You work incredibly hard to lose weight.
Yet, you are so intimately familiar with the stress and despondency of feeling like you’re getting nowhere.
And, despite your very best intentions, you seem to have reached yet another weight loss plateau.
So, what can be done about this pesky problem?
Firstly, it’s really important to be clear about what a ‘plateau’ is.
Defining the Weight Loss Plateau
That may sound silly, but most people have a wrong understanding of what a weight loss plateau is, and this only leads to feelings of failure.
So, I want to make sure we get this right from the very outset.
Perhaps you think a weight loss plateau is when you don’t lose weight from one week to the next?
A weight loss plateau refers to an extended period of time when there is no weight loss according to your bathroom weighing scale, and no loss of inches according to your tape measure.
It is not a true weight loss plateau unless these measurements have remained the same for 3 weeks, or more.
If that’s not the case, just keeping doing what you’ve been doing and the number should start moving in the right direction again.
But, if you truly have plateaued, read on…
Weight Loss Basics
There’s no denying weight loss is easier in the first few weeks of dieting.
Weight Loss Does Slow Down With Time
In fact, it’s the natural progression of things that as the weeks go past you will start to see your weight loss slowing down.
This isn’t necessarily something you are doing wrong, nor is it something you need to ‘fix.’
Let me tell you about Angela.
At 51 years old, Angela weighs 230 pounds. If she loses 1% of her body weight in fat per week (0.5%-1% is a good pace of fat loss), that would means she loses roughly 2.3 pounds in her first week of dieting. She is now at 200 pounds. The following week, a loss of 1% now equals 2 pounds, rather than 2.3 pounds.
So, if Angela continues with the same eating pattern and exercise routine at 200 pounds, her metabolism will be roughly 15% lower than what it was at 230 pounds.
This is because she now has a lower body mass, and so she doesn’t require as much energy to support her smaller frame.
So, as your weight decreases it makes sense that you will lose less weight as a percentage of your total bodyweight as the weeks go on. The result is that weight loss naturally slows down the leaner you become.
What I’m saying is, don’t expect your weight loss to keep going at the rate it did when you started dieting, particularly if you don’t make any changes to your eating or exercise regimen.
Even after you’ve been dieting for a while, your weight can go up and down by as much as 3 pounds from one day to the next, due to changes in your hydration and water balance.
This balance is effected by things like external temperature, or your fluid and salt intake.
For women, the menstrual cycle hormones can make these water changes even more than this.
Women and Hormones
If you’re a women, up to 10 days before your period begins, you could be retaining more water than usual, and this will completely skew any weigh-in results.
Do not beat yourself up if you don’t lose weight at this time.
Your body is simply holding more water than normal, and your weight loss will get back on track, if you stay the course.
If you find these weigh-ins completely disheartening, try waiting until the day after your period, before weighing yourself again.
So, what can you do to beat a true weight loss plateau?
Weight Loss Plateau Tips
Weight loss is roughly 80% diet, and 20% exercise and other lifestyle factors, such as getting enough sleep and avoiding stress.
So, the first place to look carefully at when you hit a plateau is your diet.
1. Eating Too Much
For every 15 pounds or so you lose, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your food intake.
Sometimes you’ll need to eat a little less, or maybe cut back on certain foods and drinks.
The most common cause of a true weight loss plateau is eating more than you think you are eating.
If you eat out at restaurants a lot, this could be your main issue. Other areas to consider include mindless eating, portion size, soft drinks and alcohol.
It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what the problem is, which is why a food journal is a great idea.
And, while it may sound laborious, a food journal is one of the most honest ways to look at your eating patterns.
Remember, a slice of bread here, a handful of potato chips there can very quickly add up.
It’s also pretty common to become less diligent as the weeks go on, so recording what you eat can really put the reins on things.
If nothing else, the fact you know you will be recording everything you eat, can be enough of a deterant to make you think twice about what you reach for.
So, I recommend writing down absolutely everything you eat and drink for at least 3 days, but preferably 7 days.
As I mentioned in an article some time ago, one study found those who kept a food diary doubled their weight loss, in comparison to those who didn’t keep a record.
A food diary forces you to consider your actions before you take them. That’s fantastic for accountability, and is a very effective safeguard against mindless snacking, or emotional eating.
Interestingly, I just started using Instagram, and I think it will have a similar benefit, in terms of accountability.
So, if writing down what you eat doesn’t suit you, perhaps a photo journal would do the trick.
It’s very easy to get started, and the interaction from other Instagram users could serve as a really good motivation to eat well.
2. Eating Too Little
The opposite of eating too much is not eating enough.
Chronic calorie deprivation is something that some dieters do try, and it is a disastrous path to take, leading to health concerns like reduced thyroid production, decreased muscle mass, and decreased leptin levels.
For most dieters experiencing a plateau, though, I don’t think eating too little is their problem.
It’s one of those possibilities that gets bandied about as the reason for a weight loss plateau, but there really is very little scientific evidence behind the idea, apart from the Minnesota starvation study, which was a totally different ballgame.
Anyway, this idea of starvation mode leading to a plateau is not something I’m denying, but I think it gets way too much ‘air time.’
Let’s just say, that’s a big topic for another day.
My advice is the same, try keeping a food journal, as that’s the best way to really know what you’ve been eating, not what you think you’ve been eating.
3. Are You Getting Stronger?
While it’s highly likely that what you’ve been eating is the cause of any stall in your weight loss, exercise is very important too, and more specifically the intensity of your workouts.
Changing too Much
I think there’s always the temptation to change things around, and constantly try out new exercise routines.
This is a mistake though, because continuity is really important.
Think about it, the aim with exercise is to improve your strength and fitness levels, and to progress by making it more challenging as time goes on.
But, if you are constantly changing your routine to something different, it becomes really difficult to actually see any improvement in your strength.
Not Changing Enough
On the other side of the coin, your body can get accustomed to the workouts you are doing each week, and become efficient at completing these movements.
This is why increasing the intensity and/or the duration of your workout can give you body the wakeup call it needs.
So for example, if you have been jogging, try adding some bursts of sprinting, and perhaps a few weight lifting sessions to your workout as well.
What I’m saying is, rather than chopping and changing your workouts about constantly, make a few small changes, add to the intensity, lift heavier weights, etc., don’t just scrap what you’ve been doing as ‘useless’ to try out the latest fitness trend.
Failure to Exercise
An exercise plateau can also become more likely due to a complete lack of exercise.
A consistent exercise routine is so incredibly important for boosting your metabolism, and therefore your fat burning potential in the long-run.
More specifically weight training, will help you to build a lean, toned body, and muscles that are metabolically active.
That will help you to avoid a weight loss plateau in the future.
So, if you face a weight loss plateau and you haven’t been exercising, that’s a good place to start.
4. Chill Out
Weight loss can become an obsession, and a big source of stress, which ultimately hinders your weight loss efforts.
Sometimes you just need to take a break, and think about something else for a while.
I’m not saying go back to eating fast food every day, but I am saying give your mind a break.
So, try to forget about your bathroom scales for a few weeks, and just focus on eating intuitively. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied, and see how you get on with that.
If nothing else, your mind will thank you for the break!
Weight Loss Plateau Checklist
Here’s a few key things to think about if you find yourself in a weight loss plateau;
- Query if you really have stalled. Take your body measurements with a tape measure and using bathroom scales, and keep a record. Remember, it’s only a plateau if these results show no change in 3 weeks.
- Be honest and diligent in recording everything you eat for 3+ days.
- Limit your salt and simple carbohydrate intake.
- Make sure you are eating adequate protein with each meal and snack, and drink lots of water.
- Eat until you feel satisfied, not stuffed.
- Stop eating earlier in the evening that what is normal for you.
- Modify your exercise level. Increase the intensity and/or the duration. Change your routine (if appropriate). Add weights. If you’re not exercising yet, get moving!
- Don’t forget how important it is to get enough sleep, and control your stress levels.
Don’t Give Up
At the end of it all, plateaus do happen sometimes. It’s how you choose to deal with them that counts.
My best advice is to embrace it, learn from it, and above all else, keep going.
As you continue on your journey to reach your ideal weight, keep in mind that changing your body is a marathon, not a sprint.
Weight loss is a patience game, so stick with your program and you will see success in the end.
What are you weight loss plateau tips? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below…
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