Last week we examined the typical reasons for those dreaded but all too real weight-loss plateaus (when you stop losing weight despite eating right and exercising regularly). They’re frustrating and discouraging, but they’re common (so at least you’re not alone!).
Luckily, if you’re in the midst of a plateau or if you ever have been stuck in one, chin up. There ARE things you can do to break that barrier and reach your weight goal. However, a word of caution: There’s no magic bullet for busting those plateaus, just as there’s no magic bullet for losing weight. You may need to try different approaches until you find what works…for you!
Nine Tips for Taking on (and Tripping up) the Plateau
1. Blast up your BMR… with food. Remember that BMR (basal metabolic rate) that we discussed last week? This is the rate at which your body burns calories to perform basic functions like breathing. You need to do everything in your power to give it a boost because it’s very likely turned a little sluggish at this point. A slowdown in your BMR happens because you’ve lost weight, particularly muscle weight. Here’s one way to jump-start it: make sure you’re eating enough (yes, that’s right!). If you’ve whittled your calorie intake down too much (less than 1600 calories for men, less than 1200 calories for women), you’ve probably gone too far. Your body has entered starvation mode, which means that it’s slowed everything down in an effort to preserve and conserve. Break the cycle and rev up your engines to get back on the calorie-burning bandwagon by eating more. If you need help, meet with a dietitian.
2. Dig out your pen and paper. Remember those days when your dietitian asked you to keep food records? If you’ve blocked that out of your memory, think about revisiting record keeping. Food record keeping can seem like a painful chore, but this process really does serve a purpose: By writing down everything that you eat and drink (and you need to be honest about it), you really can get a good picture of where things may have gone awry. Because let’s face it, sometimes weight loss slows down due to those sneaky little calories that seem to pile up when you’re not looking. Or, it may be that you let your emotions get the best of you and you deal with them by eating. You can uncover these things by keeping records, even for just a few days each week. (By the way, successful “losers” who are part of the National Weight Control Registry use record keeping as one of their tools for keeping the weight off.).
3. Figure out your food. By this, I mean, take a good hard look at what you’ve been eating. Food records will help you do this. Even if you refuse to keep records, it pays to focus on your food choices. Have you become too lenient with what you’re eating? In other words, are fatty or empty-calorie foods making their way back into your eating plan? They’re sneaky like that. What about your portions? When was the last time you actually weighed and measured your food? Are you SURE you’re only eating one cup of pasta? Dust off your meal plan or, if you don’t have one, get thyself to a dietitian, or consider joining a commercial weight-management program (such as Weight Watchers) or an online program to get back on the straight and narrow.
4. Ditch the dining out. You don’t have to forgo eating out altogether, but if you routinely eat lunch and dinner out, you’re pretty much guaranteed to consume far more calories than you realize…or need. Treat yourself to a meal out once a week and keep it at that.
5. Add resistance. In addition to scrutinizing your food intake, you have to take a hard look at your activity. Hitting the gym or walking is great, but your body needs to be pushed beyond its comfort zone. This doesn’t mean becoming a marathon runner, but if you’re doing the same old exercise routine day in and day out, you need to kick it up a notch. Particularly, you need to add strength training to your routine. This means using weights or resistance bands, or even using your own body weight as resistance. Remember that muscle burns calories, so you need to focus on building up your muscle mass.
6. Just do it…in intervals, that is. Interval training means changing up the intensity of your workout, not necessarily adding more time to your workout. To learn more about how to do this, speak with an exercise physiologist or a trainer at your local gym or Y. Read more about it here.
7. Drink water. There is some evidence that drinking water, especially cold water, can speed up your metabolism. And some people find that drinking water helps them curb their appetite.
8. De-stress. Some experts believe that constant stress affects metabolism by triggering the release of cortisol, a hormone that can lead to weight gain, among other things. Stress can also affect your food choices and interfere with being active. Deal with stress head-on by taking up yoga, practicing meditation or relaxation, or, if you need help, meeting with a mental health specialist.
9. Take a break. A prominent physician in the field of weight loss with whom I used to work always told his patients: “You first need to stop gaining weight before you can lose weight.” He also believed that it’s OK to maintain for a while. In other words, take a break, if you need it. Recharge and remotivate.