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Why Do We Plateau in Weight Loss & What Can Be Done About It?

Like 90% of the population, I start January trying to undo the damage the holidays do to my waistline. I find it easy to stay motivated as long as I'm seeing progress, but it's when I hit those inevitable plateaus that I run into trouble. So what are they? Why are they? And what can be done about them?

Your metabolism is the rate at which you burn calories, and muscles are what keep your metabolism up. According to the Mayo Clinic, as you lose weight, your metabolism declines, causing you to burn fewer calories. So to lose weight, you need to either increase your physical activity or decrease the calories you eat. The challenge is to not revert back to bad habits when you hit those stalls.

What causes weight loss plateaus?

Continuing with Mayo Clinic info, during the first few weeks of our weight loss efforts, we may see rapid results. Partly because when you cut calories, the body gets needed energy initially by releasing its stores of glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. Meaning what? It's mostly water loss, which is temporary.

You also lose some muscle along with fat, slowing your metabolism and weight loss, even if you eat the same number of calories. Hardly seems fair, does it? It's simple math, really, when the calories you burn equal the calories you eat, you plateau.

How do we overcome a plateau?

Following is a list of suggestions I gleaned that will hopefully help you past those annoying halts in your progress.

  • Reassess your habits. In order to do this, you have to keep track. If you're serious about weight loss, keep a food and exercise journal. Then when you hit a plateau, look back through and see if you've been relaxing your guard. Even a little bit. Easy enough to do. My favorite app to keep track of this is MyFitnessPal.

  • Cut more calories. But never go below 1200 calories a day. When you go below 1200 calories a day, it puts your body into starvation mode, which triggers your body to store every bit of fat it can and your body will start to metabolize your muscle fibers to get the necessary nutrients to stay alive.

  • Give your workouts a boost. Most people should exercise 30 minutes a day, five or six days a week. If this doesn't work for you, increase the duration and intensity of your workouts to burn more calories. Also build muscle mass with weightlifting and such to boost your metabolism. Work out with a friend for added incentive. Also, vary your workouts. Our bodies are smart, and if you keep doing the same thing, they figure out how to do it more efficiently and burn less calories. Try interval training for an extra burst. Muscle confusion is key. MyFitnessPal can also track your activity if it is paired with a device like Garmin or VivoFit. This gives you additional statistics to gain a bigger picture of your overall health and fitness.

  • Increase your regular daily activity. Get off the couch. Park further away. Use the stairs. Do more vigorous yard work or house cleaning. Any additional activity is going to burn more calories.

  • Eat more fiber. Add more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet.

  • Eat a cheat meal. This may sound counterproductive, but sometimes when we diet, our bodies think we're trying to starve them to death, and they begin to hold onto fat. A slice of pizza or burger may be just the thing to trick our brains and jump start our weight loss. Just don't get carried away!

  • Cut back on salt. Water retention could be what's keeping your weight up, and cutting back on salt will help. Especially the stuff found in processed foods.

  • Eat regularly. Skipping meals slows your metabolism and drops blood sugar levels, making you feel famished. And if you're like me, when I get too hungry, discipline goes right out the window and I want to eat anything and everything in sight.

  • Drink more water. Water is key. We have to have a good irrigation system to flush out all the fat and toxins we're trying to lose. If your urine is dark yellow, you're dehydrated. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger signals. A good trick is to drink two glasses of water before each meal and you'll feel fuller before you start and consume less calories.

  • Eat protein. Protein helps build your muscles and makes you feel full, so not only eat it, but spread it out over all your meals to help you get from one to the next.

  • Get more sleep. What does sleep have to do with weight loss? Plenty, according to WebMD, logging less than six hours of sleep reduces fat loss by 55%! When we're tired and grumpy we have less self-control.

  • Take a rest day. This is a pattern established in the beginning. Recharge your batteries. Relax. Don't go crazy with the food, but get geared up to start again on Monday. New beginnings are great, aren't they? And we have one every week.

Don't fall into the "Oh Well" syndrome.

It's hard to not get discouraged when you stop seeing results, and fall back into old, unhealthy habits. But even if you're not seeing dramatic weight loss, if you're eating healthier and exercising more, your quality of life will improve. You'll feel better about yourself, sleep better, have better skin, and an overall better outlook on life. So don't fall into what I call the "Oh well" trap, and think that because you make one mistake, you might as well scrap the whole plan. Or, as my sister would say, "The brakes are out, no use steering!" Keep on keeping on.

If you are serious about weight loss and would like additional help. Contact us. We have great resources!

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