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How to Conquer a Weight Loss Plateau

How to Conquer a Weight Loss Plateau

Weight loss plateaus are an inevitable part of every weight loss journey: When you first start exercising and eating right, the pounds come off easily, but as time goes by the number on the scale stops shrinking. You’ve maintained your healthy habits, but it’s no longer enough to help you continue losing weight. What gives?

It’s easy to get discouraged when you hit a weight loss plateau, but once you understand why this happens, it’s easier to make small adjustments to your eating and exercising habits. Try these tips to get off the plateau and regain the momentum you need to reach your goal.

1) Understand why you’ve hit a plateau.

The Mayo Clinic identifies two main reasons why weight loss plateaus happen. The first deals with the loss of “water weight.” This is a popular term, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Here’s how it works:

Our bodies store spare energy in our muscles and liver in the form of glycogen, a carbohydrate made primarily of water. When we cut calories and exercise more, our body uses up its stores of glycogen, resulting in swift weight loss that is mostly water-based.

The second main reason your weight loss might be slowing down is due to muscle loss. Lean muscle speeds up our metabolism, which increases the rate at which we burn calories. When we first start losing weight, we lose muscles and fat alike. This causes our metabolism to slow, and with it our weight loss. To counter this, we need to build up lean muscle (we’ll talk about that more in a minute).

It’s also possible that you’ve hit a weight loss plateau because you’ve set a very ambitious goal. While it’s easy to become obsessed with an ideal number, how you feel is more important than how much you weigh. If you’re hitting a plateau but you’re at a healthy weight, then it’s time to celebrate while maintaining your current routine. However, if you and your doctor agree you have further to go, the following tips will help you power through.

2) Reassess what you eat.

  • Keep a food journal. Perhaps you’ve been eating healthier, but you’re not exactly sure how many calories you’re consuming. Keep a food journal for two weeks to help you stay accountable to your new diet. This will help you notice where you may be slipping up. It’s possible you’re not keeping your diet as well as you think you are!
  • Cut more calories. Sometimes the solution to weight loss plateaus is to cut more calories. Perhaps you needed to incrementally decrease how much you consume in order to achieve your ideal weight. It’s important to keep your diet healthy, though, which is why the next point is so important. Read on!
  • Eat more of the right thing. Not all calories are created equal. Try “budgeting” your calories to add more healthy fats, whole grains, lean proteins, and plant-based proteins to your diet. Adding nuts, egg, and chicken to a salad does increase the calorie count, but it may also cut down your need for a snack two hours later. This also helps you maintain the lean muscle you gain while working out.

3) Reconsider how you exercise.

  • Exercise smarter, not longer. A 2012 study done at the University of Copenhagen shows that 30-minute workouts can burn fat as effectively as 60-minute workouts. Our bodies continue burning calories after our workout through excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This means working out every day for a short time can be more effective than three times a week for a longer time.
  • Add strength training. People trying to lose weight often focus on cardio because it burns the most calories. But since building lean muscle mass helps re-boost your metabolism, try adding some strength training to your exercise rotation. Doing high-intensity interval training a few times a week is a great way to build muscle mass while increasing your body’s post-workout EPOC.
  • Take activity breaks. Small lifestyle changes can help you beat weight loss plateaus. Maybe this means biking to work, taking the stairs, or walking to lunch. Consider getting a step counter to track how many steps you take during your regular day (most smartphones have a built-in fitness app with this capability).  

– Emily Polson