If you’ve hit a diet plateau, congratulations. That means that you have stuck to your weight loss plan long enough for your body to catch up and make adjustments to maintain your current weight. Of course, diet plateaus are frustrating but they are also normal. Almost every dieter hits one during the course of a successful diet and exercise program.
Blasting Past Your Diet Plateau
So how do you get over a dieting plateau? Don’t look at the roadblock as a negative thing, look at it as an opportunity to check in with your program and make it more stable. Ask yourself these questions and use the quick fixes to re-invigorate your weight loss program.
- Have your portion sizes increased? You probably measured your food at the beginning of your diet. But have you gotten less careful about eating the correct portion size? It’s easy to make tiny increases in the amount of food you pour into a bowl or spoon onto your plate. Those portion size mistakes can add up at the end of the day. Quick fix: Take a week to measure your food again, just like you did at the beginning of your diet. Use a digital scale to get an accurate reading. You might be surprised at how your portions have increased.
- Are you counting calories correctly? You may be tracking your daily intake of calories and nutrients with a paper journal or an online app. Are you still careful about including every food you eat? Have you gotten sloppy about tracking your food intake? If you’ve started to enter foods by memory, there is a good chance that you are either forgetting a food here and there or entering an incorrect portion size. Quick fix: Take your journal with you everywhere you go. Set an alarm on your smartphone, if necessary, to remind yourself to record your food intake.
- Should you re-evaluate the number of calories you need to eat? If you have lost weight successfully so far, the number of calories you need to eat every day has probably decreased since you started your plan. Now that your body is lighter it needs fewer calories to move through normal daily activities. Quick fix: Go back and re-evaluate the number of calories you need to eat to lose weight. Use an online calculator or any of the other methods to get an updated number that will get you past your weight loss plateau.
- Has your fitness level improved? If you started a new exercise program and you’ve stuck to it, your fitness level has probably increased. That’s great! But it also means that your body doesn’t have to work as hard – or burn as many calories – to complete the same amount of work. You don’t necessarily need to increase the amount of activity that you do every day, but you do need to make some changes. Quick fix: If you are healthy enough for vigorous activity, now is a good time to add high-intensity interval training to your weekly schedule. You can also begin a circuit-training program. A circuit workout builds muscle and burns calories with aerobic activity in a shorter period of time. If you have the time, you can also add a second easy workout to your day with a morning walk or evening bike ride to burn extra calories.
- Are you active during the day? Do you compensate for your workouts by spending the rest of the day sitting at your desk or laying on the couch? Your daily non-exercise activity is a big factor in the number of calories you burn every day. If you are sedentary for most of the day, you’re not taking advantage of a major calorie-burning component. Quick fix: Boost your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) by adding movement to daily tasks. Stand up and work at your computer, take the stairs instead of the elevator, do easy household chores while you watch television. Activities like walking the dog and gardening are also great ways to boost NEAT. Small changes can have a big impact when you are on a diet plateau.
- Are you building muscle? It is typical for dieters to lose muscle when they lose weight. But your metabolism slows when you lose muscle, so you want to keep as much muscle as possible. One way to do this is through weight training. Quick fix: Make sure that at least two of your weekly workouts include strength training. This doesn’t mean that you have to become a bodybuilder, but simple bodyweight exercises like push-ups and lunges will help you maintain a healthy body composition.
- Are you eating enough protein? Protein has been shown to balance out some of the metabolic adjustments that happen when you lose weight. Researchers believe this is because protein helps us to maintain the muscle we have and build new muscle. Quick fix: Evaluate the nutrient balance of your current diet. Make sure that you are getting enough protein to adequately build the muscle you need to maintain a healthy metabolism.
- Should you re-evaluate your goal? It is frustrating when you hit a diet plateau, but it might be a good time to re-adjust your goal. Maybe your current weight is healthy. How do you like your current body size? Could you stay where you are and be happy in the maintenance phase? Quick fix: If you decide that you still want to lose more weight, set new short-term goals to keep yourself invested in the program. Evaluate your successes and ask yourself how you can raise the bar to include new achievements.
- Are you still motivated? Are you still as motivated as you were on day one? Probably not. Every dieter goes through a honeymoon phase and the phase that follows usually includes the plateau. This is when reality sets in and we get lazy about making healthy choices throughout the day. Your new short-term goal may help to get you reinvested in your plan, but you can also use new motivational techniques. Quick fix: take the time to acknowledge and be proud of your progress so far. A diet plateau is really a badge of honor, so give yourself some credit! Then, don’t hesitate to set up new rewards for yourself to keep your plan on track.
- Are there medical factors to consider? Diet plateaus are normal and almost every successful dieter hits one. But if you have gone through this list and none of it applies to you, it may be time to check in with your doctor. There may be a medical cause for the lack of weight loss. Quick fix: After you’ve tried all of these quick fixes, make an appointment to talk to your doctor. New diet medications are on the market that may work for certain people and weight loss surgery may be an option for you as well.