Water retention while in a calorie deficit is much more widespread than a lot of people realize and it’s one of the leading causes of frustration with those who aren’t aware of it.
Water retention is primarily caused by an unhealthy diet (too many processed foods) and not enough water intake.
When you do not drink enough water, the next time you drink water your body stores the water as part of a survival mechanism.
It can be crushing to see a bloated belly during a dieting phase and mistake it for no progress, without acknowledging the presence of water retention.
When we look at weight loss progress there are only three possibilities for a plateau:
1 – You’re not following the program. You’re over your calorie intake on some days whether consciously or unconsciously.
People often fail their diet without realizing it. Unconsciously eating more calories and wrong calculation of caloric intake is a lot more common from my experience.
And studies that used self-reported intake clearly showed that people claimed 47% less caloric than they ate. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/… .
2 – You’ve reached a new caloric maintenance. Of course, this is to be expected as your body will adapt over time to the intake. At this point, you simply need to reduce calories, add more activity or both to continue losing fat.
The 3rd reason is why your might not be moving down is water retention. Of course, it can only be only one or a combination of all three factors.
A lot of people have a hard time knowing whether they have water retention or whether their body has adapted to the set calorie intake.
This can sometimes lead to incorrect decisions if you’re not patient and then you further cut calories leading to muscle loss as well as increased stress (more water retention) and making the whole thing worse.
A part of fat is water and the theory is that when fat cells are emptied, they fill up with water for a brief period. Now you can imagine how much confusion this can cause among novice dieters. It’s very hard to diagnose if the plateau is caused by water retention as it’s hard to see in the mirror.
Here’s what you can do to mitigate this as when any of conditions below arise:
Condition #1 – Sudden stop in weight loss according to the scale. Your average weight was dropping every week, and then it suddenly stopped.
Condition #2 – Gradual reduction in weight loss over the course of few weeks.
Condition #1 is most likely water retention, and it’s important not to panic when this happens. A lot of times it just takes a few more days or 1-2 weeks until the scale shows progress.
Most important thing here is to trust the process. And since you’re tracking the calories and you’re sure that your deficit is in place it’s very likely water retention is masking the real scale number.
Water retention can also be caused by many factors, especially short-term. It can be caused by different alcohol consumption, certain foods in your diet, and sudden elevations in cortisol due to stress caused by life factors.
Cutting calories further at this point wouldn’t be a good idea as you will dump the water eventually. It’s not uncommon to see people stalled for 2-3 weeks to wake up 4-6 pounds lighter overnight just by being patient.
– Try high carb refeeds
– 1-2 week diet break to maintenance
– Reduce stress
– Catch up on sleep
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