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 healthy 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 make it a goal to maintain your weight instead of losing. 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.
Put simply, the resting metabolic rate (RMR) represents how many calories you would burn if you were to do nothing but rest. It is the minimum amount of energy needed to keep your body functioning. People with low resting metabolic rates find it more difficult to lose weight because their bodies require fewer calories than normal to function. Any extra energy is stored as fat.
Fitness centers often have the resources to test RMR, but you will get more accurate results from tests conducted by universities or research centers that have exercise physiology labs.
How to decrease your metabolism
Although most people would prefer a faster metabolism, many dieters actually make changes that decrease their metabolic rate. They do this by severely restricting their caloric intake. The body responds as if there is a famine and uses less energy. As a result, they hit a plateau and stop losing weight.
How to increase your metabolism
The key is to minimize your calorie deficit. This means slowing down your weight loss, or even maintaining your weight, for the next month or two. Don't dismay. This doesn't mean that big things aren't happening. The goal during this time is to improve your body composition through exercise, and to reset your metabolism. Your body needs to trust that there is food coming, and that you're going to meet its energy needs through food intake. Once this trust has been established, you can start a small deficit of 500 calories per day, which translates to a weight loss of 1 pound a week.
When you feel true hunger signals, you should eat. Your body is telling you that it needs energy, so trust those internal cues. This can be difficult after years of ignoring those signals, and denying yourself foods when fad dieting. Consciously work on recognizing these innate cues. Don’t skip meals. Instead, spread your food intake throughout the day by incorporating snacks.
Exercise gives your metabolism a slight boost through a process called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). After exercise, your body works to return to its equilibrium. This takes energy.
Slowly work up to at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most days of the week. Increase general activity throughout the day with short walks, housework, gardening, and by taking the stairs. Incorporate strength training at least twice a week - this is imperative for rebuilding the muscle mass that was depleted during past dieting.
MyFoodDiary can guide you
MyFoodDiary is designed to help you lose weight the right way. We encourage gradual weight loss over time through a moderate calorie deficit, increased activity, and developing a healthy relationship with food. Unlike crash diets, we hope to help you achieve a healthier body and a faster metabolism, along with your desired weight loss.
As a parent, you play the leading role in how your children relate to food and exercise. The following 5 tips will help you steer your children towards happy, healthy lifestyles.
Make sure that you are not revealing negative comments about yourself in front of your daughter or son. Many individuals who struggle with weight issues have a less than ideal body image and often repeat negative self-talk out loud. Standing in front of the mirror and saying that you hate something about your body will teach your children how they should think and feel about their bodies. Focus on positive attributes that you're proud of, both in yourself and in your children.
Be physically active
Integrate healthy activity into your day without making it feel like a chore. Children naturally like to run and play. Make an effort to play outside together on a daily basis. Go on treasure hunts for nature items around the neighborhood, ride bikes to the park, swim, and play freeze tag. Never bring up burning calories or exercising to lose weight. Instead, mention how good it feels to move your body, and have fun.
Learn what you should and shouldn’t control
Ellyn Satter, an author and expert on child feeding, has said parents should be responsible for the type of food that is presented to the child, and when and where it is offered. Children are responsible for whether or not they choose to eat it, and how much. Offering structured, healthy meals and snacks in a peaceful environment is ideal. Forcing your child to eat them is not. The goal is to develop an internal sense of conscious eating in your child.
Avoid the "good food, bad food" trap
Offer a large variety of food. Center your family’s eating habits on healthy items, but include treats and favorite foods in moderation. You are one of your children’s most important role models. By sitting down and enjoying a satisfying and nutritious meal together, you are shaping eating preferences in a positive way.
Don’t focus on weight loss
The goal for overweight children is to reduce weight gain as he or she grows and develops. If you feel your children need to lose weight, consult your doctor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that children and teens should not be put on a weight loss regimen without the consultation and supervision of a healthcare professional.
Body weight is a common way of tracking progress, but it is not always the best measurement. Body shape can change and your overall health can improve without weight loss. To track these changes, it’s important to monitor body composition and body fat percentage. This is your body’s amount of fat versus the amount of lean body mass (muscle).
Select the best method for you.
More complex body fat tests are available at universities and in research hospitals. These include underwater weighing and the BOD POD (a small chamber that measures body fat through volume and pressure changes). Less advanced tests are offered at fitness centers including skinfold tests and handheld BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis). BIA uses a small, painless electrical current to estimate total body water and lean body mass.
Underwater weighing and the BOD POD are often more accurate, but when deciding how much you want to invest, remember that all methods come with errors. The range of error for body fat percentages is about 2-to-4 percent . Whichever you choose, make sure you understand the limits of your results. Ask questions. A good trainer will be able to guide you in understanding your test results.
Measure the same way every time.
To get the most accurate results, use the same method each time you are tested. Have the same trainer perform your body fat assessment at the same time of day, and follow the same steps. For example, with the skinfold test, use the same calipers and measure on the same side of the body in the same locations for every test. Body fat percentage often changes slowly, so space out your tests to give your body time to adjust and change. Consider measuring body fat every 1 to 3 months.
Prepare for your test.
Testing in a lab setting will require more preparation. The technician testing you should provide information on how to prepare. Be sure to ask questions about anything you do not understand. How you prepare will affect your results.
For skinfold tests and BIA in fitness settings, there are a few general things to consider. When using the skinfold test, get tested before you exercise to prevent shifts in fluid to the skin. Avoid wearing any type of lotion or oil on your skin the day of the test. This will cause the calipers to slip and may result in you having to return for testing at a later date. For BIA, avoid exercise at least 12 hours before the test, and avoid alcohol at least 48 hours before. Also avoid being tested right after drinking large amounts of fluid, or right after a meal.
Know the healthy ranges.
Just as too much body fat can be unhealthy, so can too little body fat. Our bodies need some essential fat to function, and women need a greater amount of this fat than men. The American Council on Exercise provides categories and suggested ranges for body fat percentage.
Despite the promises, a detox diet is not the magic pill you need to boost health. Most medical professionals discourage the use of detox diets because they are both unnecessary and dangerous.
Identifying a detox diet
Weight loss is not always the main goal with detox diets. Most claim that they will help rid your body of toxins resulting in increased energy or a boost in metabolism.
They are similar to other fad diets in that they involve calorie restriction, cutting out food groups, and often forbid solid foods all together. Detox diets include juice fasts, colon cleansing, and master cleanses. They often require the purchase of expensive herbal supplements (such as powders, pills, or teas).
Dangers of detox diets
The kidneys and liver sufficiently cleanse the body and eliminate toxins without help from detox diets. According to Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., the benefits that people claim they feel after trying a detox diet may come from simply avoiding highly processed foods, which contain solid fats and added sugars.
Fatigue, irritability, headaches, cramping, and nausea are only the initial side effects of many detox diets. Long term, these diets can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies and dehydration. Detox diets are especially dangerous for those with diabetes, low blood sugar, teens, pregnant women, and those with eating disorders.
Due to low calorie and low protein intake, detox diets can also lead to a loss of muscle mass. Muscle keeps you fit and supports a healthy metabolism. A healthy fitness plan is one that helps you build and maintain muscle mass, not lose it because of a quick-fix promise for more energy.
Alternatives to detox diets
Improved health and increased energy come from a balanced diet and regular physical activity. You can promote a healthy digestive system that removes toxins by eating fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains, by staying hydrated, and by eating foods that promote digestive health (such as yogurt). Get the nutritional benefit of fresh fruit juices by incorporating them into an already healthy diet, not by making them your sole source of nutrients for a week.
Also remember that when it comes to nutrition and health, detox is a term that is often used loosely. You may hear a friend claim she’s on a detox diet this week only to mean that she has cut out processed foods or desserts. But if those detox diets include cleanses and fasts, your money would be better spent on nutritious foods that promote a healthy lifestyle.