By Jean Harvey, Ph.D., R.D., & Joyce Hendley
You’re losing weight at a nice, steady pace, and then, all of a sudden, the scale doesn’t budge, even though you’re following your eating and exercise program. Time to panic? Not at all. You’ve probably just reached a plateau, part of nearly everyone’s weight-loss odyssey.
Generally, you’re able to shed pounds more easily at first because you’re getting rid of excess water as your body breaks down fat. But once that extra water is gone, the weight loss can slow down, because you don’t have as much fat to lose. Consider it a sign of success: you’ve completed Phase I. Hold steady for a week or two, and you’ll probably be right back in the losing corner.
But if you haven’t lost more than a half pound in two weeks or so, it’s time to re-evaluate. First, assess whether you’re continuing to:
–Write down everything you eat in your food diary?
–Add up daily calories?
–Exercise most days of the week and note it in your log?
–Accurately check your portion sizes?
If your plan needs a tune-up, try these strategies.
1. Review your food diary and activity log. Are you consistently forgetting to list some items? Do your comments reveal that you’re feeling depressed or stressed? If so, addressing those feelings might help take you out of the plateau.
2. Get out of your rut. Try a different exercise routine — maybe a dance class or yoga class. Add intervals to your workout (alternating regular pace with a faster pace). Invite a friend to join you on your next walk. Try a new fruit or vegetable, or experiment with some new recipes.
3. Talk with someone who has been there. Know a successful weight loser? Compare notes, and you just might find a new strategy, along with a healthy dose of inspiration.
4. Lower your calorie goal slightly. Aim to eat 75 to 100 calories or so less per day, as long as it doesn’t bring you below a minimum of 1,200 daily calories. Try eating one less serving of a starchy carbohydrate food like white rice or potatoes, or cut out an “extra” like half-and-half in your coffee.
5. Bump up your activity a little. For many, this is easier than cutting calories — and it might boost your energy and mood too. Try some “lifestyle exercises,” or add five to 10 minutes to your programmed exercise routine. Or, if you aren’t doing it already, add strength-training sessions to your fitness routine twice a week.
6. Get more out of your food diary. Jot down what’s going on and how you’re feeling when you eat. Do you find yourself craving potato chips when you’ve got a big report due? Spooning ice cream from the container when a “good” friend snubs you? Track what you’ve written, and you might see a pattern. Eventually, you’ll be able to link what’s going on in your mind with what’s going on in your belly.
7. One proven plateau-buster: For one week, eat only foods for which you know the calorie content. Do not eat any restaurant or takeout food, whose calorie counts are unpredictable. Use your measuring cups and spoons so you know exactly what you’re getting, and write down the numbers faithfully in your food diary. It’s a bit obsessive (that’s why we only recommend one week), but it works!
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)