Every once in a while, for one reason or another, we feel the need to start eating healthy, and exercising. It could be that we want to lose weight or it could be for another reason. This feeling is great because a couple of weeks in, you are seeing amazing results so you even go a step further and you ‘up’ your exercise programs. But then one day you climb the scale and there is no change from the last time. You go back to working out and eating right – only that this time there is little motivation. One week later, you go back to the scales and there is still no change – you take a minute and ask yourself; why am I not losing weight?
What is a weight loss plateau?
This, to say it simply, is that point when your body starts to stall and sometimes even stops losing weight. It can go on for days and perhaps even weeks and this is normal. Finding out that you are not losing weight can be a stressful thing. However, if you do not know what is happening, then you might be tempted to revert to your old ways. You may find yourself feeling like the universe is out to get you and this is no funny feeling.
What causes weight loss plateau?
In the first few weeks of exercising and healthy eating, we experience a fast drop and this is exciting. What happens is that when you cut down on your calorie intake, your body looks for alternative sources of energy and that means it would have to burn down its stores of glycogen to create that energy. Glycogen is made of mostly water so even though you have lost weight, the results would be temporary.
As you continue to lose weight, you lose fat and muscle along side and it is your muscles that keep your metabolism (the rate at which you break down food) up says Caroline Cederquist MD, and obesity expert in Florida. With less muscle comes less metabolism and thus, slower weight loss. At this point, you would have to increase your physical activity or reduce your calories even more if you want to keep losing weight.
My personal story
I have been on the journey of healthy eating and exercise for at least 10 years and it is going great. I remember when it all started and at that point, all I wanted to do was lose weight. I had been overweight for so long that I started to forget it was possible for me to be a healthy weight. I started jogging, skipping, cycling and of course, watching my food. After a month I started to see results and it was amazing.
My contacts asked me what program I was on and I said I was on the usual cardio and dieting. To me it was so easy and I saw that all I needed was determination to succeed. That changed a couple more months into the program. I would work out and though I felt great, I wasn’t losing any more weight. I asked myself why am I not losing weight despite the entire workout and dieting I do. If it worked for the past few months, why would it stop working now?
I got online and looked it up and my life hasn’t been the same since. The tips shared in this article are what helped me through it and I kept losing weight till I was asked not to over-do it.
Getting past a weight loss plateau.
At the point when you have stopped to lose weight, as earlier stated, you need to re-evaluate your goals and that is the most important step. Ask yourself first of all if you are satisfied with your new weight and if you are not, then there are a few things you need to consider.
Is it really a plateau?
Being spoiled by the initial weight loss, we may think that we are going through a plateau meanwhile it is just our bodies trying to understand what is happening. You should wait for at least a month before concluding that you are really going through a weight loss plateau and that you are no longer – for the mean time – losing weight.
Rev up your exercise
In the exercising world, this is called ‘surprising your body’. When you have done a singular and non changing routine for a couple of months, your body starts to get a little bit too comfortable and since some of your muscle is gone, metabolism is slowed down. So you want to increase the amount of time you spend working out by say 15 or 30 minutes, or you would want to go more reps in your training so your body feels more strain.
When you do a lot of cardio, you feel drained and worked – the temptation to eat a little junk food may creep up because you think you have burned so much calories and a bite wouldn’t hurt. This is not a good thought and to aid your workout, it is advised that you add muscle building workout to your routine. Why? The math is simple. Muscle speeds up metabolism, so the more muscle you can build, the less fat you retain – hence weight loss.
Cut more calories
When evaluating you eating habits, look to see if you can reduce the amount of calories you take even further (of course you have to be realistic about this). When it comes to eating, your stomach will expand or decrease depending on the amount of food you put into it. So if it feels realistic, reduce the amount of food you eat, cut your portions by a little percentage more so your body would be forced to adjust to your new calorie intake. When your body has to survive on fewer calories, it will look for alternative sources of energy and as such you will continue to lose weight as it breaks down more fat.
Take it a step further an actually measure your portions; this is great in helping you resist the temptation to eat more. Take a picture with your phone as to the portions you are eating so that if you are eating out, you can refer to the picture as a guide to the safe portions you are to consume.
Add more activities to your day
This is closely related to working out but not exactly. Finding out that you are not losing weight as earlier stated can take a toll on the mind and when that happens, look everywhere for solutions. Take up cleaning or walk a route you would normally drive through. Pick up a class and learn something new. The more things you have to do, the less time you have to think about food and other unhealthy habits.
Macy experienced a weight loss plateau three months after starting her exercise program. She was happy with her diet but she needed to lose more weight for her health sake. She couldn’t afford to cut down on her eating anymore as her dietitian hard warned her against it. Her exercises were as strenuous as she could make them considering her current heart health. That being the case, she went back and looked through her whole list of activities and that is when she noticed that she could take up the Saturday gardening activities at her house.
Adding to that, she decided to do the groceries shopping for the next few weeks as she found it an opportunity to get some extra walking done. She volunteered at her children’s basketball team as an associate coach and with these minor (but essential) changes, she began losing weight again.
Other reasons you may not be losing weight.
The body reacts differently to certain types of foods and when you have been at your workout and healthy eating habits for a while, there is this thought which says that you can go ahead and cheat on your diet once and that it wouldn’t matter. While this may be true in a sense, it may be part of the reason you are no longer losing weight.
Carbs after 7pm – Many think that carbs mean rice and some other foods you find only in Africa (no offense to Africans here) but did you know that most ‘snacks’ have such a large amount of carbohydrate content you would be shocked. So you say a slice of cake is harmless? Maybe not.
Sleeping too soon after eating – From the moment you have your last main meal (which could be before 7pm), you should wait at least 3 hours before you sleep. If you are in the habit of taking a snack (even if it is a healthy one), then you should wait at least 90 minutes after that before you entire for the night. This helps your body do most of the metabolicwork on the food as metabolism slows down when you are asleep.
Not enough sleep – While metabolism slows down in sleep mode, your body needs the sleep to recover from the work of the previous day. If you are doing weight training, then your body uses your sleep time to actually build the newly gained muscle and when you do not get enough sleep, your body reads it as stress. When you are stressed, your body produces cortisol which boosts your appetite and craving for junk foods.
Religious workout – This is my personal advice being a victim of weight loss plateau. When you have been exercising for a number of months, you need to take a break of 3 – 4 weeks and then resume. Of course in the time when you are on a break, you should maintain a healthy diet so as not to undo all your good work of the previous months.
Not enough food – This may seem like a shocker but there is a book which is titled ‘Whatever you think, think the opposite.’ In “Sound of Music’ it is implied that if you have searched the usual places, then go to the unusual. Your body holds on to weight if it feels starved so the answer to your weight loss plateau may be to actually up your calories. For example, we have already said that an average man needs about 2500 calories a day. If you, as a man, drop your calories to 1500 or below, you may stop losing weight because your body has seen that there is not enough calories coming in. It is a weird science but that is how it is. if you have dropped your calories so low, try increasing it by 250-400 and track your results.
Of course there are other ideas your doctor or dietitian might have which would help you get past the weight loss plateau but whatever the case, it is important to appreciate your progress so far and it is important to maintain your healthy habits. Weight loss is not the only benefit of healthy eating and exercise habits, you have an all-round improved health and better feeling when you decide to go healthy and the fact that you have stopped to lose weight does not mean your body is not appreciative of your efforts.