You’ve been dieting, watching your calories and exercising diligently. But for the last few weeks, the scale won’t budge. You’ve just hit a weight-loss plateau, a common occurrence among individuals who are trying to lose weight. Although our bodies tend to be resistant to change, following are tips you can use to re-start weight loss.
A weight-loss plateau is a good time to recommit, not quit your diet. Keep that vision of success forefront in your mind. Establish new goals with specific timelines to help keep your focus. Imagine yourself at your goal weight.
Remember, it is normal for our weight to ebb and flow. Your weight can fluctuate 3 pounds to 5 pounds daily, depending on your sodium intake, how much water you drink and how many carbohydrates you eat. As we lose weight and our bodies become smaller, it takes fewer calories to maintain the new weight. You may have lost weight fairly rapidly at first, but it’s normal for this to become slower as you go.
Your diet may be the victim of “calorie creep.” You think you are not eating more than before, but it’s easy to underestimate calories or not count that little bite you took. Your portion size might be just a little bigger now than when you first started dieting and strictly monitoring your portions. It helps to start (or re-start) logging your food intake to determine whether you are eating a little more than you realized. Tracking the time of day and your feelings can help identify problem times or emotions that may be triggering you to eat, as well. Stock your kitchen with healthy foods, and keep tempting foods out of the house.
It’s also possible to cut your calories too much. If your body isn’t getting enough calories, this can slow your metabolism and force your body into a starvation mode, where it hangs on to every calorie and ounce of weight. If you are eating less than 1,200 calories a day, this may be the problem. Increase your intake to 1,200 calories or slightly more, and you should see the scale start to go down again.
Switch up your meal habits to keep your body from falling into a routine. Instead of three meals a day, divide your calories into five or six small meals. Alter your daily calorie intake. Instead of eating 1,500 calories every day, eat 1,200 calories one day and 1,800 the next. The weekly net calories are the same, but calorie cycling can help increase your metabolism.
Try adding more fiber to your diet. Fiber helps you feel full with few calories. A good way to do this is by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Cut out refined carbohydrates, like white bread and baked goods, that may be causing some water retention and bloating. Eating more lean protein foods also can make you feel more satisfied with fewer calories. Watch your sodium intake because too much sodium can make you retain fluid, which definitely will show up on the scale. Drinking more water helps flush your system, keeps you hydrated and helps fill you up. Try drinking two cups of water before meals to help you eat less.
Page 2 of 2 - If you have been doing the same exercise for weeks, it’s time to change things up. Our muscles get used to a routine and use less energy to do the same exercises. Try exercising at a different time of day, vary the intensity of your exercise, add a few extra minutes to your workout or divide your normal exercise routine into two times a day. Another thing you can do to rev up your calorie burn is to add some weight training exercises. Muscles burn more calories than fat.
Incorporate more movement into your daily activities. Pace while talking on the phone, do some jumping jacks during TV commercials or treat the dog to an extra daily walk. Wear a pedometer and set a daily step goal. It takes about 2,000 steps to burn roughly 100 calories, and we should aim for 10,000 steps a day for weight loss.
Plateaus can be broken, but rather than get caught up in the numbers, focus on how you feel and what you have accomplished so far. Be consistent with your healthful diet and exercise plan, and you’ll continue to move in the right direction.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.