If your weight loss has stalled, take a look at my top five tips to help you avoid a weight loss plateau and achieve your weight-loss goal.
One of the more frustrating parts of losing weight is the inevitable weight loss plateau. Everything seems to be going along fine, and then all of a sudden––no matter what you do––you find that the scale just doesn’t budge. When you find that your weekly weight loss has stalled, you’ve hit a ‘weight loss plateau,’ and many dieters find the sudden lack of progress deeply frustrating. When you cut back on your calories, your body reacts as if there’s no more food coming its way. So, it does what it’s programmed to do: it hangs onto stored up calories by slowing down the rate at which you burn them. Your resting metabolic rate––the calories you burn every day just to keep your body functioning––goes down a little bit. The drop isn’t huge (10% at most), but it’s often enough to put your weight loss on hold. And suddenly you’re feeling stranded on the dreaded weight loss plateau.
Your resting metabolic rate is determined by your body size and accounts for most of the calories you burn each day. So, it makes sense that as your weight drops your metabolic rate goes down, too.
In order to keep losing weight at the same rate, you need to either cut your calorie intake further, or exercise more. Or, accept that your rate of weight loss will be slower as you approach your goal. Below are some tips to help get you started:
1. Use a food diary to keep track of your calorie intake.
You may have been more careful when you started your diet, by weighing and measuring everything that passed your lips, but you might not be as accurate as you once were. Being more consistent with your journal can help get you off the weight loss plateau and back on track.
2. Drink a protein shake.
Replace two meals a day with a protein shake to help you stay within your calorie limit. When you make your shake, you know exactly what goes into it and how many calories are in the protein powder, the milk and the fruit. That takes the guesswork out of calorie counting. Use the shake for two meals a day, have a healthy third meal, and fill in with snacks of low-fat protein foods, veggies and fruits.
3. Dine out less often.
This one may be hard to do, but it can make a difference. No matter how careful you think you are when you go to a restaurant, it’s usually difficult to accurately estimate how many calories you’re eating. It’s often hard to tell exactly how foods are prepared––extra fats and calories are often lurking. If you’ve been eating out more often than usual, try to cut back for a couple weeks to see if it helps get your weight moving again.
4. Increase your cardio and strength training.
As you build muscle, your resting metabolic rate goes up. If you’ve been working out for a while, you might also be in better shape. And that means that if you haven’t increased the intensity of your activity, you might not be burning as many calories as you used to. Add some new moves to your exercise routine, increase the intensity and pump some iron.
5. Get your body composition checked.
Consider that you might actually have reached an appropriate weight. If you can, get your body composition checked. Muscle is denser and takes up less space than body fat. So, if you’re carrying more muscle than the average person, your body fat percentage might be well within the normal range, even though you might weigh more than you think you should. If that’s the case, then you may not have much, if any, additional weight to lose.
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND
Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training