What can you do when you "get stuck" at some weight plateau on the Dukan diet (or any diet)

by | Sep 29, 2010 11:19 AM ET

Let's say you are on a diet like the Dukan diet and you "get stuck" at a certain weight. You might have been losing weight for several weeks, and then the weight loss stops. Like this:

"I am trying to break the 80 kg barrier since the last 6 weeks or so and I have not been succesful yet. I seem to go up and down with a range of 2 kgs from 80 to 82 and back... very annoying and not really motivating I can tell you!"

Or this:

"I am now in cruise phase and have been stuck on 80kgs for 3 weeks, having lost 10 kgs overall.
I don't know why my weight has stayed there.
I am a Landscape Gardener and get way more than the recommended exercise."

Or, in extreme cases, like this at the very start of a diet:

"Can any body help me. I have been doing the Dukan Diet for 4 full days now and the scales have NOT MOVED.... And yes I am having protein only. Whats going on?"

What causes people to get get stuck like that? And how do you get yourself unstuck?

Let's start with the basics of weight loss. It all has to do with calories. The basic reality of the situation is that 3,500 calories = one pound of body weight. You have to burn off 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat. So if the (number of calories being burned) – (calories you eat) = 500 per day, you will lose one pound every week because 500 * 7 = 3,500. If you manage to burn off 1,000 per day, you lose 2 pounds per week. Most people, unless they are starving themselves or are tremendously overweight, have trouble burning more than 1,000 calories per day.

So, if you look at that equation and you are burning more calories than you eat, you should be losing weight. If you retain water, it will hide the weight loss, but you are still burning fat. Once the water goes away, the weight loss will be revealed. Water weight changes every day because of things like hormone levels (especially in women, related to monthly cycles), the amount of salt you eat on a given day, medicines you are taking, etc.

So, if you "get stuck" at a certain weight, one of two things is generally happening. Either: 1) you are eating as many calories as you burn, and therefore it is impossible to lose weight because of the basic reality described above, or 2) Your body has decided to retain water even though you are really losing fat.

How do you decide what is happening?

Use this calculator to see how many calories you burn every day. Then you can count the calories you eat in a day (keep a food diary) to see how many calories are coming in. Compare the two numbers. They need to be far apart (like 500 to 1,000 calories per day) in order for you to lose weight.

Some people who are just getting started on the Dukan diet experience no weight loss (see the thrid example above). In some cases this happens because they have a "carbohydrate leak". In Attack Phase and Cruise Phase, there should be a very low amount of carbohydrates in your diet, like 30 grams a day. You may think you aren't eating any carbs, but in reality you might be. Yogurt is often the culprit. People see that the Dukan diet allows yogurt. But that means plain yogurt, preferably Greek plain yogurt, because it has fewer carbs. If you go buy fruity, sugary yogurt, you can get 40 grams of carbs from just one small container of yogurt. Do that a couple of times a day and you kill the no-carb effect of the Dukan diet. Coffee drinks can also be high in carbs. Some diet sodas aren't really diet. Milk is verboten because it contains carbs. So is fruit. And so on. Check your foods for a carb leak if you start the Dukan diet and fail to lose any weight.

Another possibility is that you are eating nothing but protein, but you are eating too much. I know the Dukan diet says you can eat as much protein as you want, but some people take this to extremes. If you eat 3,000 calories of protein in a day and burn only 2,000 calories, you are going to gain weight. This can easily happen if the protein you eat contains too much fat. That's why the Dukan diet prescribes low fat protein.

Let's say you have been doing the Dukan diet for several weeks, it's been working great, and then you get stuck. Your "calories being burned per day" changes as you lose weight, and you may need to factor that in.

The problem being that as you lose weight, your body burns less calories (fat actually takes calories for the body to maintain). For example, now that I've lost about 50 pounds, my body is burning something like 500 less calories per day than it used to. That means that to get the same kind of effects from the Dukan diet that I did at the beginning, I need to eat 500 less calories per day. That's a big difference. Use this calculator to compare the number of calories you burned at your original weight and your new weight, and you might be surprised by the difference. If you lose a lot of weight, you have to eat less if you want to continue losing weight.

There are some days when your body will start retaining water. If you have a really salty day, you are guaranteed to gain water weight the next day. Your body also stores water when it creates glycogen. Let's say you have been living a low-carb life, and one day you eat a bunch of sugar cookies or eat a big pasta dish at a restaurant. Your body might gain 3 or 4 pounds overnight. A lot of that is water stored as glycogen. It may take a week of eating right to burn all that glycogen off. It can take several days to burn off a salty day. Women, depending on where they are in the cycle, can retain water for a number of days, and then it all comes back off. Becca talked about losing a huge amount of weight in one day - all water.

Let's say you look at all of these possibilities and you are still scratching your head. Several people have had luck breaking a plateau by changing their diets to something completely different. You might try a whole different mix of proteins and vegetables just to see what happens. Try asparagus. Try dairy. Just to see what happens. Dave tells this amusing story:

You are a genius!!!!
Well....I got so frustrated at being stuck on 80 kgs for so long that I totally threw caution to the wind....
It was my Son's birthday 2 weeks ago, and to celebrate I busted out...I single handedly devoured a Family size pizza (Super Supreme with THE WORKS!!!!)
I have no idea how, but this act of desperation must have triggered something deep inside me...
The next day I went back to cruise phase, and guess what???
I have now lost another 4 kilos in the 10 days after my rebellious stand, and am finally well below 80 kgs. (Now down to 76)
WOW!!!!..Somehow my metabolism must have been kick started again by the extra cheese and toppings. I'm stoked!!!!

Other possibilities: try a day of intense exercise. Try a day of fasting, or eating very few calories. Try a day of pure vegetables, or do a 3-day strict Attack phase. In other words, just try shaking things up and see if anything changes.

The real bottom line is this. If you are consistently burning more calories than you eat, you are losing fat. Your body may mask that with water retention (often inexplicably), but eventually the water will be eliminated and you will see the results. Just be patient and stick with the program, and you will receive the reward.

More info:

- How the Dukan Diet works - The French diet that is supposed to end the obesity epidemic

- All the dire warnings I have gotten about the Dukan diet have turned out to be wrong

- What is your “ideal weight” if you want to be healthy?

- How to make Greek yogurt at home and cut your yogurt costs in half and I made half a gallon of Greek yogurt this weekend – talk about cheap and easy! And Tasty!

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