Like death and taxes, seasoned dieters know that weight loss plateaus are inevitable, too. No matter how well your diet and exercise efforts pay off in the beginning, it seems that there always comes a point at which – no matter what you do – weight loss comes to a grinding halt.
These interruptions in your progress are frustrating, but understanding why they happen will help you figure out the best way to get things moving again.
When you cut your calorie intake, your body assumes that food is scarce. So it does what it’s programmed to do – conserves calories by slowing down the rate at which you burn them. As a result, your resting metabolic rate –the calories you burn every day just to keep normal body processes functioning – goes down.
Also, your resting metabolic rate accounts for about 75 percent of all the calories you burn every day and it is determined, in part, by your body size. So it makes sense that as your weight goes drops, your metabolic rate goes down, too.
In order to lose a pound in a week’s time, you have to consume 500 fewer calories per day than you need. As you lose weight, and your calorie needs go down, you’ll need to either cut more calories out of your diet or step up your exercise – or both - to maintain that 500 calorie ‘gap’.
Here are a few things to consider when you hit a plateau:
- Try using 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.
- Step up your activity, particularly strength training. As you build muscle, your resting metabolic rate goes up. If you’ve been working out for a while, you might also be in better shape - if you 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.
- Try a meal replacement for one or two meals to help you stay within your calorie limit. A protein shake - made with a defined amount of milk or soy milk, protein powder and fruit – takes the guesswork out of calorie counting since you know exactly what goes in it. Try replacing two meals a day for a while, have a healthy third meal, and fill in with snacks of lowfat protein foods, veggies and fruits.
- Consider that you might actually have reached an appropriate 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. But if your body fat is within normal range, then you may not have much – if any – additional weight to lose.
Susan Bowerman is a consultant to Herbalife.