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Understanding Weight Loss Plateaus

When you first start a new diet and exercise plan, you may see fabulous results right off the bat -- the scale yielding smaller numbers, clothes fitting loosely and your confidence soaring. You’re chugging along nicely, losing steadily, and then, wham -- your weight stalls. Even the most dedicated dieter will more than likely experience a diet plateau at one point or another.

What is a Weight Loss Plateau?

Your body weight will fluctuate day-to-day. It’s not until the weight fails to come off (despite your diligent efforts) for two to three weeks in a row that you’ve hit a “diet plateau”. Regardless of how hard you feel you’re working out, or how well you’re eating, the scale is stuck at the same number. This is a common occurrence for those trying to lose weight and can be puzzling, frustrating and discouraging.

Why Does This Happen?

Weight loss happens in phases (the big drop, the little drop and the slow and the steady). The Weight Loss Journey: Know What to Expect] A weight loss plateau typically occurs during the slow and steady period. There may be a simple explanation.

  • It’s possible that you may be eating more calories than you think. Portion sizes are something many people have a hard time with, and after the “big drop”, portion control and accurate calorie counting will make a huge difference. Using the planner and tracker to do the counting for you can help.
  • You may be burning less. Life happens and it can be easy to take a week off of exercising. Before you know it, one week can turn into two, then three and before you know it, it’s been a month! Overcome your activity lapse and pick up where you left off. If it’s an injury that is preventing you from being physically active, just try to do what you can. For example, if your lower body’s hurt, maybe you can still do upper body exercise or swimming.
  • Another explanation is that your body may need fewer calories to operate. As you get lighter, your body needs fewer calories to lose and maintain your weight. You might have been able to get by with more wiggle room in your calorie intake (or activity burn) in the beginning, whereas now the extras are stalling your weight loss.

How to Get Back on the Losing Side

Explore what the culprit may be and where you need to focus. Are you eating more than you realize or self-monitoring less? Is your activity really as high as you think? Are you sleeping enough? Here are some simple strategies to help you push past your plateau and towards your goal.

  • Measure your food. Pay close attention to your calorie intake, and make sure your portion sizes are accurate. Eyeballing your portions is often good enough, but when you’re stuck in a plateau, measuring may help. Let’s face it, measuring what you eat takes time. Just try it for a week or two. It may be just what you need to get you out of your plateau.
  • Reassess your calorie level. Go back to your profile and review the information with your consultant to make sure you have the correct activity level checked. Different levels of activity can affect your recommended weight loss calorie level, and it’s possible that your amount of activity has changed since you set your goals. Be sure to let your consultant know if you are doing more or less than when you started. If you’ve amped up your activity, you may need more calories. If you’ve had to reduce your exercise due to an injury or medical issue, your calorie level may decrease.
  • Mix up your fitness routine. Try cross training. Using different or new muscles may confuse your body out of a rut. Try adding a day of different cardio activity like stair stepping, bicycle riding, or elliptical training. Consider increasing your intensity with fast and fun intervals -- alternate your regular pace with 1-2 minute bursts at a higher level to burn more calories. Lastly, don’t forget to include resistance training to help rev your metabolism.
  • Sleep! Don’t forget your zzzz’s. The ‘just right’ amount for most of us is 7-9 hours each night. Sleep rejuvenates us and makes our bodies as efficient as possible. An efficient body will burn calories!

Your weight loss may already be within the guidelines. Although it may feel slow at times, you may be losing at the safe, healthy and recommended rate (1-2 lbs on average or 1% of body weight per week). Keep up the good work! If you are at a plateau, don’t despair. You will find your way back to losing. Keep your habits healthy, rev up your fitness plan and stick to your diet plan.