Proven ways to prevent plateauing in diet and fitness
Losing weight is a complex process that can be discouraging at times. When you step onto the scale and see the same number as yesterday, it feels like the previous day’s efforts were for naught. It’s depressing to reach a weight-loss plateau. We will learn how we can prevent plateauing and make continuous progress.
Your body doesn’t want you to lose weight—it thinks you’re starving when you cut back on calories. “Your body will then make you hungry because it thinks something is wrong and wants you to regain that weight,” explains Peter LePort, MD. Dr. LePort is a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in California. Also, when you start losing weight (muscle or fat), your metabolic rate slows down, and a slower metabolism means your body starts burning calories at a slower pace.
Other common culprits behind a weight-loss plateau may be gut imbalances, hormonal imbalances, immune dysregulation, inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, or under-recovery, says Chicago-based dietitian Chelsea Stegman, RD, LD, CPT.
So, how do you know when you are going through it? A weight-loss plateau is a lack of weight loss as you increase body awareness and wisdom. You often find that it goes hand in hand with an imbalance in mood, low energy, lack of sleep, lack of recovery from workouts, or overt gut symptoms.
It’s difficult to say how long this phase will last, per Stegman. “It can depend on your unique lifestyle, metabolism, and how you identify these root causes and take appropriate action,” she adds. But weight-loss plateau is often a sign you need to change your focus and dig deeper, and it may also signify that what you’ve been doing so far needs to be slightly adjusted.
Here is how you can push through and start losing again.
Dial your workouts down a notch.
If you’re experiencing exhaustion while trying to lose weight, that could be a sign that your workouts are too intense. Often, people try to ramp up their physical activity to levels that are not easy to maintain. In contrast, they may get some short-term benefits regarding weight loss, which may be challenging to keep, leading to weight regain.”
One study published in the journal Current Biology found that more exercise does not equal more calories burned. Instead, those who exercised moderately used the same energy as those who worked hard at the gym. The best route? Stick to the Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation of at least two and a half hours (or 150 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, plus strength training, at least two days per week.
Physical activities include brisk walking, light biking, swimming, or slow and controlled strength training. It is important to note that regardless of your fitness level, moderate-intensity workouts are an essential part of any program, especially to continue fat loss.
Add more protein to your diet.
“When you lose weight, the brain and body compensate by making you hungry, which causes you to eat or store more,” says Dr. Stanford. Research published in the journal of Obesity showed that patients who are given a placebo or a weight-loss-triggering type 2 diabetes drug ate 100 more calories per day for every two pounds they lost—indicating that weight loss does make you hungrier.
To push past this, add more protein to your plate (like an extra serving of beans or lean meats). Which can help fill you up faster and help you feel fuller and longer.
Some food sources of dietary protein include:
– lean meats – beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo
– poultry – chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose, bush birds
– fish and seafood – fish, prawns, crab, lobster, mussels, oysters, scallops, clams
– dairy products – milk, yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), cheese (especially cottage cheese)
– nuts (including nut pastes) and seeds – almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, cashews, – —- pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
– legumes and beans – beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu.
Try to de-stress.
Suppose you’ve reached the point in your weight-loss journey. Where everyone is pissing you off (trust—it happens), it might be time to take a mental breather to keep losing weight (without losing your mind).
Women who followed a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet, according to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, produced more cortisol, the stress hormone, and reported higher stress levels. Also, a study published in the Journal of Obesity found that prolonged exposure to cortisol (like several months) can lead to weight gain—or, if you’re actively trying to lose weight, it can at least stall your progress.
Try some de-stressing techniques (yoga or meditation, anyone?). It’s also crucial for you to be aware that weight-loss plateaus exist and to cut yourself some slack when they happen, Dr. LePort says. If you know you tend to get stressed out when things don’t go your way (fair), you can try adding regular self-care activities, like hanging in a warm bath with candles and a trashy book.
Keep a food journal.
“In the initial stages of weight loss, people may see that weight comes off rapidly because they are creating a caloric deficit their body hasn’t experienced before,” says Maya Feller, RDN. of Maya Feller Nutrition. After some time, however, it can be easy to slip back into bad eating or sedentary habits. “Relaxing the reins around portion sizes can stall weight loss,” she says.
Try keeping a food journal to keep your diet plan on track, Feller suggests. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, people who kept daily food records lost about twice as much as those who didn’t.
Do more strength training.
It’s easy to think that endless cardio is the quickest way to weight loss, but don’t skimp on strength training. Cardio will result in weight loss, but you will lose lean body mass in addition to fat. Losing lean body mass will reduce your metabolic rate and precipitate a plateau.
Remember: Make sure you’re strength training at least two days a week. “Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, meaning that the lean body mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest,” explains Feller.
Increase your physical activity outside of the gym.
It’s terrific if you’re getting 150 minutes of exercise per week. Still, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Americans spend more than 12 hours of their 16-hour awake day sitting. And that’s not good for you, especially if you’ve reached a stalemate.
Being active isn’t limited to the gym. So make sure you maintain moving to stay on track with your weight-loss objectives. According to Dr. LePort, simply standing can increase your calorie burn.
It’s also a good idea to add little calorie-burners to your everyday routine, like walking during breaks, taking the stairs, parking your car farther away from a store entrance, and jumping jacks when you need a little pick-me-up in your day.
Cut back on the nightcaps.
“Your nightly glass of wine (or two) may be behind your weight-loss plateau,” says Liz Weinandy, RD, MPH, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
Here’s the thing: Alcohol causes your blood sugar to drop, stimulating your appetite, explains Dr. Stanford. At the same time, it decreases your body’s ability to burn fat, she adds.
Weinandy recommends limiting yourself to having two to three drinks a week and seeing where that gets you. Also, try to drink when you have food, which limits the blood sugar crashes and lowers the odds you’ll end up ravenous.
Beware of sneaky “healthy” foods.
There are healthy foods, and then there are foods with a health halo. These foods can trip up your weight-loss efforts if you overeat them. Think: honey, nuts, nut butter, granola, trail mix, full-fat milk, yogurt, and cheeses, says Julie Parrott, RD, a clinical nutrition specialist in Penn Medicine’s Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Program.
It’s essential to know these foods aren’t necessarily bad for you. Still, they are high in calories, and people tend to assume they’re healthy, overeat them, and then can’t lose weight. Parrott says that doing your best to eat these foods in moderation will help rev up your weight loss again.
Do NOT skimp on fiber.
Fiber is a big one. Dietitian Rachel Weinandy says, “fiber stays in the stomach longer.” As a result, that can help you feel fuller longer. So you’re not reaching for unhealthy foods in a desperate moment of hunger.
Another fiber pro? It helps you poop and can help keep things moving in your GI tract, Stanford says—always a plus when you’re trying to lose weight. Try adding more high-fiber foods like lentils, black beans, and even (your fave) avocados to get more of this filling nutrient.
Food that is rich with fibers:
– Beans, lentils, and other beans sneak fiber into your diet in soups, stews, and salads.
– Broccoli, this veggie can get pigeonholed as the fiber vegetable.
– Whole Grains.
– Dried Fruits.
Add some HIIT to your workout.
One crappy thing about working out is that your body gets used to the same exercise routine, which will adapt quickly, unfortunately.
Adding interval training to the mix can help, Dr. LePort says, when you add something new and unfamiliar, like sprints in the middle of your run or jumping jacks. He explains that it causes your body to work harder and burn more calories.
You can get more out of your workout in a shorter time. One study published in the Journal of Obesity found that people who did HIIT lost more body fat than those who just did standard cardio. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat, so you may notice your pants fitting looser even if the scale doesn’t change.
Carry a water bottle around with you everywhere.
Water is a game-changer in weight loss for a few reasons: For starters, it keeps you hydrated (key for your workouts and life in general). But it’s also easy to mistake being thirsty for being hungry, Stanford says—which can lead to unnecessary noshing. “If you have already eaten, and one hour later you feel ‘hungry,’ try drinking fluids first,” Parrott says.
Carry around a water bottle with you always, so it’s there when you need it.
Eat vegetables at every single meal.
That way, you’re replacing higher-calorie foods you would have otherwise eaten with lower-calorie, healthier fare, Weinandy says. Adding veggies at every meal also increases your fiber intake, which helps fill you up and keeps you feeling fuller and longer.
It would be best if you also tried to incorporate as many types of veggies as possible to ensure you get all the micronutrients you need. Eating vegetables will also provide beneficial gut bacteria, help balance hormones, and assist with workout recovery. Essentially, vegetables will keep you on track for weight loss. Try to consume two sources of each of these colors per day: greens, oranges, purples, reds, and whites.
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