nutrition. Rather, I’m reasonably sure it was the result of reduced exercise volume producing an improved recovery effect. In other words, giving my muscles more rest yielded modest strength gains.
  • Tip: Use coconut oil to prevent lean muscle loss (specifically protein gluconeogenisis). Coconut oil contains MCT oil which provides fast ketone energy that the body prefers over burning protein.
    • 1–2 tablespoons a day is plenty – use it in your coffee and your cooking. Some people even like it straight off the spoon.

Results From Ketogenic Nutrition

imageMy primary reason for experimenting with ketogenic nutrition was to learn firsthand if I could break through my weight loss plateau. I had a secondary goal of losing 2.6 lbs and 2.5% bodyfat. And I had a tertiary goal of preserving lean muscle mass (strength).

Below are my measurements after 4 weeks.

  • I was able to lose 2 lbs of fat, from 168.6 to 166.6 lbs (76.6 to 75.5 kg),
  • My bodyfat percentage dropped from 11.5% to 9.7%.
  • My waist size dropped 1 inch,  from 35.5″ t0 34.5″.
  • I preserved 100% of my lean muscle mass and strength.

Verdict: Ketogenic nutrition DID successfully break my weight loss plateau.

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Caliper measurements of localized bodyfat in millimeters (mm).

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Is Keto Right For You?

Keto is not for everybody. In fact, many of my executive health and fitness clients (like Ian P or Tony M) get very good results with 1 or 2 simple changes to their nutrition and activity levels.

So who is Keto right for?

Keto could be right for you in the following scenarios:

  1. You need to lose a lot of weight AND are willing to go “cold turkey” to break bad nutrition habits. This is especially true for those who have tried an incremental or gradualist approach without success.
  2. You need to lose that “last 5” pounds but can’t seem to get there no matter what. Bodybuilders do this all the time for competition, and their body of accumulated evidence is persuasive.

Keto might be tough for you in the following scenarios:

  1. In a family cooking setting, especially with kids. While it is possible to enlist family support, sometimes preparing two meals plans won’t fit the family schedule.
  2. Business entertaining with clients. Keto can be implemented while traveling with proper preparation (I’m proof of that). The challenging part is aligning your carb refeed night (say Friday) around client or sales dinners (if they don’t fall on Friday).

imageSome other insights and tips I learned during my Keto experiment:

  • Hit Reset: In hindsight it would have been better for me to take 2 week break from the Dog Food Challenge instead of transitioning straight into the Keto diet. The science behind a diet break points to a number of factors, of which a balanced sense of self-control is surprisingly important.
    • Power Tip: If you are an experienced or chronic dieter, your carb refeeds may need to more frequent (every 5 instead of 7 days) and longer (12 instead of 6 hours). It takes more to “move the needle” when your endocrine system is stressed by long-term caloric deficits.
  • Keep It Short: Keto is a short-term power diet for fat loss. I suggest you use it in 4–6 week bursts. I am not yet sure about adaptation effects as yet. Some people report better results on their second and following cycles as their experience grows and their body more fully adapts. Other people report diminishing returns when doing continuous Keto for months on end.
  • Supplements: Unless you have a specific micro-nutrient deficiency, supplements are a waste of time and money. That being said, do make sure you are getting enough calcium in your diet as it has specifically been shown to aid in fat loss.
  • imageSpeed Up Your Metabolism: Since ketogenesis moves fat out of storage and into your bloodstream, being more active is a great way to burn off those ketones. Here are my fitness tips to burn more fat in less time (if you drive your car faster, you reach your destination sooner).
  • Gamify Your Health: That which gets measured gets done. Smartphone apps are an easy and convenient way to monitor nutrition and track progress to your health goals.

 

References

  1. Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?, Forbes  ↩
  2. There are also secondary reasons like supplements, sleep, and stress which I will address in future posts.  ↩
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