Hitting a Plateau with Weight Loss? It Might Be Time to Look at Caloric Balance

Jul 20, 2020 10:30:57 AM Posted by Iowa Radiology

X-ray Body Composition Analysis


Are you struggling to lose those final few pounds? Losing weight certainly has its frustrating moments, and the last few pounds to reach your goal can be stubborn. But there is a lot that goes into losing weight and you're not alone if you've hit a slowing or stopping point. 

Let's look closer at what's going on.

What is caloric balance? 

Caloric balance refers to the balance of energy consumed (measured in calories) and energy expended (calories burned). When you’re eating the same number of calories you’re burning, your weight remains stable. To lose weight, you must create a caloric deficit. On the other hand, if you consume more than you burn, your weight goes up.

It’s estimated that 3,500 calories equates to a pound of fat. You can use this number to get an idea of how much of a daily caloric deficit you would need to meet your weight loss goals. For example, if you wanted to lose one pound per week, you would aim to create a deficit of about 500 calories per day.

3,500 calories / 7 days = 500 calories per day


How can I track my caloric balance? 

You could track calories the old-fashioned way, by looking up the caloric content of everything you eat and researching how many calories you are likely burning each day and then writing it all down in a journal. If this appeals to you, you can use the Harris-Benedict equation to determine your basal metabolic rate (how many calories you need to function at rest for a day) and factor in your level of physical activity. The following formulas are used to determine basal metabolic rate:

66 + (6.2 x weight) + (12.7 x height) – (6.76 x age) = BMR for males

655.1 + (4.35 x weight) + (4.7 x height) – (4.7 x age) = BMR for females

After determining your basal metabolic rate, you’ll multiply it by a factor that corresponds to your level of physical activity:

  • 1.2 for little or no exercise
  • 1.375 for light exercise 1–3 days per week
  • 1.55 for moderate exercise 3–5 days per week
  • 1.725 for vigorous exercise 6–7 days per week

The result will be the estimated number of calories you burn per day. You can do the math yourself or use one of many free online calculators to do it for you.

These days, though, there is an app for just about everything, including tracking your caloric balance. Some popular ones include MyFitnessPal, Fitbit, and Lose It! Apps like these can take a lot of the mental work out of tracking your daily calories.

I’ve stuck to my diet and exercise regimen, so why have I stopped losing weight? 

As you lose weight, you lose some muscle mass along with the fat. Because muscle mass helps you maintain a high rate of metabolism, the loss of muscle causes a drop in metabolism, meaning you’ll burn calories more slowly. As a result, maintaining the same caloric balance as you established at the beginning of your diet and exercise regimen will no longer result in the same amount of weight loss, and weight loss may cease completely.


How can I restart my weight loss? 

Recalculate your basal metabolic rate and set caloric goals accordingly. 

To begin losing weight again, you will have to reestablish a caloric deficit. You can do this by increasing your physical activity, further cutting calories, or both. Burning more calories doesn’t necessarily mean more time working out. Look at your daily habits and consider where you can add more activity. For example, you might park further away at the grocery store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or spend more time working in the garden.

Build muscle to keep your metabolism up. 

Because decreasing muscle mass decreases your metabolism, focusing solely on weight loss while ignoring muscle mass will make your task more difficult. Adding exercises that build muscle, such as resistance and weight training, will help you keep your metabolism up as you lose weight, so you burn more calories all day long.

In addition to exercise, studies have shown that consuming more protein helps dieters retain muscle mass while losing fat. One study found that consuming .64 grams of protein per pound of body weight more effectively preserved muscle and reduced fat than the US RDA of .36 grams per pound.


Weight isn’t everything. 

While a lot of health focus is placed on BMI, which accounts only for a person’s height and weight, BMI can present an inaccurate picture of actual health. This is because BMI gives no information about the proportions of fat and muscle in the body. As a result, muscular athletes are often categorized as overweight based on BMI, and many people with BMIs in the “healthy” range carry unhealthy proportions of fat in their bodies.

Body composition analysis can help guide your weight loss. 

Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry body composition analysis (DXA BCA) is the gold standard of body composition analysis. It uses low-dose X-rays (about 1/10 the dose of a panoramic dental X-ray) to create a detailed picture that can be analyzed to determine the proportion and location of fat, muscle, and bone in the body. Having a DXA BCA before, during, and after a weight loss regimen can help you create a more effective weight loss plan that better supports your overall health.

Iowa Radiology proudly offers state-of-the-art imaging procedures, including DXA BCA. The cost is $49 per scan or $139 for a package of three, due at the initial time of service. No referral is needed. You can schedule an appointment at our Clive, and downtown Des Moines clinic by calling 515-226-9810.

For more information about body composition analysis and other health news, subscribe to our blog. 

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Getting past a weight-loss plateau. MayoClinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss-plateau/art-20044615. Updated February 25, 2020. Accessed July 3, 2020.

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