We’ve all been there – gotten a good start losing weight only to find that things level off. We stop losing weight, even though we’re still exercising and eating healthier.
These are called weight loss plateaus. If you graph your weight, the flat line where it levels off looks like the flat landscape feature called a plateau, hence the name. And it stinks.
Why Do We Experience Weight Loss Plateaus?
Our bodies are designed for maintenance. To a certain degree, our metabolism adjusts itself to our eating and fitness habits. When you first start exercising or dieting, you typically see good results. The pounds start dropping off, the scale shows lower numbers, and your clothes fit better.
But after awhile, your body gets used to the new routine of fewer calories and/or more exercise. Also, the more you weigh, the more calories your body burns just maintaining itself. (Which is why extremely overweight people often lose more initially on a diet than someone trying to lose just a few extra pounds.) When your body starts to anticipate what you’re doing, the results stop happening, and you experience weight loss plateaus as a result.
Mix Up Your Diet
Although you could further restrict your diet in order to begin losing weight again, you may actually find that simply changing some things around causes your body to get past weight loss plateaus. For example, if you’re on a low-carb diet such as Atkins or even the South Beach Diet, simply adding in a higher-carb day once every week or two may be enough to speed up your metabolism. Or you might consider a higher-calorie day once a week, where you’re not quite as strict on your diet as you are the rest of the time.
The key is not to overdo it. Don’t eat an entire cheesecake on your “carb day” or “cheat day”. Simply a few extra calories or a small indulgence is perfect. It also helps relieve the monotony of constant dieting.
Shake Up Your Fitness Routine
In the same fashion, your body starts to expect certain activity types and levels as you develop a fitness routine. Many people who take up jogging or Zumba will see initial weight loss, then it stops. Your body can get used to a particular type of exercise, so switch activities or add in a new one.
If you’re only doing cardio workout, add in some strength training. You don’t have to build huge muscles or spend hours in the gym. A few calisthenics, some yoga, or workouts with resistance bands or light hand weights can give you a great strength training workout. In the same way, if you spend most of your time lifting weights, make sure to add in some jogging or cycling to boost your fat-burning system.
You can also set your body up to move beyond weight loss plateaus by alternating activities. If you do take an aerobics class six days a week, you can take it down to 3 days and go for an hour-long bike ride on the other three days. You’ll work out different muscles, and incorporate a different pattern of heart rate changes, both of which will kick-start your weight loss again.
Don’t Get Discouraged about Weight Loss Plateaus
Above all, don’t let a plateau derail your efforts. Everyone can lose weight and developer healthier bodies, and we all go through plateaus periodically. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s not possible. Recognize weight loss plateaus for what it is, and give your body time to get past it.