Home Exercise 101Fat Loss Friday 5: Five Reasons Why Losing The Final 15lbs Can Be Just As Hard As Losing The First 150

Friday 5: Five Reasons Why Losing The Final 15lbs Can Be Just As Hard As Losing The First 150

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I think that every person who goes through the long, arduous process of losing a gang of weight deals with this, eventually, and it’s usually at the point where you’re within the final stretch of achieving your goals. It may not have a finite number on it but there’s a point where, if you’ve lost a slew of weight already, you’ll start feeling like your process as come to a grinding halt. And, while I’ve said it before, it still bears repeating: whenever you experience that plateau, it’s time to regroup.

…but that regroup is harder if you’re coming down from a long journey into those final pounds. Here’s five reasons why:

1) Calories count even more, now. Let’s get over the idea that calories don’t matter. They do. Now, as a very basic example, let’s take a 33 year old woman who is 5’4 and 250lbs, who is now down to about 150lbs. At 5’4″ and 250lbs, she need to eat somewhere around 2,400 calories to maintain her 250lb weight. Now that she’s lost 105lbs and is now down to 145, and has a body fat percentage of about 30%, she can do some more rough calculations for how to maintain her current size which will bring her to 1,352 calories. If she wants to go even smaller? She’d need to be mindful of her caloric intake, again, in ways that allot for the fact that 1,352 calories doesn’t have the same kind of “room for pleasure” that 2,400 calories had. It’s easy to create a caloric deficit when you’re starting at 2,400 calories. You can add an extra piece of chicken or another bowl of soup and be alright. If you’re at 145lbs? It’s a bit more of a challenge, which is why…

2) Exercise becomes far more vital. You, eventually, start getting into strange territory when you’re caloric intake is at 1,300 and you’re still talking about cutting calories in order to create a caloric deficit. It’s much easier – and, in some cases, safer – to simply exercise to burn off the calories you need. Because, quite frankly…

3) It messes with your head comparing the amount of food you used to eat with the amount of food you eat now. Now, granted, if you’re eating healthy bowls full of veggies, this might not mean much to you… but snacking, second helpings, and doggie bags start to look a little less sensible. You have to constantly check yourself to make sure that you’re not slipping back into habits that you enjoyed better with more weight. And just like you learned, subconsciously, what a “sensible plate” was at 250lbs, you’ll learn what a “sensible plate” looks like for someone who weighs your goal weight. This can be a challenge, because…

4) Habituation sets in over the course of losing that first 100 pounds that, though once acceptable, can run counter to your goals. Take the six-meal-a-day structure, for example. While lots of people – myself included – praise the six meals a day template for helping people disassociate with the feeling of hunger pangs being the green light to overeat, it becomes a problem as you shrink down. You can come down to 1800 calories and do okay on a 400-100-500-200-500-100 split. But if your caloric intake for a day is only 1300 calories, are you really going to live your life eating 200 calorie meals all day? Or, more realistically, a 300 calorie breakfast, 100 calorie snack, 300 calorie lunch, 100 calorie snack and a 400 calorie dinner? Even though it’s more realistic, it’s still a modification of the plan. The point is that you have to be more fluid – you have to be willing to assess and adapt to your new “size,” and even be willing to change things that originally didn’t need changing. Whereas you’d just eat a couple of apples at snack time, you might decide it’s now time for only one apple.

5) The pounds start to come off much slower. When you were 250lbs, you sassy 5’4″ lady, you… it was easy to burn calories! That 20-minute cardio session was all you needed to git’er done and see results. Running a 15-minute mile might’ve burned almost 200 calories for you at that size. At 145, though? You’ll be lucky if you burn even 100 calories with that fifteen-minute mile (hopefully you’re 15min-mile is looking more like an 11min mile at this point, though!) and will need to go hard in the paint to get the same caloric bang for your time buck. A 250lb body burns far more than a 145lb body both in action and at rest – as evidenced by the different maintenance levels quoted above – and the 145lb body would have to work awfully hard to get the same benefit that the 250lb body would experience. That Zumba class you loved at 250lbs might’ve been giving you that 250-calorie burn, but at 145? It might give you 170. Be aware. Look for more calorie-burning activities to get the most out of your time. You might enjoy Zumba, but you may also try a kickboxing Fight Club-style class too.

What’d I miss? Do you think I got anything wrong?

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Dawn A. April 13, 2012 - 1:01 PM

SO needed to read this today. Just had a for real light bulb moment when reading #4. Thanks!

shanel April 13, 2012 - 1:55 PM

I needed this today!! I’m now down 55 pounds and only wanna lose 15 more, but I swear, this has been the hardest last few pounds to lose, now I have some more motivation and better understanding and insight so I can finally get to my goal! thanks E:)

BrainyBabe April 13, 2012 - 2:30 PM

Fabulously clear and concise information about the reality everyone who’s losing will hopefully actually face. Because it means that so far the work has been paying off and now you’re within sight of your final goal. Thanks as always for this great blog. Peace!

ATR April 13, 2012 - 5:55 PM

I just dealt with this. I hit my official goal today but those last 20 were a beast to get off. You get comfortable and forget to do the work. You may not even go back to the old habits but you tend to not focus on losing as much.

And I had to totally redo what I ate during a day several times. I’d essentially be overeating because I was holding on to what worked fine before but was no longer working. When I realized what was going on I changed it and things worked out.

Shay April 13, 2012 - 9:15 PM

This is so helpful! I’m just starting out (again) on my weight loss journey, but this blog is arming me with tips and tools for the long haul! Thanks do much for posting insightful and encouraging information to help ME out!

Dee April 13, 2012 - 11:50 PM

Needed this today. I have been losing less weight each week after losing 23 pounds. I find I want to eat more as well. I work out a lot to balance it and have started weights.

Joy Weese Moll April 14, 2012 - 8:17 PM

Terrific post with very helpful information.

I would add this point: consider the possibility that your goal weight is 15 pounds lower than your body and lifestyle dictate. Goal weights aren’t written in stone and sometimes they need to be revised up at the end of the weight loss journey, without feeling like you’ve failed!

Vee April 16, 2012 - 12:21 PM

I am going through a plateau right now. I have been at the same weight for about 3 weeks now and I am working out 5 times a week at a high intensity.

I am going to try to eat 1,300 calories per day my suggested amount is 1,496 to loose weight. I feel like if I go below 1,300 I will be so hungry.

I am 5’1 and I weigh 141 lbs. My goal weight is 125-130.

Valarie April 17, 2012 - 4:53 PM


I feel your pain. Being short means you get to eat even less than everyone else, and you have to work even harder. The caloric difference between me and my slender 6’4″ husband means he gets an extra 700 calories to play with during the day, and burns 1.5 times as many calories when we do the same workout. My weight loss also came to a dead halt at about 140 lbs. for a long time. The only way I was able to get any lower was to cut out almost all the sugar in my life, and start training for a marathon. Marathon training means I run over 20 miles a week right now, and I feel like I’m barely treading water at an average 1400 to 1500 calorie intake. There is a reason that so many models are taller than the average woman: easier to be ultra-thin that way.

Vee April 20, 2012 - 9:17 PM

Thanks Valerie;-)

AngieJ April 20, 2012 - 2:15 PM

This is so helpful and what I need to read today. I’m trying to lose my last 5-8 lbs and it is a b**ch. I keep reminding myself I have to rev up the exercise AND watch those snacks. Cant get away with small ” extras” like I could 50 pounds ago. Thank you so much for your wonderful post.

Meg April 24, 2012 - 7:46 AM

Thanks for this. I am actually struggling with the last 20 lbs after losing 110lbs. It’s exactly what you said; there is much less room for error and those extra snacks and bites add up much more quickly than they used to. Our bodies are actually efficient and I have to change up my routine much more and be even tighter with the eating. Thanks for this – it’s always nice to be reminded that I’m not the only one who is going through this.

Monica May 11, 2012 - 10:17 AM

Yep, I’m losing the last 5 lbs (again, I do this 5lb up and down every year it seems) and I remember when it felt like 30 lbs melted away when I was losing weight 2 years ago. My calories burned in one workout used to be 500 or more every time. Now? I struggle to burn 400. I also see that my caloric limit is lower to maintain (hence why I have to RE-lose 5 lbs). Anyway, the only thing is that I think the 1300 calorie thing looks pretty low to maintain, I hope to God that’s not what’s expected when I turn 30 because I “might don’t make it” lol

felicia May 12, 2012 - 5:34 AM

I am so glad I read this… I plateaud after losing 40 pds. I have 15 more. I realize I have to lessen my intake and switch up on my workout… Thanks so much!

Nubian June 22, 2012 - 12:34 PM

I am in my final 15 pounds and ALL of this is true. I’ve had to increase workouts and cut out 2 snacks just to lose 1-2 pounds a week. It’s frustrating.

Vee June 22, 2012 - 4:39 PM

I really needed to read this today! I almost lost 50lbs (48 to exact), i have been stuck at the same weight for weeks and im tired of counting calories so I stopped but i thought I could eye my portions. I still workout 5 to 6 times a week… i don’t gain but don’t lose either! I guess I have to regroup and try to lose the remaining 15lbs that i want!

A, Thomas July 13, 2012 - 7:44 PM

I am so right here. 93 lbs gone, but these friggin last 14 lbs are killing me.

Laurie July 20, 2012 - 3:18 PM

It really helped to read this! I started with wanting to lose about 30 pounds from 185. First ten came off EASY. 6 small meals around 1200 calories. I think I dropped the whole ten in about two weeks. I’m betting alot of it was water weight. Now I’m hovering over 174-176 up and down and yep it’s getting to be a challenge to stay within 1200-1300. I can see I need to kick some excercise in. Thank you for the article, it’s just what I needed to read.

Lynaya July 28, 2012 - 1:26 PM

I’ve been losing weight with clean eating and exercise. I’m afraid of the plateau that seems inevitable. I realize at some point I will have to intensify my workout sessions. Will I have to start counting calories even if I continue clean eating?

Lisa M February 15, 2013 - 7:39 PM

I lost the first 25 quickly changing my eating and running 2-3 days a week… but I hit a plateau… so now I wake up at 4:45 AM to hit the gym for 45 minutes of cardio so that I can get around this plateau and lose the other 32 pounds. I worry about the 15 lbs to go plateau, but all I can do it cross that bridge when I get to it. I have done a cardio boxing class and lost 4 lbs in one night… I figured it was water weight, but I never regained it. Those boxing and kickboxing classes are no joke! To get what you’ve never had… you’ve got to do what you’ve never done. Stay encouraged ladies!

Rooo March 24, 2013 - 2:56 PM

I’m … feeling a little conflicted here (and I’ll certainly acknowledge that may be in part b/c of my history, which I’ve talked about a little here before).

I’ve read that 1200 calories is the minimum in order to keep an adult body functioning (lies, d*mn lies, and statistics; I know) … and only 100 calories more than that at 145 lbs doesn’t seem like an awful lot to me, in order to stay fully mentally & physically functional.

I’m also a bit of a workout fiend (as also detailed here previously 🙂 ) and so for that reason probably favor “working out more” as opposed to “eating less”.

But I just … it’s certainly not like I have any kind of counterargument to the math in the main post; I just … the larger culture seems to actively promote this idea that women can do anything with nothing; that we have not only the ability, but the obligation, to survive on bird chirpings and sweet air … and so I have trouble with the concept of women having to survive on any less energy, past a certain point, with all we’ve got to do both mentally and physically in a day … when those numbers start to tread close to the “this is the number a human being needs just to support basic organ functions” line.


Erika Nicole Kendall March 24, 2013 - 3:35 PM

I think it’s totally valid to question information that’s told to women in terms of managing or monitoring their bodies. I’m in full support of that!

This, however, is something that isn’t gender-specific, and I’ll tell you why.

Regular caloric burn/basal metabolic rate/metabolic output is based on size, muscle mass, genetic processes (age), hormones (testosterone, menopause, pregnancy, etc), and activity levels.

I speak in terms specific to women just because my original research always only pertained to women (because, durr *points to my ovaries*) but my certification studies made things more general in terms of genders.

With things like hormones and activity levels aside (like I wrote in the post), two people with the same age, weight, height and body fat percentage should burn about the same amount of calories, and if my description above was of a man, it’d still be the same. The average online calorie burner – and the average caloric burn formula – gives men more calories to burn naturally because the assumption is that the man would be more muscular, which exponentially affects his caloric output. And, as frustrating as it is to admit this, they’re right to do so; women aren’t encouraged to lift, only to shrink, and it affects their caloric output negatively.

You can “work out more,” but if your diet isn’t in order to accommodate your needs as well as your goals, you can stagnate.

On another note, the example above is calculated BEFORE doing the math related to her activity levels, be they sedentary or Michael Phelps-level. THAT might be what’s throwing you off; basal metabolic rate doesn’t account for activity.

Angela (@AquaGoddessDC) June 6, 2014 - 1:18 PM

It took me less time to lose 150 lbs than it did to lose the last 25 lbs, and I’m not near my goal yet…well, I am, as I’ve about 50 more to go to reach that magical BMI target (I know, I know) my doctors suggest as being healthy.

This is just one more reminder that I need to keep things fluid and to reassess what it is that I’m doing from the perspective of a much smaller person, who is getting even smaller still…and much, much, much more fit.

Thank you, as always, for being so willing to share your journey and insights with us. I am and will remain grateful.

Carly August 5, 2014 - 4:16 PM

I am 5’1″ and started to lose at 160 lbs. Goal weight is 130 lbs. I have been on a 1200 cal/day plan for the past 8 months, all while doing 5-6 days a week high intensity interval training, strength training, spinning, running etc. Anything that packed a lot of punch and burned 400-600 cals. The first 15 lbs came off nicely. I am devastated today at being stuck on a plateau at 150 lbs for the past 4 months straight. I got stuck at 145 lbs then tried a supplement, and gained 5 more! I have changed my calorie intake daily, changed my eating pattern, cut out snacks, increased my work outs by 30 minutes, and did 6 weeks straight of a Jenny Craig meal plan….aaand nothing. This is darn near depressing. As a last result I’m going to the doctor to check for diabetes and my thyroid (for 2nd time). Any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

Erika Nicole Kendall August 6, 2014 - 8:22 AM

You need to be eating much more than that, my love. Add a couple hundred calories – add 100 this week, then another 100 the next – and see if that makes a difference.

Ashley August 26, 2015 - 9:48 AM

Had to come back to this post today because I’ve gotten so down about being stuck at my weight. I’m 5’0 and I’ve managed to keep off the first 20lbs I lost, but I still want to get to 115 from ~137 and it’s a nightmare! Being so short, you have to give up everything and put in so much more effort that I feel like a slave to weight loss. It’s miserable and almost seems impossible.

I signed up for Daily Burn to try get some more intense/better activity in. I’m hoping that’ll get the scale moving because you’re right. The type and amount of food you can eat once you start getting down is a mindtrip…

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