Weight Management Counseling and Support Services
What to Do When You’ve Hit a Weight Loss Plateau
You’ve been dieting and exercising and successfully losing weight. Then, after a while, the scale stops showing any weight loss resulting in frustration. Does this sound familiar? You’ve likely hit a weight loss plateau that can mean one of several things.
1. You Need to Eat. Weight loss requires taking in fewer calories than you use in a day. Unfortunately, many people go to extremes and eat too few calories thinking this will speed up the process. It may work at first, but eventually you will stop losing – and may even gain weight again. Why? Because your body thinks it’s being starved and has entered “survival mode”. Your body needs a minimum amount of calories each day to function and to maintain the muscle mass you have. If you eat less than this (including not enough carbohydrates), and because carbohydrates cannot be stored in great quantities in your body, your body only has 2 options for survival: 1) use fat for fuel or 2) use protein (i.e. muscle) for fuel.
Protein provides your body with 4 calories per gram, whereas fat provides 9 calories per gram. From a survival standpoint, your body can live more than twice as long if it holds onto the fat and uses protein for fuel. This is precisely what it does. The problem is that when you lose protein and muscle, your metabolism drops. This means you can’t eat as much as you used to and leads to.
If you have really stepped up your exercise program, or perhaps just started one for the first time, you need to realize that your body will need more calories. You need to eat to lose weight, or your workouts will be in vain.
2. You Need to Move! Face it; you cannot expect continued weight loss and long-term success in keeping it off if you don’t move. There are no excuses; no magic pills; no secret formula yet to be discovered that will dispute this. Besides, your metabolism slows with age, making it harder and harder to lose weight with diet alone. If you’ve hit a weight loss plateau and are not exercising, start moving!
3. You Need Muscle. Many people mistakenly believe that they should focus on cardio exercise in order to lose weight. While cardio is important, resistance training is critically important in helping your metabolism and increasing your muscle tone and definition. The only way to have a long-term impact on increasing your metabolism is to build muscle; you only do that through resistance training. If you’ve hit a weight loss plateau and are not doing any resistance training, it’s time to add it to your program.
4. You Need to Shake Up Your Routine. Your body has a profound ability to adjust to the demands placed on it. When you first start a new form of exercise, it may be challenging. However, as you get stronger and your body adapts, it is no longer a challenge. Over time, your body becomes so efficient that this same exercise no longer has an effect on your weight. If you’ve hit a plateau, it’s time to add some variety into your routine. Try a new activity or increase the intensity level of your current workouts. Perhaps add an additional workout into your week, or simply change the order of your routine. The key is to constantly keep your body guessing so it is forced to adapt.
5. Consider Other Measurements Besides the Scale. If you’re eating enough and of
the right kinds of foods, are exercising and including resistance training (and varying
your routine) but are still not losing weight, it’s time to think differently. What
does that number on the scale tell you, anyway? As you gain muscle, your weight
may increase; however, your body fat will decrease. In addition, your clothes will
likely be looser as you lose inches.
Weight is just a number; it does not define who you are. If you have reached your goal for health , fitness, and size but the scale doesn’t agree, throw it out and use a better measurement for yourself. You may be surprised to know that many fit, athletic individuals are considered to be overweight or even obese based on height/weight and BMI charts; these do not take body fat percentage into account.
So before you get frustrated and decide your efforts are in vain, consider if what you’re using to measure your success is appropriate.
Source: Northwestern Health Sciences University