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Diet Plateau

What is a diet 'plateau'?


You may hit a weight loss plateau when you have been on a reduced-calorie diet for a few weeks, and it may reoccur from time to time thereafter.

During such a plateau, weight reduction stops completely or slows down to almost nothing. If you are monitoring what you eat AND exercising regularly but still can't seem to lose any weight, you have most probably 'plateaued'. The most important thing to remember is that this is a completely normal experience for many dieters. The key to success is not allowing yourself to become discouraged! Take a long-term view. Giving up now means slipping back to where you started - which is such a shame given all the hard work you've done to get this far. There are solutions and steps you can take to kick start your weight loss again and ensure you reach your goal.

Why do I hit a plateau?

A plateau may occur because:

  • Your body simply wants a 'rest' to cope with your calorie-reduction
  • Your calorie-intake equals your calorie expenditure - in other words you are not creating a sufficient calorie deficit to lose weight
  • You have reduced your calorie-intake too low. If you are not eating enough calories, your body thinks that it is going into 'starvation' and slows down your metabolism (how fast you burn calories) in order to conserve calories.

Most people lose weight quickly in the beginning of their diet, and then weight loss tends to stabilize at around 1 - 2 lbs per week. Unfortunately weight loss doesn't always follow a smooth downwards curve, but is rather a series of stops and starts. Expect this to be the case. The closer you get to your goal weight, the slower the weight tends to come off. This is partly due to the fact that your body has less fat to lose - it now has more lean tissue. Also, as you exercise more, you are increasing the proportion of muscle mass in your body, and muscle weighs more than fat. Then, there are weeks when you simply retain fluids and weigh a pound or two more than you did the week before.

What can I do about it?

1. Avoid weighing yourself too frequently - once a week is enough. The timing of your 'weigh-in' is also important, as having gone without something to eat or drink for a few hours and having just spent a penny could make several pounds difference and give a low reading; whereas the opposite scenario could imply a higher than actual weight. In fact the difference between the two results could be as much as half a stone! So make sure you weigh yourself once a week, at the same time, after the same routine, and on the same scales. That way, your weight is more comparable to the previous week. Sometimes a better way to judge whether you are slimming down and changing body shape is just by monitoring how your clothes feel.

2. Ensure you have set a realistic goal weight for your body type and age. It may be helpful to consult with a nutritionist for advice. The most important thing is to reach a healthy weight - it is not about trying to get back to the size 8 body you had at 18, now you're 35 and have had 3 kids!

3. Go back to keeping your food diary religiously. By tracking what you eat, you may discover that you're actually consuming a good deal more calories than you'd imagined.

4. Check serving sizes by weighing food. It is very easy for portions to start to creep up over time. Measuring and weighing food may seem tedious, but this is a common reason for weight loss slowing down or stopping. (And also have an honesty check with yourself that you haven't started picking at food which 'doesn't count' because you didn't eat the whole thing!)

5. Start exercising! To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Trying to lose weight by merely controlling your food intake is only one side of the coin. You must also increase your activity level to burn more calories, and this can also help to kick-start your metabolism. Start by just trying to walk more. Buy a pedometer and build up to the target of 10,000 steps per day.

6. Step up your exercise level. If you are already exercising regularly, you may need to give your metabolism a little boost by increasing the amount or intensity of your workout. For example, if you exercise for 20 minutes each day, increase this to 25-30 minutes. If you are already exercising quite hard, try varying your workout routine. For example, if you do 20 minutes cardio and 30 minutes strength-training, switch them around. Add weight training to your workouts. Lifting weights helps build muscle mass, which, in turn, burns more calories. It is recommended that you should change your exercise programme every 6 weeks to stop your body becoming accustomed to the routine and it not having the same benefit it did initially.

7. Drink plenty of water! Water helps speed up the metabolism.

8. Don't starve yourself - this will have the opposite effect! If you eat too few calories, your body will try to protect itself by slowing down your metabolism and hanging onto its fat for survival. Also avoid going for too long without food as this can trigger the same effect. This reassures your body that food is plentiful and facilitates calorie burning.

9. Be determined! Focus on your successes to date and remember the fact that weight loss is simply about creating an energy deficit - do this and you will lose weight. Stick with it and continue to exercise regularly and calorie count your diet. The last few pounds may be stubborn, but they WILL come off in the end!

You are advised to seek medical advice before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle with an aim of weight loss. This website and the content provided should not be used by persons under 18, by pregnant or nursing women, or individuals with any type of health condition, except under the direct supervision of a qualified medical professional. The information contained in these articles, and elsewhere on this website, is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to replace, and does not constitute legal, professional, medical or healthcare advice or diagnosis and may not be used for such purposes. Continue...

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