October 18, 2010
What REALLY Causes Fat Loss Plateaus
Guest Blog by Joel Marion
I got my friend and weight loss expert Joel Marion to explain what causes the dreaded weight loss plateau.
Joel is the author of Cheat To Lose and is considered by many (including me) one of the top authorities on the subject.
So, what REALLY causes fat loss plateaus to happen and why is getting exceptionally lean incredibly difficult?
Well, that’s two questions, so let’s address them one at a time 🙂
A general fat loss plateau or stall in weight loss can happen for many reasons, but they all basically come down to metabolism and hormones.
If you’ve read some of my previous writing, then you’re probably pretty familiar with leptin, so while I’ll save you the long science, I do believe a brief explanation is in order.
Leptin, AKA the anti-starvation hormone, is basic the “control” hormone when it comes to weight loss, particularly fat loss. Other important hormones with regards to metabolism and weight loss, such as the appetite regulating hormones neuropeptide-Y and ghrelin, and the metabolic thyroid hormones are all more or less dependent on leptin.
As an analogy, Leptin is the “Sergeant” hormone from which all other hormones take commands.
Either that or leptin is just REALLY cool and the other guys simply base everything they do around what leptin’s doing.
Bunch of lame-ass follower hormones.
The point is, if you hope to have any success when it comes to weight loss, then you need to understand and learn to manipulate leptin.
To make things extremely simplistic:
High leptin levels = Heightened fat burning and metabolism
Low leptin levels = Decreased fat burning and metabolism
Unless of course you suffer from leptin resistance, which we’ll talk about momentarily.
So how is leptin mediated? Two ways:
1. Leptin is mediated by body fat levels.
Because leptin is secreted by fat cells, it makes sense that there is a direct, linear relationship between the amount of body fat you are carrying and the amount of leptin you have floating around. That is to say, the more fat you have, the more leptin you have, and vice versa.
This is THE major reason why losing those last few pounds is exceptionally difficult.
Oops, looks like we are answering the second question before we fully answer the first. I tend to do that.
But yes, low body fat levels unquestionably mean low baseline levels of leptin. Essentially, with every pound of fat you lose, the lower baseline leptin levels fall, making it even more difficult to lose the next pound.
Fun stuff, I know.
Low body fat levels = low leptin
High body fat levels = high leptin
Uh oh. Now I have to explain why “fat” people, if they indeed have the highest leptin levels because of their large amount of body fat, aren’t the leanest people in the world if leptin is so metabolic.
Good question, my smart fellow, but there is indeed an explanation, and that explanation is called “leptin resistance”.
Similar to insulin resistance, if leptin receptors are constantly being bombarded by high levels of leptin, they start to become less sensitive to the hormone.
This is what happens with insulin in Type II diabetics. People eat crap food and loads of highly processed carbohydrates for years, flood their bloodstream with insulin every hour of the day, and gradually over time insulin receptors become so desensitized to the hormone to the point that insulin no longer “works”.
The same occurs with leptin. Overweight people, who have been overweight for years, become resistant to the hormone due to massive amounts of leptin (caused by high body fat levels and high calorie intakes, which we’ll talk about in a minute) slamming receptors for extended periods of time.
I won’t go into too much further detail about leptin resistance and sensitivity here, but for the sake of the conversation, we’ll just say that leptin is “broke” in these individuals.
Can it be fixed?
Yes. And I actually cover exactly how to do this in the Ninja Nutrition Tactics manual.
2. Leptin is mediated by calorie intake.
In addition to leptin’s relationship with body fat, leptin is also pretty chummy with the amount of food you’re taking in on a daily basis. That is, your calorie intake.
High calorie intakes = high leptin levels
Low calorie intakes = low leptin levels
That said, that darned “common sense” does come into play here as well (i.e. you can’t eat 5,000 calories a day and expect your high leptin levels to cancel out the rules of mathematics).
The important thing to recognize is that typical dieting, in which you are restricting calories on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, derails leptin “fo’ sheezy” (as the kids say), and there’s no getting around that.
This means that with chronic dieting, you WILL screw with leptin and you WILL hit a fat loss plateau, period. It WILL happen-so whatcha gonna do about it?
Oh yeah, and I also talk quite a bit about the whole “getting really lean” thing, too, so let’s go back to that real quick.
As mentioned, the number one reason losing those last few pounds of fat is such a curse word is low leptin and the fact that your body does not WANT you to be single digit body fat-at all.
It’s all like “Noooooooooo, stay fat and keep me warmmmmm. I’m colddddd. And what are we going to do if we end up like Tom Hanks in that one movie-you know, the one with the volley ball. That could happen.”
And theoretically, your body is correct. But, being lean is way cooler than Tom Hanks (sorry, it’s true, I took a poll), so if you’re going to ever get exceptionally lean, you’re going to have to learn the ways of the Ninja.
Bottom line, it AINT easy to figure out, but the good news is that you don’t have to since I already did it for you.
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