Strategies to Push Through Weight Loss Plateau
By Dr. Candice Seti
Ah, the dreaded weight loss plateau. You are going along fine, feeling healthy, proud, and losing weight, and then BAM! It comes to a standstill! The weight loss plateau can be incredibly frustrating and makes you feel stuck and helpless, but there are many things you can do to push through it without exercising all day or dramatically dropping your calories!
Why Do Weight Loss Plateaus Happen?
Ultimately, a weight loss plateau is the result of your body’s incredible process of adaptation. Our bodies like to maintain some sort of equilibrium so if you drop your calories and exercise regularly, you will lose weight initially but, eventually, your body will adapt and slow down your metabolism to meet your current energy intake and expenditure. It’s a wonderful internal mechanism to keep you healthy and safe, but it can also be a bummer when you are trying to lose weight!
So, What Do I Do About it?
- Pat Yourself on the Back - If you have hit a weight loss plateau, that means you’ve been successful with some of your weight loss efforts and it’s important to appreciate that and recognize the work you’ve done. A weight loss plateau can make you feel bad and focus you on the negative, which can set you up to undo all of the positive changes you’ve made. Instead, focus on all the improvements you’ve made to your health and wellbeing and stay committed to keeping yourself healthy.
- Get Your NEAT - Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT is really everything we do other than sleeping, eating, and exercising. Everything from cooking dinner to washing your face falls in this category. The amount of NEAT you have in your life can have a dramatic impact on weight loss as well as overall health, helping you burn up to an additional 350 calories a day! So, make a point to find ways to move more throughout your day and reap all the benefits!
- Rethink Your Exercise - If you spend an hour a day on the treadmill or do the same exercise video every day, now may be the time to seriously consider changing up your workout. As you may recall, your body is very adaptable and this includes exercise. So, the more you do a particular exercise, the more efficient your body gets at it and the less effective it becomes. So, get outside your comfort zone! If you are a runner, start cycling. If you are a yoga enthusiast, consider strength training. If you are a gym rat, join some team sports. Find a way to shake things up and keep your body from adapting.
- Pack on the Muscle - Since we are talking about changing up your exercise routine, if you are not already strength training, now is the time to jump on that bandwagon. Muscle tissue is a major contributor to our body’s metabolism and the more we have of it, the more active our metabolism is. Unfortunately, weight loss can strip away our muscle as well as our fat, thus reducing our metabolic rate. The most effective way to combat this is my building muscle through strength training. Basically, the more muscle mass you have on your body, the more calories you will burn throughout the day and the more fat you will continue to lose. So, start lifting some weights!
- Emphasize Protein - Maintaining and building muscle mass through strength training can be valuable to overcoming a weight loss plateau. And increasing your protein intake can help further that goal. Protein is integral in building and maintaining muscle and helps with weight loss in many other ways. Protein can help release hormones that control our appetite as well as helping us burn body fat. For the most benefit, consume protein at every meal.
- Track Your Intake - Tracking your food can be a simple and effective way to maintain mindfulness in regards to your eating behavior. Mindlessness occurs when we graze through the kitchen grabbing a handful or this and handful of that. But by writing it down or tracking it in an app, we build our mindfulness which helps prevent unnecessary overeating. Research has shown that without tracking people often dramatically underestimate their calorie intake and that the simple act of tracking can benefit your weight loss efforts.
- Stop Stressing - Stress is a weight loss killer for sure! Not only does stress set you up for stress eating, but our stress hormone, cortisol, does all sorts of things that interfere with our weight loss goals. Cortisol can trigger food cravings, slow our metabolism, and increase our storage of belly fat. And the simple act of dieting can be a stressor in and of itself! To avoid these unwanted cortisol effects, it’s important to have a daily stress management practice. Consider taking up diaphragm breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided visualization. Research has shown that these practices can help improve weight loss results and you can do them in as little as 5 minutes a day!
- Prioritize your ZZZs - We all know how valuable sleep is to your health but sleep is also a vital part of any weight loss program. There is extensive data showing how sleep deprivation or irregular sleep patterns have been linked to weight gain risk, increased snacking, increased cravings, lower metabolism, lower willpower for junk food, increased stress levels, lower insulin sensitivity, and less fat burning. So if you are not prioritizing your sleep, you are setting yourself up for weight loss failure. Prioritize your sleep time and make sure you are making it quality sleep!
- Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate - Just like sleep, water is vital to a healthy body. But water also has dramatic impacts on our weight loss success. The initial feelings of thirst are often indistinguishable from feelings of hunger so we tend to eat when a simple glass of water would have sufficed. So, this forces us to take in extra, unneeded calories while keeping us dehydrated. And dehydration slows down your body's system causing it to works less effectively. One of the functions that is slowed down with dehydration is the body's fat burning system. However, when your body is well-hydrated and functioning appropriately, your metabolic rate will increase helping you burn more calories and feel more energized. In fact, when your body is fully hydrated, your calorie burn rate can increase by as much as 30%! So, keep that water bottle by your side and keep drinking throughout the day.
- Calorie Cycle - As I’ve mentioned, the primary cause of a weight loss plateau is your body adapting. When most people focus on weight loss, they exercise every day and eat the same thing every day, or at least the same amount of calories. This can be very effective initially as your body ends up burning more than you are taking in. But eventually, your body will adapt. To fight this adaptation, you can keep your body guessing by taking in different calorie amounts every day. For example, instead of taking in 1800 calories every day, you can take in 1500 one day and 2100 another. By playing with things and keeping some variability, you can help prevent your body from adapting and slowing down your metabolism.
Weight loss plateaus are frustrating for everyone but they are a sign that you have successfully lost weight and it’s important to acknowledge yourself for that. And by implementing the above strategies, you can successfully bust through that plateau and keep moving forward!