You’ve been doing so well with your weight loss. Earlier this year you made a conscious decision to reduce the amount of food you eat, reducing your calorie intake. And you began an exercise program that got your heart rate up and allowed you to burn calories. So you’ve been working at both ends of the pole and have lost weight and gotten smaller. But now your weight-loss progress is at a standstill—even though you’re still plowing ahead with your new healthy lifestyle. Ahh … you’ve hit a plateau. I hate when that happens!
That plateau is actually not a bad thing. It’s probably telling you that you’re smaller, so your current food consumption and exercise output are able to maintain your current size. When you weigh less it takes fewer calories for your body to operate because you’ve reduced your energy requirement. Also our bodies are made to adapt to changing conditions to keep us alive. We eat less, and eventually it learns to survive on less. We exercise more and eventually it learns to sustain your energy needs without having to go to reserve energy sources like carbs and fat. Here are some reasons for plateaus:
- Stagnant exercise routine
- Too much exercise
- Eating for a smaller you
- Not eating enough (skipping meals)
- Body shock
- Fuzzy math
- Lack of sleep
The best way to overcome a plateau is to keep your body guessing. That’s what the tips below are designed to help you do.
1. Change Your Exercise Routine. When you start a new exercise program, your body responds because it is required to make numerous changes to adjust to different workloads. So your muscles are rebuilding themselves and this consumes all kinds of calories. But at some point your body will have adapted to the new workload, and, as a result, you burn fewer calories for the same activities. Don’t let your body get used to your exercise routine. Maintain your body’s adaptation period by changing the intensity, duration, frequency or the mode of exercise—and include interval training. This is truly the epitome of the mind-body relationship because the mind is playing games with the body!
2. Overtraining can lower the amount calories you burn. This is the complaint I get the most! I have kick-ass clients who can definitely withstand harder workouts than I would endure. I do what I can to kill them (figuratively speaking), and they come back for more. Unfortunately these clients aren’t losing any more weight and they are almost at peak athletic condition. Certainly, exercising more is not the answer. When you exercise too much there is a point of diminishing returns, when an increase in exercise energy expenditure is negated by an equal decrease in non-exercise energy expenditure. In other words, when you increase your exercise intensity, your body responds by decreasing the amount of calories you burn during the rest of your day. Take time to recover. If you reach exercise burnout, this is a great time to take a break for a few days, or try something gentle, like yoga or a stretching routine. After you’ve rested, get back to exercise, but lighten up your original routine and increase your intensity only as necessary.
3. Try Strength Training. Muscle burns fat, and losing muscle means burning fewer calories. Lean body mass uses five times the calories as fat mass, so if you lose muscle mass, your metabolism drops and your weight loss stops. If you’re spending most of your time on the treadmill, step off and grab some weights.
4. Remember a smaller you needs less to survive. Here’s the math behind it. (Keep your calories slightly below your maintenance calories so your energy and metabolism remain high.)
Men - kg (body weight) x 24 = kcal/day
Women – kg (body weight) x 23 = kcal/day
note: kg = pounds divided by 2.2 (i.e.,180 lbs / 2.2 = 81.8 kg)
So for a 5’5” woman who wants to weigh 130 pounds, what is her daily calorie requirement to maintain that weight at a constant activity level? 130/2.2 = 59.09kg 59.09kg x 23= 1,359 calories per day.
If this woman is targeting her weight to 130 pounds, her maximum calorie intake should be about 1,350 calories per day, coupled with moderate exercise activity. If the weight-maintenance goal is 125 pounds, then the calorie requirement goes down to 1,307 calories.
5. Make sure you eat enough. I tread carefully in this area because technically the less you eat, all else being equal, the more weight you lose. But if your body does not get enough food, it goes into survival mode by breaking down muscle tissue for fuel and storing fat in preparation for starvation, which slows the metabolism. The most prevalent case for this is skipping meals. That is a short-term response and can definitely hinder weight loss. Over the long term, the equation still stands that if you output more than you input, your body loses weight. The issue here is that starvation weight loss is not sustainable over a long period of time, unless you have eating disorders, which are unhealthy and whole other conversation. Suffice it to say that eating too little food is not healthy.
6. Break away from a diet for a few days in order to re-stimulate the metabolism by providing essential proteins and energy to build back. If your metabolism has adjusted to a low-calorie diet, a weekend binge will shock the body into working harder to get rid of the excess calories, because it wants to stay at homeostasis, or the current weight. This phenomenon is a short-term fix, and come Monday you should return to your normal, sensible diet. This weekend break also provides a psychological break from the stress of healthy eating.
So if you’ve been eating 1,300 calories of healthy stuff, lean meats, vegetable, fruits and complex carbs, and progress has stalled, maybe eating a slice of pizza, a burger, dish of ice cream or some item(s) you crave but have put off limits, is actually a great way to continue weight loss. Again this is a short-term phenomenon to make the body work harder. Please resume your healthy eating habits the next day. Some people use the weekend method. They eat low-calorie healthy meals all week, and then have fun on the weekend, to shock the body. This is not a license to go overboard. Portions still matter!
7. Avoid fuzzy math. It’s common to overestimate calories burned and underestimate calories eaten. Look for places where calories may hide, including salad dressing, sauces and condiments. Do you taste while cooking? Finish what the kids leave on their plates? Absentmindedly grab handfuls of nuts, chips or candy? You might try keeping a detailed food diary.
8. And lastly, get enough sleep! If you’re getting insufficient sleep or rest, your body again goes into survival mode by slowing down your metabolism to preserve energy. Sleep is an individual requirement. Eight hours is recommended, but some people thrive on six hours, and some cannot function with less than 10. If you’ve tried everything else and the weight is still slow to go, try getting an extra hour of sleep for the next several days.
Hopefully, this information will keep you motivated to keep up the good work!
Fitness guru Benita Perkins can be contacted with questions at email@example.com.