Whether you’ve been on a nutrition or fitness program, at some point you’ll hit a plateau where it seems efforts don’t equal results.
A weight loss plateau can zap your motivation, but understanding the reasons behind it can help you meet your goals. According to Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, “When you cut back on your calories, your body reacts as if there’s no more food coming its way. So it does what it’s programmed to do — it hangs onto stored up calories by slowing down the rate at which you burn them.”
Further, as your weight drops, your metabolic rate naturally goes down a bit, too. “That means as you lose weight, your calorie needs also drop somewhat. So, to keep losing at the same rate, you need to either cut your intake further, or exercise more — or accept that your rate of weight loss will be slower as you approach your goal.”
From an exercise perspective, you may be pushing yourself harder and harder but the results seem to be slowing. “Pushing your body to the point of exhaustion can spell disaster for your fitness goals. You’ve got to build in time for your body to recharge,” states former Olympian Samantha Clayton, Herbalife’s director, worldwide fitness education. “Then when you start training again, you’ve got a renewed energy and focus.”
Here are eight tips to move off the weight plateau:
• Use a food diary to keep track of your calorie intake – You may have been more careful when you started your diet — weighing and measuring everything that passed your lips — but you might not be as accurate as you once were. This will get you back on track.
• Replace two meals a day with a protein shake to help you stay within your calorie limit. When you make your shake, you know exactly what goes into it — and how many calories are in the protein powder, the milk and the fruit — so it takes the guesswork out of calorie counting. Use the shake for two meals a day, have a healthy third meal, and fill in with snacks of low fat protein foods, veggies and fruits.
• Dine out less often – No matter how careful you think you are when you go to a restaurant, it’s usually difficult to accurately estimate how many calories you’re eating, because it’s often hard to tell exactly how foods are prepared.
• Step up your activity, particularly strength training – If you’ve been working out for a while and haven’t increased the intensity of your activity, you might not be burning as many calories as you used to. Add some new moves to your exercise routine, increase the intensity, and pump some iron.
• You might actually be at the right weight – If you can, get your body composition checked. Muscle is ‘denser’ and takes up less space than body fat — so if you are carrying more muscle than the average person, you might weigh more than you think you should. If your body fat is within normal range, then you may not have much — if any — additional weight to lose.
• Avoid fatigue – Your body needs to re-generate, restore and repair itself often. Your pain receptors will make movements uncomfortable and your joints can become tender when you push your body too hard. The nervous system also needs time to rest in order to adapt and improve from training.
• Follow your natural cycle – Athletes train in cycles for a reason, the timing of training may vary from athlete to athlete but one common factor in every athlete’s training program are pre-planned rest days. A well-rested body will get better results than a tired one.
• Spark excitement – If you are putting your body through the motions day after day, you can become complacent and your exercise intensity is likely to drop without you even realizing. Taking a day or two off from your current workout routine can make you come back to the gym with a renewed commitment and excited approach.
Bowerman is a paid consultant for Herbalife.