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Have You Reached Your Weight-loss Critical Threshold (CT)?

Jan 8, 2008
Critical Threshold (CT) for weight loss is a point where weight-loss returns are less than expected based on true investment (not half-baked, pie-in-the-sky investment belief). Investment of what? Time, effort and intake.

Every single person alive has a CT where effort to lose more weight will be exponentially higher than all previous periods of weight loss. It's as though everything is cooking along nicely, by the numbers, and then BAM, out of nowhere it seems, the progress stalls (a true stall is one that lasts longer than two weeks) and the weight fighter is left scratching his head.

Before I continue I have to shut off all the people reading this who are two weeks into their program cheering me on because they all feel the pain already-not so fast. I said very early, and not on accident, that I'm talking REAL investment of time (output) and clean input (quality food and drink). Most THINK they are working hard when they are not and most THINK they are eating clean when they are not. That universal law has not changed-nothing has in fact. I'm simply bringing to your attention the idea of the CT point in your weight loss journey. You already know it exists. You simply never looked at it like I'm giving it to you here.

The CT point is real. It's not in your head.

Another interesting facet about the CT is it can change after a first-pass success with weight loss. You also already know this is true. For example, Sally drops from 165 to 125. During her journey she noticed it started getting "really hard" about 135 pounds but she persevered and blasted on past it for the last ten pounds. Those ten were very uncomfortable and required way more activity and less input than what it took to get to 135-seemed very odd to her but she did it. After a few months Sally blossomed back up to about 150 and vowed she had had enough and was gonna do it again, but this time down to 120 so she could maintain about 127 give or take. Sally is smart-she knows that GETTING to 120 isn't STAYING at 120--the natural bump up will occur. So, she starts at 150 and does great for the first 10 pounds but then BAM, again, she starts to experience her CT. This time it started about 140 rather than 135. Hmmm, that's odd. Or is it? Actually it's not odd at all. It's quite common for the CT point to move up on passes beyond the first or second. In other words, it's going to be more difficult, earlier, on passes beyond the first or MAYBE the second, to get to the lower goal.

The body is smart. Hormonally and enzymatically it "learns" from past experience. It can adapt sooner once it learns from what it has been put through in the past. This is universally true for every mental and physical endeavor you ask of the body. Think about it. Once you do anything once it's easier (usually) to do it again. Why? Learning in all regards and adaptation by the body. How long would it take you to ride a bike if you hadn't ridden one in 10 years?

As I said, hormonally and enzymatically, you have trained your body from past weight loss efforts to respond when it senses starvation or you have crossed the body fat threshold (that point where YOUR body senses body fat is too low even if your body fat is still way too high). The CT isn't fair or equitable in any way.

For some women the CT point could be when she's 30 pounds overweight according to every height and weight chart known to man and has just under 30 percent body fat. Is she at goal? In her mind? No way. Her body has a different goal however.

A guy may hit his CT at 18% body fat and 30 pounds overweight. Other women may not hit their CT until they are 9 percent body fat and damn near UNDERweight. These are the ladies who will look at you in almost amazement and "deer in the headlights" with why it's SO HARD for you and they just don't see it.

There are guys who don't hit their CT until 6-7% body fat comes and their reaction to guys who hit their CT at 12, 15 or 18% is one of shock, dismay and disbelief. And yes, the ones who hit their CT way early DO HATE the ones who hit their CT way late. It's the natural order of things. And to be honest, those who hit their CT way early are allowed to hate the ones who hit their CT way late.

With the help of my nutrition tool called the "Nutrition Analyzer" and my calorie-balancing checkbook called "Lean Account" you can more accurately determine if you have hit your CT. Things will just NOT make sense (assuming you have sense and are sensible about your expectations). Those who have hit their CT will be heard uttering things like "Gee, I haven't eaten a processed food in weeks, I live on veggies and lean meats, I'm eating 1200 cals a day and exercising 500 mins a week and I haven't lost any weight in three weeks. Gee, that doesn't sound right." See what I mean? It just won't make sense.

Remember, everyone has a CT. It just varies as to when it's gonna kick in. When it does you have a few choices:

1. Eat even less
2. Eat Cleaner
3. Exercise even more
4. Some of everything

Before you opt for #1 you should first determine if you are on planet earth with what you are really eating, drinking and splurging with. What you eat, as in the quality of what you eat, can have an impact on total food allowed. Next, look at your macronutrient balance. Are carbs and/or fat still too high? Where are those carbs and fats coming from?

Before you opt for #3 you should determine if you are at a level where overtraining has already occurred or is about to occur if you go higher. For women this activity-overtraining threshold is usually in the 600-800 minutes a week (if sustained for longer than a month or so) range and for guys it's about one-half to two-thirds that of women. I'm not talking about your newly crowned Gold-medal wearing marathoner next door neighbor. I'm talking about average men and women without the genetics or obsessive drive of a freak.

What is usually best to break through the dreaded CT is to maximize time exercising and burn more calories while doing it. If that is already in order then bring activity up 30 minutes a week until that over-training level is about to be reached. Do this without lowering calories. So, ladies, if you are doing 300 minutes a week and have TRULY hit your CT then do 330 next week, 360 the week after and so on. Continue to increase minutes until you are noticing signs of near overtraining (sleep disturbance, strong achiness, immune system compromised, poor recovery, every one and every thing around you sucks and you pretty much think that everyone but you is an idiot etc.) At that point it's probably time to hold steady and be careful with your training. Guys, you do the same except move your activity from 150 minutes a week up 30 minutes a week until you are in the 300-400 range, maybe more, with the same near over-training guidelines I have given here and elsewhere.

Once you have truly done the preceding three paragraphs and at least two full weeks have gone by with no weight loss you get to begin reducing calories. "Well by how much Mr. Smarty Pants?" I can already here you asking. Once CT has truly hit it can get silly. Most women will do well in the 1000-1200 calorie range. Most guys in the 1300-1500 calorie range. The big lie kept secret in the magazines and "diet" books though is it is NOT uncommon once the CT has been reached for women to have to dip well under 1000 cals a day. Many need to live in the 700-800 range until their weight goal is reached-some even a bit less. For guys? Contrary to what the hucksters elsewhere will tell you it's NOT uncommon for guys to have to dip below 1500 calories, with many living in the 1100-1300 calorie range until their goal is reached. Some will have to dip just under 1000 calories to achieve their goal.

Keep something in mind here. When I say "goal" I'm referring to whatever the ultimate, low-body fat for you is. That may be 12 percent for some women. It may be seven percent for other women. It'll vary. For guys it may be ten percent or five percent. The massive variance on WHEN the CT will hit is matched by the massive variance on what your ultimate, realistic low body fat is.

I must give a cautionary piece of advice for those who do find they need to dip below 1000-1200 calories a day. You MUST supplement with a quality multi-vitamin like The Bridge. You SHOULD supplement with 500-1000mg of extra, separate calcium taken with food. You SHOULD supplement with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or a combination of fish and flax oils if you don't consume 2-3 servings of salmon a week. You should keep your carbohydrate intake to between 30 and 40 percent. Fats should be kept to between 10 and 20 percent. Proteins will make up the rest.

As you can see, no where in this article, did I EVER say you couldn't achieve the lowest body fat you have ever imagined achieving. You can. There may come a time, however, when you need to re-evaluate what you've accomplished, where you are, what your health and lifestyle is like, and what you really want out of those last 10 pounds or whatever. What you will REALLY get by achieving that super low body fat is something only you can define. Achieving your goal is always doable and only you can decide if the cost to benefit ratio makes it worth it.

I hope you have a better understanding of what a REAL stall is, what to do if you believe you truly have stalled, and why your next-door neighbor at your same age, sex, height and weight has little trouble dropping 30 pounds and you seem to stall everytime once you've lost 15.

Before I conclude let me caution you one more time against automatically blaming your CT as the reason you are currently stuck. Most times (read that again) it is NOT the CT causing the stall. It's food quality, food allergies, food addiction, food quantity, alcohol and overall energy balance is out of whack. This means it's PROBABLY the case for you right now if you are stuck.
About the Author
David Greenwalt is a professional wellness, nutrition and lifestyle coach. In 1999 David created a comprehensive membership-based weight-loss and lifestyle program called The Leanness Lifestyle. Through http://www.LeannessLifestyle.com David serves thousands of clients from more than a dozen countries.
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