Hit a plateau? This test can tell you exactly why you're not losing weight and how to fix it

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
June 15, 2012

Nothing is more frustrating than the dreaded weight-loss plateau! When you're exercising regularly and eating clean yet the scale just won't budge, it can make you want to chuck it all and go back to the comforting arms of Little Debbie and reality TV, especially when we're repeatedly reminded that weight loss is as simple as "calories in, calories out." While that might be mathematically true, it doesn't tell the whole story, says Darryl Bushard, NASM-CPT/ISSN-Sports Nutrition Specialist, Certified Weight Loss Coach for Lifetime Fitness and Precision Nutrition Certified. "It's really not the calories that are important," he says, "but the nutrients in the calories."

And there's a lot more to consider than your food. A host of other variables can affect weight loss, performance, and overall health, Bushard says. "You need to look at all the stressors in your life affecting your metabolism, including your workouts (are you overtraining?), environment, any nutritional deficiencies, mental health, emotional state, work, and lack of sleep." And of course you have your genetics to contend with (Thank you, Aunt Martha, for my "birthing hips!").

The good news is you can control all of these factors, for the most part. To truly understand what you need to fix, you first need to know what's brewing beneath the surface. You might feel perfectly healthy today, but that doesn't mean you're not predisposed to some conditions that can greatly affect your health in the future. Enter metabolic testing.

Your metabolism is simply the way your body gets energy from food and uses it to help you live your life. It sounds simple, but it affects everything from your fertility to your mood to whether you are one of those people who can eat whatever they want and never gain weight (We all know one of those people).

What's the State of Your Metabolism?To check out the status of your metabolism, Bushard first recommends a "stress and resilience" spit test that measures levels of DHEA (the hormone precursor that dictates your resiliency) and cortisol (the "stress hormone"). "Stress is the beginning of every [health issue]," he says.

Next up is the test to measure your cardiovascular health and your RMR (resting metabolic rate)--this is also known as the Darth Vader test because of the scary mask you have to wear. The first part of this test involves running on a treadmill as a computer monitors your carbon dioxide output. The results reveal:

1. How efficiently your body burns fat for energy

2. Your aerobic threshold, or the maximum level at which you're still working in your aerobic zone, not anaerobic zone. Aerobic threshold is an intensity you could run at for hours on end.

3. Your VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during intense or maximal exercise. VO2 max is generally considered the best indicator of an athlete's cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.

The second part is easier: Kick back in a dark room and relax (as much as you can with a mask over your face) while the computer analyzes your breath and heart rate to determine your RMR, the minimum number of calories your body needs to survive.

The results from these tests combined with a comprehensive blood profile can give you a very accurate picture of your strengths and weaknesses and what you can do to get healthy and, yes, lose weight.

I was initially a little disheartened by my results (when the end comes, it will be the cockroaches and I surviving, as apparently I don't need food to live), but as Thom Rieck, a metabolic specialist and holder of the three world records, reminded me, "There's not really any ‘good' or ‘bad,' we're just finding out where you are so we know how to help you train to be a rockstar." Rockstar, huh? Yes, please!

More and more health clubs are starting to offer metabolic testing, so if you're interested in learning more, ask a staff member if your gym has the appropriate equipment. If not, they can help you find a metabolic specialist in the area who can answer all of your questions.