4 Tips to break your weight loss plateau
Your weight loss journey has been a walk in the park so far? As you changed your diet and started working out the kilos just dropped off one after another and you felt like this was going on like that forever – a smooth ride on the road to your ideal weight.
But suddenly things change. You feel unmotivated, bored with your diet and workout plan and these last few kilos seem to be glued onto your hip. Chances are you have hit a plateau.
Here are some tips on how to overcome this block on the road to fitness.
We all know the sayings ‘abs are made in the kitchen’ and ‘you can’t out-train a bad diet’. Your food intake is undoubtedly the most crucial factor when it comes to weight loss.
When you first start changing your diet, you most likely watch the types and quantities of the foods you consume very closely. But as you follow your eating plan for a while, this attention to detail might get lost. A few nibbles while cooking or baking, the odd healthy (yet calorific) treat, two glasses of wine at the party… you might be putting more into your mouth than you think. Try tracking your food intake by writing a food diary. If you feel comfortable counting calories, do so for a week or so every now and then to stay on track, but be aware of the risk of over-obsessing.
It is also important not to eat too little. When you deprive your body from the adequate amount of calories it will go into starvation mode. This can lead to loss of muscle mass and will slow down your metabolism, which will decrease your ability to burn fat on the long run.
Alternating calorie intake
You may also want to try alternating your calorie intake while maintaining the same weekly intake. The human body is very good at adapting to changing circumstances. So if you have followed a strict diet plan with the same daily intake, your body is most likely fully tuned to functioning at this amount of calories. By eating a little more one day and a little less another, you challenge your body to change its metabolic rate to adapt to the new circumstances, which may lead to an increase in burnt calories overall. A popular method is the so-called ‘zig-zag method’ whereby you alternate your daily calories up and down from your normal intake. You can find a zig-zag calorie calculator here.
The keyword here is variety! When you have followed a workout plan for weeks it is very likely that your body has fully adapted to the stress level placed on it. While the first time you run 5 kilometres may feel really difficult, running the same distance after the 30th time usually feels like a piece of cake.
Alternating your exercises is crucial to keep challenging your body. Switching up workouts can be done in many different ways. Try training new muscle groups, use heavier weights while decreasing the repetitions (or the other way around), do sprints instead of your usual 5K run etc. Variety may also help you get your gym motivation back.
3. The rest
The fact that you are not seeing any results may indicate that you are not giving your body enough rest. Weight training causes micro-tears in your muscles. Your body works to repair those tears and will overcompensate. Put simply your body says: ‘This was hard work, let’s prepare the muscles properly so it becomes easier next time.’ It repairs the damaged muscle fibres and creates new ones, resulting in muscle growth. For this repair and muscle growth to take place you have to give the body adequate rest and nutrition.
Skip the gym for a few days and do light exercise such as walking instead. But most importantly: get enough sleep. Your body recovers best whilst asleep, so it is crucial to get enough shut-eye. A lack of sleep can also increase your stress-levels, which may in turn lead to overeating.
4. The motivation
Don’t give up. A plateau can be incredibly frustrating but throwing your gym-towel altogether and reaching for the cookie jar is not an option. If you are sticking to your diet and workout plan you will most likely overcome your plateau in no time. Believe in what you are doing, be proud of how far you have already come and focus on the long-term benefits rather than obsessing over the short-term results like the number on the scale.
Still not working?
If you are watching your diet and following your fitness plan and still don’t see any results there may be more complex issues such as a hormone imbalance (thyroid disorder, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome) at play. If you think this might be the case make sure to consult a professional endocrinologist.
Also, ask yourself whether you are possibly over-obsessing about these last couple of pounds. Your body will be trying very hard to maintain a healthy body weight. So if it requires extreme and unhealthy efforts (overtraining and under-eating) to get to your goal weight, maybe rethink this number. Because even if you get to this ‘ideal’ weight it may be a struggle maintaining it whilst still getting enough nutrition.
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Dulloo, Abdul G; Jacquet, Jean (1998). ‘Adaptive reduction in basal metabolic rate in response to food deprivation in humans: a role for feedback signals from fat stores". The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 68 (3): 599–606. Retrieved via: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/68/3/599.full.pdf, last viewed 1 April.
Tipton K & Wolfe RR (2001) ‘Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth’, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 11 (1), pp. 109-132. Retrieved via: http://www.storre.stir.ac.uk/handle/1893/7628#.VRsYiGbQ39l, last viewed 1 April.
P. M. Clarkson , I. Tremblay(1988), ‘Exercise-induced muscle damage, repair, and adaptation in humans’, Journal of Applied Physiology Published, Vol. 65 no. 1, 1-6, Retrieved via: http://jap.physiology.org/content/65/1/1, last viewed 1 April.