Weight loss plateaus are common, but they don't have to stop you from reaching your fitness goals.
What Is a Plateau?
As you lose weight, your daily calorie requirement will decrease because it takes fewer calories for a smaller body to function. For example, let’s say you currently need 2,300 calories to maintain your weight. If you eat 1,800 calories per day you will lose weight. As you lose the weight, your body may eventually reach the point where 1,800 calories are all it needs to maintain your new, lower weight, causing your weight loss to stall (the plateau).
People sometimes confuse a true weight loss plateau with simply straying from their health plan. Tufts University nutrition professor, Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., says that her work in weight loss research shows true plateaus occur after 6 months or more of being on a weight loss plan. If this is when you plateau, then it is likely due to the metabolic changes of reaching a lower weight.
If your weight loss stalls after only a few weeks of healthy eating and exercise, it's possible that you were rapidly losing water at the beginning of your program. Now your body is trying to lose fat. Ask yourself some questions and make changes where necessary. Are you recording everything you eat? Have you lowered the intensity of your workouts? It’s important to be specific during this phase to account for any extra calories that may keep you from losing weight.
Plan for It
Plateaus are a reality of weight loss so make a plan for how you will address them. Create a list of motivational quotes to keep you inspired or think of new exercises to add variety. Plan to give up a leisure activity (such as watching television) so you can exercise more. Set an appointment at a wellness center, spa, or with a nutritionist to reduce stress, get tips, and renew your positive attitude.
Back to Basics
When you face a plateau, it’s time to get technical. Use your MyFoodDiary account to determine how many calories you need to maintain your new weight and for continued weight loss. Women should eat no fewer than 1,200 calories per day and men no fewer than 1,700 calories per day. You may need to adjust your habits in other ways than simply eating less:
- Step up the intensity of your workouts. It’s time to move to the next class level, increase the weight you lift, or finally start adding hills to your walk or run.
- Adjust your nutrient intake. Perhaps you have been on the lower end of the suggested range for protein intake, or on the higher end of the range for carbohydrate intake. Try eating more lean proteins and fewer refined grains. If you eat very little fat, consider adding more olive oil or nuts to your eating plan.
- Get out the food scale and measuring cups. It’s easy for portion sizes to gradually increase when you eyeball a measurement.
Modify Your Goals
If you are close to your goal, you might decide that you feel healthy and energized at this new weight. It’s okay to go into maintenance now. This is why we have a healthy weight range. You might feel your best at the higher end of the range.
If you still have more weight to lose, be patient with yourself. For the next few weeks, change your goal from losing weight to maintaining your current weight. This will reduce stress and frustration as you adjust your plan. Once you find what changes help you break through the plateau, you can resume with weekly weight loss goals.