YOU’VE been doing everything right, from making healthy food choices to daily exercise in any weather, so why have you stopped losing weight?
A weight loss plateau refers to a significant period – at least 2-3 weeks – in which you seem to be stuck at a certain weight. You begin to wonder if you can lose any more weight on your current eating and exercise plan. It can be disheartening, but weight loss plateaus are a normal feature of losing weight. As such, they should be expected. But with our handy tips, you can break on through and keep on losing!
In general, dieters reach a plateau after a lengthy period of weight loss, around 8-12 weeks. Similarly, they find weight loss stalls once they have lost a considerable amount, like 10kg. Plateaus occur because the body works to maintain homeostasis, or a stable internal environment. This is because it is essential to our survival to keep many complex bodily functions – such as temperature control, fluid balance and hormone levels – operating within a tightly regulated normal range.
How do you overcome a weight loss plateau? Make a change.
If your body perceives your daily energy intake as too low or your weight loss as too fast, it will try to stabilise your weight at a given point by adjusting your metabolism and conserving energy. Your body will work better once you have lost any excess weight, but in the interests of stability, it will periodically resist continued attempts to drop those unwanted kilos.
• Tweak your daily calories
Start by readjusting your daily energy intake. It may seem strange, but increasing the amount you eat by 100-200 calories per day can help your weight loss, especially if you have been adhering to a strict daily limit of 1200 calories for some time. If your limit has been closer to 1800 calories, try dropping your intake by 100-200 calories for a couple of weeks.
Changing your dining schedule can help reprogram your body. If you usually eat 3 square meals, swap them for 6 smaller ones throughout the day, or vice versa. If you always have cereal and fruit for breakfast, switch to eggs and toast for a while. If you usually eat a big breakfast and then nothing until lunch, instead have a smaller breakfast and treat yourself to a healthy midmorning snack.
• Increase your energy expenditure
When it comes to exercise, switching routines is the key. If you’ve been walking every day, try a higher intensity form of training. It’s time to break into a jog occasionally, or make your heart work harder by tackling a few hills or stairs as part of your walk.
Stair climbing is a great way to tone your legs and butt. It works your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves and your body reaps a massive calorie burn. Find a set of stairs outdoors and aim for 10 sets. Increase the strength and cardio benefits by alternating between running up each step (to raise your heart rate), and skipping every second step (for muscle burn). Keep your core switched on and your body upright. Focus on squeezing your butt on the upward movement. If your fitness isn’t up to running, walking up the stairs will still give you strengthening and toning benefits.
• Introduce interval training
Spice up your cardio with a spot of interval training, which is a highly effective means of building strength and stamina and burning calories. It involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise interspersed with periods of low-intensity recovery. The beauty of interval training is that it can be adapted for a range of cardio methods, from walking and cycling to rowing and swimming. You can also use it on the cross-trainer or stepper.
Boredom is the enemy of fitness. Hate your gym routine? Sick of weights or over Zumba? Give your exercise program a total overhaul and increase your repertoire by trying out some of the fantastic moves in the exercise library. Or use this as an opportunity to give something completely different a go. When you learn something new, your body has to adapt by setting up new patterns of coordination and firing muscles in new sequences. You go through a period when you feel clumsy and awkward while you get used to the different physical demands, but this inefficiency means you burn up more calories in the process. Once you have a technique down pat, your body finds efficient ways to perform, consuming less energy.
Exercise at the other end of the day
You can also keep your body guessing by changing the time of the day when you exercise. Training before breakfast can be a great way to fire up your metabolism, or you may find your muscles are nicely warmed up and you feel alert and energetic when exercising in the late afternoon.
“Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates hunger and is created when we fast for several hours. Leptin is the hormone produced when we eat, and it creates feelings of satiety that shut down our hunger centre, thereby forcing ghrelin levels to drop”. A lack of sleep means you’re not getting enough melatonin (the sleep hormone) leading to leptin resistance. The result is your body being unable to burn fat effectively, leading to weight gain. Getting to bed earlier and being well rested can stoke your metabolism. So if you find your weight loss grinds to a halt maybe you should get to bed!
Plateaus aren’t just physical; there is a psychological element as well. Dieters sometimes use the fact they stopped losing weight to explain why a healthy eating plan didn’t work for them. It’s tempting to believe we are experiencing a plateau when in fact we may have relaxed our commitment to our goals. The healthy diet isn’t working because we’ve stopped trying.