The stages of weight loss will be discussed here because the purpose of writing this article is to aware people of the weight loss stages. We’ve all had the experience of waking up in the morning and weighing a certain amount, then stepping on the scale that night only to find that we’ve “gained 4 pounds.” Yes, you are 4 pounds heavier, but no, you did not gain 4 pounds! You probably ate food, drank water, and still haven’t flushed it out of your body.
To gain a pound of real body tissue, you’ll need to eat more than the 3500 calories your body burns. Most people I know really have to try to eat an extra 1000 calories a day. At this rate, it would actually take 2 weeks to gain 4 pounds. This is what it takes to achieve mass.
So let’s see what actually goes into losing body weight.
Generally, fat loss or loss of body mass is a 4 step process:
Your body has sugar (called glycogen when it’s in a stored state) ready to be stored to fuel whatever your body does – think, stay warm, move, etc. An average-sized human stores 300-400 calories of glycogen in the liver and 2,000-10,000 calories in the muscles. The liver is like a cup – it is a fixed size and can be filled and emptied. Muscle cells are like balloons – they seem to expand and contract. And the more you exercise, the more muscles can hold.
As you enter a calorie deficit, your body will initially burn all of the stores in the liver, and a small portion of the stores in the muscles. Think of it like spending in your savings account. Just as you don’t like to write big checks out of your savings account, your body won’t completely deplete muscle stores. After burning a small percentage, it will then look to body fat for extra energy.
Weight loss from glycogen depletion should not be confused with weight loss from dehydration:
There are things you can do to manipulate your body to reduce the amount of water it retains (dehydrate). Although bloating (retention of excess water) is uncomfortable and usually unnoticeable, dehydration has consequences that don’t last long and can be dangerous.
Safely speaking, the body will eliminate dehydration overnight, then these fluids must be replenished every day. Water is actually needed to burn stored body fat, and not something you want to cut out when trying to lose body fat.
You want to stay here until you reach your desired weight. In this phase, you’ll be hungry (but not hungry) before you eat, have good energy, sleep well, and see a healthy rate of weight loss.
A plateau is a phase you enter when you get a little carried away with creating a calorie deficit, and your body reduces the amount of work (metabolism) it has to do to conserve energy. Thus sabotaging your fat loss efforts. You can eat just like you did when you were in the fat loss phase, your body just says, “That’s it.”
Think about if you’re spending money from your savings account – going shopping, buying what you want – then one day you realize you’re spending WAAAY more than you earn. And panic. So not only do you stop shopping, you turn off cable, cancel your annual family vacation, and take the kids out of gymnastics class. This is the last resort to not run out of money and go broke. A plateau is your body’s last resort to not run out of energy and die.
I personally enjoy the feeling of reduction and fat loss. When you’re in this phase, eating less or exercising more gives a light, happy feeling and it’s easy to take it too far.
If your fat loss stalls, you’re not performing well during your workouts, and your body actually looks or feels like it’s losing tone, it’s time to reach stage 4. It’s time – as soon as possible!.
The Metabolic Recovery
To get out of the plateau phase, you’ll need to help your body restore its metabolism to a normal rate. It’s like getting back into a spending routine – putting the kids back in their gymnastics class, turning the cable back on, go back on vacation – which requires getting back into a normal earning / eating routine. As you start giving your body more energy (slowly), it will resume normal function over time.
Be warned – as you recover your metabolism, your body will rehydrate and replenish glycogen stores, and the scale will go up. This does not necessarily mean that your body is growing, but it can happen. Check out How to Fix Your Metabolism with Reverse Dieting for a complete guide on how to successfully fix your metabolism without gaining weight.
On the high end, a 6′ tall active 20-year-old male should work up to 2400 calories to maintain metabolism.
All stages of weight management:
1. Weight gain
2. Maximum glycogen stores
4. Depletion of glycogen
5. Fat loss
Revival of metabolism
I personally bounce back and forth between maintenance and glycogen depletion at this point. I’ve been spending the last month trying to make sure my metabolism is revved up so I’m ready to burn fat when the weather hits!
What stage are you in now?
Laura Kornfind, MA, CPT, co-owner of Lift and Live Fitness, a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with a Masters in Education and a BA in Biology, uses diet and exercise to treat severe post-abdominal indigestion. Help overcome problems. Surgery at 18, depression and anxiety in my early 20s, PCOS diagnosis at 23, pre-diabetes at 31, nail biting (since I was a toddler, I was 31 I stopped as a nice side effect of correcting the malnutrition), and having two beautiful boys (currently ages 2 and 4) and nursing each of them until they were 11+ months old.