The beginning days of your weight loss journey may feel like a heady time: you’re losing water weight, your clothes fit a little better, and you’re excited by your momentum. Soon, however, no matter how diligent you are, you will likely hit the dreaded weight loss plateau. Follow these tips to break through the plateau and maintain your momentum.
What Causes the Weight Loss Plateau?
Whether you lose weight through diet and exercise, a medical weight loss program, or weight loss surgery, it is common to lose a larger amount of weight in the first week or two. After shedding this water weight, you will likely lose weight at a more gradual but steady pace. Depending on your size, sex, physical activity level, diet plan and other factors, this gradual weight loss could last several weeks or months. Eventually, however, your rate of weight loss will likely slow. Called a weight loss plateau, this can be a very frustrating experience for individuals trying to achieve a weight loss goal.
What causes the weight loss plateau? Your body’s overarching drive is to maintain a state of homeostasis, or balance. This is true not just for body weight but for all metabolic processes (e.g., body temperature, your body’s pH, blood glucose levels). The homeostatic drive means that above all, your body strives to maintain a stable state. When you lose weight, your metabolism automatically adjusts itself to the “new normal.” This means you must continue to challenge your body to break through the plateau and continue your weight loss progress. Consider the following tips to overcome your weight loss plateau.
Recalculate Your Daily Caloric Needs
As you lose weight, your metabolism adjusts accordingly, so you may need to recalculate your daily caloric needs. To lose 2 pounds per week, you need a daily deficit of 1,000 calories between your basal metabolic rate (the amount your body consumes at rest) and the number of calories you consume. This deficit may be made up of restricting the calories in your diet or engaging in exercise to burn excess calories.
Consider a 30-year-old woman who is 5 feet, 5 inches and weighs 250 pounds. Her daily caloric need is 2,550 calories to maintain her current body weight. She decides to eat 1,800 calories per day and burn 250 extra calories through exercise — resulting in a 1,000-calorie deficit that translates to 2 pounds lost per week. Now, suppose this woman loses 50 pounds. All of a sudden, her 200-pound body needs only 2,200 calories daily. That means her weight loss will significantly slow unless she changes her diet and exercise plan.
If you’ve hit a weight loss plateau, use an online calculator to determine your daily caloric needs. Adjust your weight loss plan accordingly to ensure you continue to hit your goals.
Be Honest About Slipping Habits
As we get comfortable with a routine, we often start to make tiny slip-ups. Half a cookie here and a couple of chips there may not seem like they count, but these little decisions add up over time. Be brutally honest with yourself — are there ways in which you have stopped following your original weight loss plan? Adjust accordingly to get yourself back on track.
Avoid Skipping Meals
When faced with a weight loss challenge, avoid the temptation to skip meals: cravings will become more intense, you become more likely to overeat, and your body may further adjust its metabolism to account for the reduced caloric input. Keep eating meals that contain fiber and lean protein to promote satiety.
Vary Your Exercise Routine
Breaking through a plateau requires you to keep your body guessing. That means it’s time to change up your exercise routine. Rather than spending 30 minutes on the elliptical, take a new class or try a new aerobic exercise. Additionally, consider adding one or two interval training sessions to your weekly routine. Spend one minute at 80 percent of your maximum possible exertion followed by one minute at 30-40 percent to rest. Alternate these intervals for 15-20 minutes to jumpstart your metabolism.
Add Resistance Exercise
Aerobic exercise is great for burning calories, but don’t forget about resistance training. Strength training helps you lose more fat, particularly belly fat. Plus, building lean muscle revs your metabolism, as muscle tissue burns more calories than fat. Build two strength workouts into your weekly routine to obtain the best results.
Even if you know that a weight loss plateau can happen to anyone, it still feels disheartening in the moment. Joining a weight loss support group is a great way to meet other people facing the same struggles as you. There are many popular community support programs, which are often associated with particular diet plans. Alternatively, people undergoing medically supervised weight loss should ask their weight loss doctor about support groups. The goal is to connect with others about weight loss, process your emotions and receive encouragement to stick with your weight loss plan — even when it’s tough.
When faced with a weight loss plateau, don’t panic. With these few simple tweaks to your routine, you will be back on track in no time.
Dr. Myur S. Srikanth is a board-certified bariatric and cosmetic surgeon at the Center for Weight Loss Surgery. He has been performing bariatric surgery exclusively since 2000 and has performed over 3,500 weight loss surgeries. Dr. Srikanth performs nearly every operation that is currently available to treat obesity.