The prospect of losing weight seems daunting at first. Dropping those first five pounds leaves you feeling cautiously optimistic. Breaking the double-digit mark in lost pounds melts away the caution — your weight loss goal is now in sight, and you feel psyched about achieving it sooner than later.
Then you hit a wall. You maintained your healthy eating regimen and kept to an exercise routine — but your weight stubbornly won’t budge. Despite your meticulous efforts, you’ve reached a weight loss plateau.
This frustrating situation is common among people who are trying to drop a certain number of pounds to reach a weight loss goal.
“Anyone losing weight should expect at some point they will reach a weight loss plateau,” says Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian nutritionist and assistant professor of nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “The shift on the scale is the result of water, fat and possibly muscle loss. In other words, you have less mass.”
That means your body has become more efficient, which means you are likely burning fewer calories than you did at the beginning of your weight loss efforts. In short, your metabolic rate slows down.
Weight loss plateaus can happen at any time during your effort to shed pounds, often when you’re least expecting it, adds Lise Gloede, a registered dietitian based in Arlington, Virginia.
“Often, when dieters experience weight loss plateaus, their body is readjusting,” Gloede says. “I often have clients that lose weight, then plateau for a couple of weeks, then lose weight again. You may be counting (calories) correctly but somehow the weight doesn’t budge for several weeks. This is just how the body works for some people. It’s common and no reason to panic.”
Fortunately, there are effective ways to continue your weight loss efforts if you seem to be running in place.
Here are eight strategies for breaking through a weight loss plateau:
— Stand on the plateau and take a moment to celebrate.
— Keep close track of your calories.
— Increase the intensity of your exercise.
— Review your medication plan.
— Weigh yourself only once or twice a week.
— Notice your physical hunger and satiety levels.
— Stay the course.
— Go to bed on time.
1. Stand on the plateau and take a moment to celebrate. Appreciate how far you’ve come on your weight loss journey. “It means you have improved your eating and exercise habits,” Zeratsky says. “You are likely a healthier person.”
Even modest weight loss helps shield you from chronic conditions such as:
2. Keep close track of your calories. As the weeks and months go by, it’s easy to become less strict about counting your calories or measuring your meal portions. Consider using an app to help to keep track of your daily caloric intake, says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. For instance, the MyFitnessPal and SparkPeople apps are easy to use and help you measure your caloric intake.”You may find out that you’ve been eating more than you thought you were and the scale will start moving in the right direction again,” Jones says.
3. Increase the intensity of your exercise. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet. However, boosting your exercise can help counteract the effects of a slower metabolism, Jones says. “Try adding some resistance training, which may be the most effective exercise for weight loss,” she says. Research suggests that high-intensity interval training may be more effective for weight loss than a “continuous moderate intensity workout,” according to a meta-analysis published in 2019 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Previous research also suggests that aerobic training is useful for weight loss.
4. Review your medication plan. Has your health care provider added any new medications since you started your weight loss effort? Steroids and some antidepressants and diabetes medications can contribute to weight gain, Jones says. Ask your health care provider whether any of your medications may be preventing you from losing pounds.
5. Weigh yourself only once or twice a week. Get on the scale only once or twice per week rather than on a daily basis. “This may help you focus on the day-to-day patterns and not just the numbers,” Gloede says. Daily changes in your weight primarily reflect fluid shifts. The scale “is not your friend or foe, just a number to check in with.”
6. Notice your hunger and satiety levels. Are you snacking because you’re bored or stressed? Do you stop eating when you’re full, or eat everything on your plate or in your takeout container? We often eat for other reasons than hunger, Gloede says. In particular, many people consume high-calorie snacks when they aren’t particularly hungry. “Stress eating is a big culprit during COVID-19, and being closer to the refrigerator because you’re working from home doesn’t help.” Take non-food breaks during the day.
7. Stay the course. Don’t give up or revert to your old eating habits or unhealthy coping skills, which could include consuming high-calorie fatty or sugary foods that aren’t good for you. “Maintenance of your new weight is equally as important as preventing weight regain,” Zeratsky says. Staying with your healthy eating and exercise regimen will help you reach your long-term health goals.
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8. Go to bed on time. You might need to set a timer for half an hour before the time that you need to head for the bedroom to get adequate sleep; use those 30 minutes to put on your pajamas, brush your teeth and organize your thoughts, Jones says. Getting adequate sleep is important if you’re trying to lose weight. “When we are tired, we tend to eat more and move less — exactly what you want to avoid when you are trying to lose weight,” Jones says.