You were on the losing track for weeks — shedding pounds and inches, and feeling great about your progress. But the last few times you stepped on the scale, the needle stayed put. What gives? Is this all the weight your body will ever shed? Are you destined to weigh this much forever?
You’ve hit a weight loss plateau, an expected part of your journey toward a lower number on that scale. Instead of treating that number as a reason for discouragement, consider it a “check in” point — a chance to assess what you’ve been doing and make some modifications to get you back on track toward your goal weight.
“A plateau is a natural resting point,” says Liz Josefsberg, a weight loss coach and author of Target 100. “Take the stress and drama out of it and acknowledge that it’s time to make some changes — that what you’ve been doing that was working now needs to be tweaked.”
But what to tweak when you feel like you’ve been doing all the right things? After all, you did get this far. We sought the advice of experts who work with clients on this very question. Here are their tips to get the scale moving again and lose weight.
A common mistake that Josefsberg sees is that people start off “hypervigilant and accountable in the beginning, and then as time goes by…they get more comfortable with the weight coming off and start to let go of or soften the habits that they put in place [initially] and slip back toward old habits.” Not tracking and measuring food, not weighing themselves and not attending support group meetings are some examples. She advises her clients to think back to the first few weeks when their motivation was highest and ask themselves, What was I doing that week? Was I food shopping? Was I exercising? Cooking? Looking up tips on websites? Rekindle your focus and adopt those preliminary habits that moved the scale in the first place.
Keeping track of every calorie matters. “People think their portion sizes are correct and sometimes they’re misguided on that,” says Boston-based dietitian Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of MyPlate for Moms: How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better. “Measure out peanut butter, hummus, sauces, salad dressing servings — all of those foods you’ve been eyeballing,” she says. “Just an extra quarter cup of cereal every day could be slowing your weight loss.” Find areas in your diet where you can shave calories. Just 100 calories a day can add up to 10 pounds in a year — in either direction!
And while the pounds may fall off more easily at first, keep in mind that as you approach your goal weight, you need to tighten your daily calorie intake and adjust your exercise routine as well. “When you’re doing the same thing at 140 pounds that you did at 180, it’s not going to work,” Ward says. Weight loss and weight maintenance require constant recalibration.
It’s important not to overestimate how many calories you’re burning with exercise, says Ward. “That’s a huge mistake I see over and over again, especially among women. They feel justified in eating more calories because they’re exercising, and then they can’t figure out why they’re not losing weight.”
She suggests dialing back your expectations in terms of calories burned during exercise, and don’t trust the number on cardio machines. Ward says they can overestimate your calorie expenditure by 100 calories or more!
“If you’re thinking, This is low calorie, so I can have as much as I want, know it still needs to be counted toward your total calories consumed,” cautions Ward. Sugar-free does not mean calorie-free. And fat-free often means sugar-full — many lower-fat or nonfat versions of foods pump in extra sugar to compensate for a loss in taste fat provides. For instance, reduced-fat Jif® peanut butter has the same total calories and about the same total saturated fat content as the regular variety, but swaps out appetite-curbing and heart-healthy unsaturated fat for an extra 7 grams of carbs.
The other major culprit of packaged diet (highly processed) food is sodium. This can show up on the scale in the form of retained water from too much salt in your diet. Frozen meals are notorious for their high sodium content. Choose soups, snacks and frozen meals labeled low-sodium, or check the nutrition facts label for the percent daily value per serving of sodium. Anything that has 5 percent or less of your daily value is considered low in sodium, while food containing 20 percent or more of your daily value is considered high in sodium. When cooking, amplify your food’s flavor with fresh herbs, spices or a squeeze of lemon juice.
A food diary is important for tracking food intake but it’s also a great resource for tracking the times of day you’re eating and why. Ward suggests keeping a food diary for at least a week or two, weighing and measuring everything you’re eating, and writing down your emotions as well as your level of hunger before eating. In other words, figure out what you’re eating, when and why. If you’re stressed at work in the afternoon and tempted to reach for a treat when you’re not even hungry, go outside for a 10- to 15-minute walk to clear your head. You’ll be burning calories instead of consuming them and making positive behavioral changes to boot.
“Plateau is not a dirty word,” says Josefsberg. Instead, she frames a plateau as a way to practice the maintenance phase, arguably the hardest part of weight loss. When you hit a plateau, find and fine-tune strategies that will help you stay at your current weight without regaining. And don’t give in to thinking that you’ll never lose another pound again. In Josefsberg’s experience, many dieters eventually reach a point of frustration that spurs them to redouble their efforts and lose more weight. “That feeling of frustration is just your readiness to actually move off the plateau.”
Remember, weight loss is rarely a straight, smooth trajectory. It’s about making lifelong habits and staying focused on healthy behaviors while handling the bumps in life — and the ups and downs that will inevitably be reflected on the scale.
“I can’t remember the day I looked at the scale and hit a certain number, but I can remember the day I buttoned up my favorite jeans,” says Josefsberg. Mark milestones like being able to fit into a smaller clothing size, having the energy to play with your kids, sleeping better or being in a better mood, she advises. Or even changes to your routine that you’ve been struggling to make, like not having a glass of wine with dinner every night. “Let those successes become the fabric of your weight loss journey. They’re so much more important than what the scale says each week.”
Josefsberg also recommends regularly taking your body measurements so you can see how your body is changing even when the scale doesn’t budge. She suggests people track body measurements (such as arm, waist and hip circumference) at the beginning of their weight loss efforts and then every four to five weeks after. This is especially helpful for those who start exercising, as gains in muscle mass can mask a reduction in total body fat.
If you’re eating the same broiled chicken and steamed vegetables for dinner every night you’re probably bored with this weight loss project already. “Plateaus often happen because of boredom so work to keep the excitement alive,” says Josefsberg. Get a new cookbook, search for healthy recipes to try or buy new healthy foods at the grocery store. Keep it fresh and exciting instead of eating the same thing over and over. You’ll not only please your taste buds, you’ll be more likely to track your foods diligently because you don’t know the calories of these foods yet.
Change up your fitness routine as well with a new class, a different piece of cardio equipment at the gym or even a different route on your bike ride. The new challenge to your muscles and your mind will keep you more focused during your workout.
Whether you have a walking buddy, a supportive spouse or a whole cheering squad on Facebook, having someone who can encourage and inspire you is key to successful weight loss. After all, discussing weight loss strategies with other people is how Weight Watchers meetings started more than 50 years ago.
“There’s so much information coming at you when you start out, and a lot of it won’t work for you or doesn’t apply to your situation,” says Josefsberg. “When you have a support system, you can talk about things that are actually helpful for your life.”
Josefsberg coaches her members on the “backpack approach”: Envision that you’re wearing a backpack, and you take in all of the ideas from your support system and put them in the backpack. Try out the ideas one at a time, like a new recipe or fitness class, and if you discover you hate it or it doesn’t work for you, then toss the suggestion out of your backpack and try another one.
Note which weight loss strategies work for you — and which don’t. Think of it as your game book. When you hit that inevitable plateau, pull out your list and start running through your old plays. Make this a strategy you come back to every time the scale gets stuck or starts moving in the wrong direction.
And remember, as your life and body change, so too will the things that work for you. Don’t be afraid to retest a tip that was on your “don’t” list. You may find that it becomes your winning move.
Read the full article on Walgreens.
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