Published on March 24, 2017
You’ve followed your diet faithfully, watching every morsel that passes your lips . . . and perhaps you’ve also been out there exercising every day. So why, with all the good intent, determination and motivation, now that you’re starting to see the physical results of all that hard work, have you come up against the universal problem that plagues everyone at some point in their weight loss journey—THE PLATEAU!
A weight loss plateau is when during the course of a weight loss regimen, weight loss stalls or stops. Fortunately, there are as many ways off a plateau as there are ways to get stuck on one. But first you have to figure out what caused your weight loss to stall.
One of the biggest causes of weight loss plateaus is simply that dieters stop paying enough attention to what (and how much) they’re eating (and how much they’re exercising) as time goes by. The vast majority of weight loss plateaus are caused by a slacking off one’s weight loss regimen. As time passes, and weight is lost, a person may not be as dedicated as they used to be. Either consciously or subconsciously, they get a little bit lax. Underestimating caloric intake is the most common explanation for the plateau—knowingly or unknowingly—is almost always the reason for the cessation of weight loss and is purely behavioral.
Another reason weight loss stops is because as the body loses weight it needs fewer calories. As you get smaller, you require fewer calories because there’s less of you there. A plateau is often just the body’s way of adjusting to fewer pounds. You have to be patient until your body adjusts to a lower metabolic rate. Similarly, if someone has lost a lot of weight, their body may go into starvation mode and do what it can to hold on to extra weight. Finally, if someone is losing weight too quickly, the body will be shocked and the metabolism will slow down because it thinks it’s starving.
Sometimes the cause of a plateau is something you have more control over than you think—water retention. Women especially, due to fluctuations in their hormone levels, can retain as many as several extra pounds of water without even feeling bloated. To lose water, you have to drink water: The more you drink, the less your body feels the need to hold on to it. While having to stop to use the restroom several times a day may be inconvenient, it is your body’s way of say, “Thanks, we have enough water, we’re releasing the rest.”
No matter the cause, once you’ve recognized what’s causing your weight loss plateau, you can take the proper steps to correct the problem. If your weight loss has stalled because you know you haven’t been paying close enough attention to what and how much you’re eating, start writing down what you’re eating every day. It’s very important to be aware of what you’re eating because it’s easy to unconsciously add several hundred calories a day. Knowing what you’ve eaten can help you truly see what your eating patterns are and what you might need to change. Also, start measuring out your portions again as you may have done when you started to lose weight. A cup of pasta can easily become a cup and a half if you’re just eyeballing portion sizes.
Hitting a weight loss plateau also means it’s a good time to reevaluate your caloric needs. If you’ve lost weight, you generally need to eat fewer calories per day. Of course, it’s just as important to make sure your body is getting enough calories so that it doesn’t go into starvation mode, which will lower your metabolism. For the average healthy moderately active adult, daily caloric intake shouldn’t go below 1200-1300 calories. Weight loss should be about 1-2 pounds a week. If you have less than 10 pounds to lose, a ½ pound a week is a reasonable loss. Anyone losing weight faster than that is probably not eating enough.
If you haven’t yet added exercise to your weight loss program, a plateau may be a good time to start. The more exercise you do, the more muscle mass you build, and muscle burns more calories when you’re resting than fat does. Aerobic exercise is great for the heart and to help lose weight, but strength training will help keep your metabolism running higher.
Variety isn’t only the spice of life, it’s the key to maintaining your weight loss success. It’s easy to get complacent if you keep things the same. By changing what you eat or where you eat it, you’re starting to think about your lifestyle again, which could be just the kick-start your weight loss needs. So, for example, if you’ve been eating the same breakfast every single morning, find another one or two breakfasts that you can add to the morning rotation. Eating the same thing for dinner too often? Commit to 2 or 3 brand new recipes in a week. If you’ve been walking every day, try cycling one or two days a week for a change. Oftentimes, you just need to challenge your taste buds and your body with something new.
It’s also important to realize right from the start that at the outset of your weight loss regimen you will lose a lot more weight in the first few weeks than you will later on. In the beginning, dieters tend to lose a lot of water weight, which is why you can lose 4-5 pounds the first week on a diet.
Whatever you do, never give up. Weight loss generally isn’t always steady. Just know you’re doing the right thing and keep at it.