Weighing In: How Do I Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau?

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • Dear Heather: I've been dieting for the last couple of months and I've lost weight but lately my weight loss has stopped, what can I do?


    Dear Community Member: First things first. Congratulations on your weight loss success!! It's important to realize that weight loss is a journey and not a race. Try not to focus on the weight that you still want to lose because that can be frustrating and throw all your great efforts off track. It's important to acknowledge the success that you have had because it's not easy to lose weight!


    What are weight loss plateaus?

    You're experiencing a weight-loss plateau, a couple weeks in a row when your weight doesn't budge. They can be extremely frustrating but don't give up! Plateaus are normal - they often happen about a month into dieting and then periodically throughout your weight loss journey because your body goes into "starvation mode".

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    If you've read my blog before this is probably a familiar term to you. Our bodies, like ourselves, get used to habits and patterns. If your body is used to getting chocolate cake for dessert every night and then it stops getting it ... well, you can probably imagine ... it's not going to be happy. At first the body goes along with its normal functions because, it thinks the cake will come back. After a while, when the cake still hasn't returned, the body starts to panic because it's not getting the calories that it's used to getting from the cake. To compensate for the loss of those calories the body starts slowing down and using less calories.


    It's our job to trick our bodies. We need to keep things interesting. You know, change things up periodically to divert our body's attention from that calorie deficit so it won't slow down. The first thing to do when you hit a plateau is to assess what you've been doing so far, make sure that you really are experiencing a plateau and that you haven't inadvertently been eating more calories than you realize. Once you've determined that it is a dreaded plateau there are some things you can do to trick your body and overcome plateaus.


    Change Your Diet

    Try to drink more water and eat more water-based foods like fruits and vegetables. This will help flush out excess water. It can also be helpful to change the balance of your diet. While eliminating foods groups is never recommended, changing things up a bit and eating a little more protein and a little less carbohydrate for a few days can help jump start your metabolism so you can overcome the plateau. But make sure that at least 50 percent of your calories are coming from carbohydrate sources. You can also add a little more healthy fat to your diet. These types of changes shouldn't be lifelong, just a few days to overcome the plateau.


    If you aren't spacing out your meals, try to eat six small meals instead of three larger ones. By spacing out your meals, and eating regularly over the course of the day - you can burn more calories. Your metabolism slows down during long periods without food, so eating six times a day keeps your metabolism moving faster all day long. Just make sure that you aren't increasing your calories. If you are currently eating three times a day, split that same amount of food up into six smaller meals.


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    Some experts recommend a cheat day to help keep your metabolism up. The idea behind a cheat day is that by increasing your calories one day a week you can trick your body so that it doesn't realize that there is a calorie deficit on the other days. I think cheat days are fine, as long as you can get back on track the next day. For many people, a cheat day can spiral into a week or a month of unhealthy eating. It's important to access your personality and dieting history before deciding to do a cheat day. Another concern with the cheat day is that you can go overboard with binges that can counteract a week of low-calorie, healthy eating. A cheat day means you can have something you wouldn't normally indulge in - it doesn't mean you can have everything.


    Change Up Your Workout

    Just like diet, your body gets used to exercise. Are you doing the same workouts everyday? If so, you're working the same muscle group over and over and after time you won't get the same effects. If your body knows what to expect, it's not going to react by burning calories. Try changing things up a bit and working different muscle groups. If you've been using the elliptical at the gym, take a spin on the bike or go to an aerobics class. When you work different muscle groups, your body has to start working again to repair the muscle that you've broken down during the workout, this burns more calories so you can leave that plateau behind.


    Strength Training

    Strength training builds muscle mass, which burns more calories than fat. Try adding some light weights to your workout. This will increase your lean body mass and your metabolism. You don't have to bulk up to increase your metabolism; lifting light weights and doing lots of repetitions will do the trick!


    It's Not Always About the Scale

    It's also important to remember that the scale isn't the only measure of weight loss. Just because the numbers aren't moving doesn't mean you aren't losing weight. Losing just a quarter of a pound or a third of a pound, which won't show up on the scale, will add up over time!


    If you have a close friend or family member that you're comfortable with, have them take your measurements and keep track of inches lost. When the scale isn't moving, the inches may still be coming off. And remember, muscle weighs more than fat, so the number on the scale may stay the same but your body fat percentage is going down, and that means you're improving your health ... which is the most important reward!

Published On: October 19, 2007

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