If you’ve ever tried to lose weight and worked at it for a long time, you’re probably familiar with the dreaded weight-loss plateau. A weight-loss plateau is simply the body responding to a decrease in weight. As Megan pointed out in a previous post, it takes less energy (aka calories) to maintain a lower weight, so naturally the body will decrease its daily energy expenditure to match. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just means that you have to work a little harder to overcome this change.
It’s important to understand that plateaus are part of the weight loss process and require some patience and reassessment of your daily routine to overcome. This is important because one of the most common responses to a weight-loss plateau is to feel discouraged and give up. You may feel this way because you stopped seeing results and it feels as though all of your hard work isn’t paying off anymore, so what’s the point? While it might be easy to let frustration get the better of you, try looking back at all the progress you’ve made, especially the weight you were able to lose. Even a small amount of weight loss can improve your health.
Sometimes overcoming a plateau can be as easy as switching up your workout routine, such as increasing the intensity or frequency of exercise, or introducing strength training. Naturally, you will burn more calories if you increase exercise time and intensity, but adding strength training will promote muscle building which is just as important because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. If changing up your exercise routine doesn’t work, you need to reassess your habits starting with your food intake.
It’s very easy to underestimate the amount of calories eaten daily so accuracy is key. Did you use a scale to measure ounces of meat? Did you use a tablespoon (TBSP) to measure fats such as oil and peanut butter? Did you look up the calorie amount of the salad at that restaurant? If not, then you are probably consuming too many calories. Eyeballing exactly one TBSP of oil or peanut butter is very difficult and could set you back significantly. The difference between one and two TBSPs of oil and peanut butter is 100 calories! Those calories add up over time. While it might not be necessary to measure food every single time you eat, it’s crucial to do so at least in the beginning until you have a good idea of how big or small each portion looks. The same thing applies to reading nutrition labels; make sure you’re always checking food labels for the serving size and calorie amount before you eat.
If you’re accurately counting your calories (aka measuring your food!) and you still aren’t seeing progress, you can try further reducing your calorie intake as long as you don’t go below 1200 calories. If you’re not sure how many calories you should be eating, you can get your resting metabolic rate (RMR) tested. The RMR will tell you how many calories you burn at rest per day so that a precise calorie amount can be set for you. We offer this testing in our office and can help you understand what the number means.
If you feel like you’ve truly exhausted all of your efforts and you still cannot overcome a plateau, or if you’re not ready to further change your lifestyle to lose those extra pounds, it might be time to re-evaluate your goals and make sure you’re not setting unrealistic expectations for yourself. Realize that it’s perfectly OK to maintain your weight for a while until your body falls in line or until you’re ready to make the additional changes needed to overcome a plateau.
-Crysta Baldwin, MS, RD, LD