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  • Mark Hilton

Weight-Loss Plateaus and Water Retention

Updated: Jul 9

Oftentimes an individual will reach a weight-loss plateau despite still adhering to pretty low calories—low enough that they should definitely still be losing fat.

This can be extremely frustrating, and terms like “metabolic adaptation” and “starvation mode” begin to be thrown around by those trying to rationalize the stall in progress and give well-meaning advice.


99% of the time, however, what’s actually going on is as follows:

They’re still in a deficit, still burning through body-fat for fuel—but at the same time, water retention gets crazy due to hormonal reasons (for example increased cortisol, which is inevitable when dieting).


This will often mask, in terms of bodyweight scale measurement, the actual fat mass that is being burned and lost—even for weeks or months at a time.


NOTE: the water retention stuff is ESPECIALLY problematic when it comes to females.

And let’s face it—actual fat loss is relatively slow.


Even .5lbs of actual fat mass per week is an EXCELLENT rate of progress once you’re balls deep into a diet.


If you’re a small individual, even less shouldn’t be a surprise nor discouraging.


So it goes, when faced with this dilemma of a ‘plateau’, people usually either:


A. keep pressing on and eventually experience a ‘whoosh’—for lack of a better word—the body finally lets go of a ton of water that it was holding onto, and they see a huge drop in weight pretty much overnight, or


B. they give in and add more calories back in. Cortisol decreases (among other factors likely beyond my expertise), the same thing mentioned above happens—the body lets go of a ton of water, and they drop multiple pounds of scale weight whilst actually eating MORE calories.

They are then often inclined to think:


“AHAH! I wasnt eating enough, I knew it! My body was in starvation mode!”


This apparent progress is, of course, short-lived—and was not any sort of rapid loss of actual tissue.


They were mistaken, BUT that’s not to say I’m against bumping calories back up in such a situation.


In fact, I’m a large proponent of ‘diet breaks’ (1-2 weeks of eating at, or a little above, maintenance).


I am also not opposed to refeeds: a few days of very high carbs (one day isn’t really enough to make a significant difference) at maintenance calories (or a small surplus).

I hope this all makes some sort of sense.


If any of it doesn’t, leave a comment! I’d be glad to elaborate.

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