Escape from the weight-loss plateau
By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
You’ve been doing a great job with your weight-loss program, but suddenly you feel like you’ve hit a wall. The pounds you were dropping earlier now stubbornly refuse to budge. You’ve reached a dieter’s plateau.
Weight-loss plateaus are very common. In fact, if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll reach this frustrating stage.
As you lose weight, you burn fewer calories. Your metabolism slows down because there is less of you to fuel. If an 1,800 calorie diet helped you lose weight before, that’s how many you now need to stay at your current weight.
Don’t go to extremes
Lowering your calories may not be the best idea. Taking in too few calories keeps you from getting the nutrients you need. On the other hand, trying to exercise for a few hours a day is an unrealistic goal – one that most people can’t maintain. It also may set you up for injury if the exercise is new to you or ill-suited to your overall condition.
Increase your activity … gradually
Choose any type of activity you like. It can be skating, dancing, gardening or walking. What you choose doesn’t matter as long as you’re moving. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day, then slowly increase your time. Also increase the intensity of your workout. Before starting an exercise program, talk with your doctor, especially if you have been inactive, are over the age of 40, or have a chronic health condition (such as diabetes or asthma).
Another way to break away from the plateau is by strength training. Adding muscle balances out the slowed metabolism caused by weight loss. The more muscle you can add, the higher your metabolism will be.
Get back on track
The following tips can help you jump-start a sluggish weight loss program:
- Don’t weigh yourself more than once a week. Fluctuations in your weight are normal. What you think is a plateau may be fluid retention or premenstrual bloating. To get the most accurate weigh-in, step on the scale just once a week.
- Have reasonable expectations. Realize that people lose weight at different rates. In general, the more weight you have to lose, the faster it will come off. This is due mostly to your reduction in calories. Expect to lose about 1 percent of your body weight each week. If you weigh 200 pounds, you’ll lose about two pounds. If you weigh 150, you’ll lose about one to one-and-a-half pounds.
- Exercise moderately. Your metabolism slows down when you take in fewer calories – and exercise speeds it back up. If you don’t get enough calories – or if you exercise too much – your body stores fat to keep you from starving. Don’t exercise for more than an hour a day, including warming up and cooling down. Women should get no less than 1,200 calories per day and men should get at least 1,500.
- American Diabetes Association. Low-glycemic-load diet can help dieters get past plateau. Accessed: 10/31/2006
- American Council on Exercise. Weight-loss plateaus and pitfalls. Accessed: 10/31/2006
- Duke University School of Medicine. Crossing the weight loss plateau. Accessed: 10/31/2006