break weight loss plateau tips

How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau

A friend has been trying to lose weight for the past eight months.

When they started their weight loss journey, their weight dropped quite rapidly, but after several months the weight loss completely stopped.

What they're experiencing is a frustrating weight loss plateau.

What is a weight loss plateau?

When your body weight doesn't change anymore despite you continuing to eat a healthy diet and regularly exercising, you've reached a weight-loss plateau. The plateau typically happens after your initial weight reduction and when you are struggling to shed those final few pounds.

Most people who attempt to slim down eventually reach a weight-loss plateau, so it shouldn't shock you if it happens to you.

According to research [1], weight loss plateaus occur after roughly six months of low-calorie dieting.

Although doctors don't fully understand why weight reduction plateaus happen, some explanations include:

  • The initial rapid weight loss slows down metabolism preventing further changes in body weight.
  • The body adjusts to losing weight and guards itself against continued weight loss.
  • After a few months, people stop being totally committed to their healthy diets.

To start losing weight once more, there are several things you can do.

5 Ways to Overcome the Demoralizing Weight Loss Plateau

If you don't see any change in your weight for about a month, you're most likely experiencing a weight loss plateau.

This can last indefinitely if you don't make changes to your current weight loss program.

Here are a few eating and exercise tweaks you can make to jump-start your weight loss so you can get down to your goal.

  • Exercise More

Your body adapts to your workout program. So, if you reach a point where you're not sweating or feeling challenged as you exercise, your body has gotten accustomed to your exercise routine, and you're not burning calories as fast as when you started.

As an example, if you begin regularly running for 30 minutes on a treadmill to lose weight, you might burn about 300 calories at the start.

Four months later, your body will likely be more efficient at energy conservation, and you might only burn 200 calories while performing the same treadmill run.

To continuously see results in your weight loss journey, you should adjust your workout intensity to keep your body challenged.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans [2], adults should engage in 75-150 minutes of high-intensity exercises or 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

If you're currently doing the minimum 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises, moving up to 300 minutes or switching to 75 minutes of high-intensity workouts per week could help boost your metabolic rate, which slows down when you're losing weight, and unlock a weight loss plateau.

Incorporating more weight training in your workouts can also help you burn more calories.

A 12-week research study [3] involving young, obese women who engaged in 20 minutes of daily weight training and consumed a low-calorie diet found they lost an average of 2 inches (5 cm) from their waistlines and 13 pounds (5.9 kg) overall.

  • Consume a Low-Carb Diet

Several studies [4] have found that a very low-carb diet (less than 50 grams of carbs daily) provides better weight loss results than normal weight loss diets.

This is because a low-carb diet can help you eat less by controlling hunger through a feeling of fullness.

Additionally, the diets induce the creation of ketones in your body, which decrease appetite [5].

So, if you're struggling with a weight loss plateau, switching to a low-carb diet if you're not already on one could be all you need to get back to reducing your weight.

  • Closely Track Your Calories Intake

When you start dieting for weight loss, you're likely to be committed to measuring your calorie intake daily.

However, after a few weeks or months, you might become less strict with counting your food intake.

You shouldn't stop keeping proper records of calorie intake because most people who don't regularly track their eating significantly underestimate the number of calories they're consuming, and this gets in the way of their weight loss.

For example, a group of obese people in a study [6] reported they consumed close to 1,200 calories daily. A 14-day detailed analysis of their calorie intake, however, found on average, they were consuming almost double what they thought they were.

A proper record ensures you know where you need to cut back or increase your calorie intake to continue losing weight.

To show you how important tracking your calories is, another study the American Journal of Preventive Medicine [7] published showed individuals who monitored their food intake daily lost almost twice as much weight as individuals who didn't keep records.

To better measure your calorie intake daily, consider using a calorie counting app. As you track your calories, you might find that you were eating a lot more than you thought and can adjust accordingly for the weight scale to start pointing in the direction you want.

  • Increase Your Protein Intake

If you're no longer losing weight consuming more proteins can also help break your weight loss plateau.

Research has found protein burns 25-30% more calories than carbs and fats, which boost your metabolic rate by 5-10% and 0-3% respectively.

One study [8] on young healthy women, conducted over two days, found a high protein diet almost doubled their metabolic rate.

Studies have also found that protein reduces your appetite [9] and cravings, helping you eat less to lose weight.

  • Avoid Stress

Are you stressed about your work, finances, relationships, etc.? This could be getting in the way of you continuously losing weight.

When you're stressed, your body produces a stress hormone known as cortisol, which plays a crucial role in managing your stress levels. Cortisol, however, also slows down your weight loss by boosting the storage of belly fat.

Being stressed can also be a trigger for food cravings and lead to you quitting your healthy diet because you want to indulge in comfort foods.

It may be difficult for you to be stress-free, but when you do experience it, look for ways to better manage your stress to avoid a weight loss plateau.

A study [10] done on 34 obese and overweight women over eight weeks found stress management techniques like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation helped them lose an average of 9.7 pounds (4.4 kg).

Without going into too much detail about them, other strategies to help you get past a weight-loss plateau include:

  • Intermittent fasting. Several studies have shown going for 16 to 48 hours without food can help reduce your overall weight by 3-8% [11] and waistline by 3-7% in 3-24 weeks.
  • Get quality sleep. Sleeping for 7-9 hours regularly can also help you lose more weight [12] or overcome a weight loss plateau.
  • Don't limit your physical activity to the gym. Instead of driving to the convenience store, walk there if it is close to where you live. Go out dancing, and spend more time doing yard work or cleaning up around the house because any physical activity gives you better weight loss outcomes.
  • Cut back on the alcohol. Your favorite beer or cocktail contains a lot of calories. A craft beer, for example, can have 300 plus calories, and most people drink more than one beer in one sitting. While drinking, you may also eat more, and your chances of consuming junk food increase. If your weight loss has plateaued, it might be time to quit booze until you reach your target weight.
  • Drink more water. Water can play a major role in your weight loss journey. For example, if you regularly take water before meals this can help you eat less. Also, studies [13] show drinking 500ml of water can boost the burning of calories for 1.5 hours by 24-30%.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135489/pdf/ajcn1003787.pdf
  2. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24393798/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23651522/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25402637/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1454084/
  7. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(08)00374-7/fulltext
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11838888/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16950139/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23627835/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24993615/
  12. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41366-019-0401-5
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14671205/

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