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Weight Loss Plateaus


QUESTION:

I have been using MyFoodDiary.com for a few months now and have lost 15 pounds.  While I'm thrilled with the weight loss, I haven't lost any weight for the past 2 weeks.  I’m doing all of the right things.  I'm walking 45 minutes five days a week and I'm pretty consistent with eating at my "lose a pound a week" level.  People on the forum say I have hit a plateau, and they assure me that it won't last forever.  What causes plateaus and how can I get back on track?

ANSWER:

Congratulations!  Losing 15 pounds in a few months is quite an accomplishment.  A 15-pound weight loss has significant health benefits and you've already made great strides towards improving your health.  Although difficult, try to remember that maintaining weight loss in and of itself is an accomplishment.  Pat yourself on the back for simply not gaining weight during these frustrating plateaus.

Plateaus are frequently seen during weight loss programs and are so common in fact that your long-term weight loss goals should allow for them.  Plateaus occur when energy intake and output equilibrate and can be the result of a variety of interactions of which I will cover the most frequent ones here.

However, prior to making any further changes, establish that your goal weight is appropriate.  There are complex hormonal systems that provide feedback, telling your body to slow weight loss when you approach a healthy weight.  Individuals will frequently choose a goal weight that is too low for their given body type so avoid this trap.  Also, it is possible that although the scale may not show any change, your body composition may still be changing (i.e., losing fat and gaining muscle) - this is a good thing!

To break through plateaus, consider the following.  As you lose weight, your caloric requirements will decrease.1  This is because there is less of you to maintain!  To sustain a caloric deficit (i.e., weight loss) you must either increase caloric expenditure and/or decrease caloric intake.  I recommend a three-prong approach for increasing caloric expenditure. Finally, don't forget to assess the other end of the equation - your caloric intake.  It is possible that you are taking in more calories than you think.  Portion control can be tricky and if you're not already measuring your meals out, you may want to do this one or two days per week to start familiarizing yourself with proper portion sizes.  Eventually you will be able to recognize whether that pasta on your plate is two, three or four servings.

Foremost, be patient with yourself.  Permanent weight loss and healthy lifestyle habits such as regular exercise and good nutrition are lifelong pursuits and shouldn't be viewed within a rushed timeline.  When experiencing frustrating plateaus (and they can be frustrating!) try to focus on the multitude of other benefits that you are reaping by taking care of yourself.  For instance, focus on your increased energy level and how much better you feel throughout the day.  Keep up the good work!

1  MyFoodDiary.com automatically adjusts your calorie targets as you lose weight.  However, it is important to keep your weight log up-to-date.

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.
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