How many of you started a diet within the past month or so and have stopped seeing the scale move downward? You are being diligent with your diet and exercise plan and the weight loss has stopped. You are nowhere near your goal weight. One week, two weeks, three weeks (sometimes more) the scale does not budge. This is called a plateau and is experienced at some point by almost everyone trying to lose weight. Plateaus can be a very frustrating experience and can make you question your motivation for staying on the straight and narrow with your eating and exercise plan.
I get asked all the time “So why do plateaus occur? I have not increased my food intake or decreased my exercise”. Here are several possible explanations for plateaus.
A. Plateaus can occur after the first few weeks of a following a low carb diet. This is because your body initially lost a lot of water and now the body needs to “fix” its fluid balance. Keep in mind that it is difficult to lose more than 1-2 pounds a week of fat. If you lost 6 pounds the first two weeks of dieting, at least half of it was from water. Your body will hold back onto some water in the next few weeks. Therefore it is likely that you will not lose any more weight for 1-3 weeks. This is more like a mini plateau.
B. Secondly, the body does not always lose weight at an even pace. I have many clients who lose 2 pounds one week, no loss for 2 weeks and then lose two pounds again the following week. While this is not really a plateau, it can be very frustrating. I have no real explanation for this scenario (except that it happens!) Possibly a fluid balance issue again. You will just need to be patient and the weight will eventually come off.
C. Third, it is possible that you have become less diligent with your diet and exercise routine. It is common to lose a little focus after the initial part of your weight loss plan. You may find yourself drinking an extra glass of wine or increasing your portions without realizing it. Perhaps you are not exercising quite as much as you did in the beginning. These small changes can slow or halt your weight loss.
D. Another reason for a plateau is that your body is adjusting to the new weight. My advice would be to stay focused with your diet and exercise regimen. It is common for dieters to get frustrated at this point and give up. What does it matter if I have this extra portion, I not losing weight anyway! If they had stayed patient for a little longer, the scale would have started to drop again.
Here are some tips for breaking through a weight-loss plateau
1. If you have stopped keeping food records (or never started!), it is time to start again. Weigh and measure foods. It is possible that your portion sizes are getting larger or you are unconsciously eating during the day.
2. Try to change your diet around a little. If you are eating three meals a day, try to eat 6 mini meals. If you are on a low fat diet, try a lower carb diet for a few weeks. If you are eating late at night, try to stop eating at 7-8 pm. If you are enjoying a glass of wine or two a day, try to cut out all alcohol for a few weeks. If you eat a light breakfast and a large dinner, try to reverse this.
3. Make some changes in your exercise program. Try one or more of the following tips:
- Add in another day of exercise each week
- Make your cardio sessions 15-20 minutes longer than usual
- Increase the intensity of your cardio sessions
- Try a new form of cardio (i.e. spinning, kickboxing, etc.)
- Work out with an energetic friend or personal trainer for a month
- Set a new exercise goal such as running your first 5 K race
- Add in weight training if you are not already doing so (aim for 3 sessions a week)
- Try interval training: increase the intensity of your cardiovascular or aerobic exercise by adding short bursts of higher-intensity movement, such as sprinting. These intervals should last 30 to 60 seconds and be followed by less intense exercise for two or three times the length of the burst. Start by adding one or two of these intervals to your routine, then increase the number as you improve your conditioning
- In addition to working out at the gym start walking more. Walking a mile burns approximately 100 calories
4. Focus on how much healthier you feel after losing weight rather than focusing on numbers on the scale. See how your clothes are fitting differently. I actually think that it is best for some people not to get on the scale at all as they tend to become obsessed with numbers.
5. Lastly, be patient. Plateaus will almost always break. The trick is staying motivated long enough for it to break!