…and throwing the towel is not an option.
You have been following a strict diet and have been diligent with your workout plan too. The pounds are shedding fast, so you don’t mind missing a few drinks during night outs or skipping the sugary treats. You are entirely sure that if you keep up, you will achieve your ideal weight by the time you hit the beach, tie the knot, or reach whatever milestone you’re preparing for. But alas, the scales suddenly won’t budge no matter how religious you stick to your program. To make matters worse, you stalled during the last 10-20 pounds when you have successfully trimmed the first 50! You’re dumbfounded and can’t understand what you did wrong.
Take heart, you’re experiencing a very common occurrence called weight-loss plateau. According to Maya Feller R.D., weight-loss plateau happens when there is a balance between calories burned and calories consumed. This happens to most people trying to lose excess pounds. However, hitting a plateau shouldn’t discourage you from pursuing your fitness goals. Understanding the different factors that contribute to this phenomenon is your first line of defense. Look out for the usual reasons so you can course-correct, they can be physiological, behavioral or both.
Common reasons and how to beat the dreaded phase:
1. Lower weight means lower calorie burn, so as your weight decreases, so does your metabolic rate. According to experts, an estimated 25% of the weight you lose is from your muscles or lean tissues. Muscles are critical in keeping our metabolism up, and they naturally use more calories than fat. Hence, losing muscles means lower metabolism and hindered weight loss. Worry not though, if you have not heard of the many wonders of strength training, it’s time for you to consider it as part of your weight-loss game plan. Strength training builds and preserves your muscles even while losing weight, so your metabolism is kept at the optimal level.
2. You’ve loosened up. Hard truth but loosening up is one of the most common reasons for weight-loss plateaus. This means that your dedication level is at 150% at the start of the weight-loss journey, and as soon as you see results, you start to relax or become ‘too occupied’ to be faithful to your plan. The once 1.5 hours, three times a week workout becomes one hour, two times a week. You take an extra serving of your favorite cocktail or go all out during cheat days. Our actions are the first thing we must revisit once we hit the plateau. Once you assess your actions the past weeks, you are likely to realize where the gaps are. If it is because of training lags, then it is time to up your game and increase the frequency or intensity of your activities to reach a caloric deficit. If it is because of boredom, shake things up and change your workout routine. Human bodies are amazing adaptors, so you will not get the same results the first time you tried running or doing Zumba. Switch up your workout, it is the best reason to try another form of exercise. HIIT Pilates sounds challenging, doesn’t it?
3. Sleep deprivation. Getting dark circles is not the worst thing that can happen when you lack sleep, though it sure adds to the injury! Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep specialist and author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep, said that only 30 minutes of sleep loss could make you more likely to gain weight. Sleep is critical for our bodies’ function, repair and growth processes. “If you’re sleep-deprived, your metabolism will not function properly,” Dr. Breus said. It also increases our levels of stress hormone cortisol, which then increases appetite. More so, chronic sleeplessness can signal our bodies to go on survival mode, thinking we are in danger, so our bodies conserve the resources (read: fat). So, light some lavender candles, draw the drapes and get your complete eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep.
4. Over-exercising. It might sound contradictory but over exercising can lead to exhaustion, which is detrimental to your weight loss more than anything. It is normal for people aiming to lose weight to ramp up their physical activities which can lead to short-term gains instead of long-term and sustainable benefits. Working out two hours a day, six times a week, cutting all sweets and (for Filipinos especially), avoiding rice, may work for a while and for very few but is unrealistic to most. A study published in the Current Biology suggests that more exercise does not equate to more calories burned and those who exercised moderately burned the same amount of energy as those who slaved away at the gym. So, hold your horses, workout smarter than harder, and enjoy the sweet life a little more.
5. There are other factors that can influence weight loss. Factors like hormonal imbalances, medications, and other conditions, including thyroid or adrenal gland problems or even Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) for women. If you are suspecting one of these might be the culprit why you plateau, it is best to consult your doctor on how to manage them.
The next time you hit a weight-loss plateau or know someone who does, don’t let it derail your journey. Treat it as just another phase for you to conquer.