In my experience helping hundreds of individuals lose weight, one of the biggest challenges is breaking through a weight-loss plateau – losing those last few pounds to reach that goal weight. It’s so frustrating, especially when you have been doing everything right and your body simply stops responding.
When you reach a plateau with weight loss, there are a couple of things going on.
The first is something that surprises most people: when you lose weight, your metabolism slows down. I repeat: when you lose weight, your metabolism slows down. Remember: the word metabolism is referring to the number of calories you burn in a day. A large portion of the calories you burn every day is due to keeping your organs functioning, breathing, powering your brain, digesting and absorbing nutrients, etc.
How is it possible that someone that carries more weight has a higher metabolism? This is because when our bodies are forced to carry more weight, we burn more calories as a result of that.
Shouldn’t it be easier for those that are overweight or obese to lose weight? In short, yes. This is partly why, when starting a diet or when trying to lose weight initially, the first few pounds come off relatively easily. Some of this weight is probably just water weight and some muscle wasting, not fat loss, but that’s a different post altogether.
Here’s what happens when you plateau – your metabolism has gradually slowed down as the weight was coming off. You’ll be following the same meal plan and exercise routine (the one that has been working so well over the past few weeks and months). The weight will be coming off and then BAM! Nothing. Weight loss stops. If your metabolism has slowed down and yet you’re consuming about the same number of calories and doing the same exercises, you will plateau.
Still confused? I hope this helps… do this with me: Raise your left above your head directly in front of you, kind of like a front shoulder raise. Now, raise your right hand directly in front of you, but keep it at shoulder height. Your left hand should be higher than your right. Now slowly start to lower your left hand, keeping your right hand still. The left hand represents your metabolism slowing as you lose weight. Your right hand, which shouldn’t be moving, represents the diet and exercise routine you have been following. That’s why it’s stable. Eventually, as you continue lowering your left hand, it’s going to line up with your right. That represents the plateau.
How can you break through the weight-loss plateau?
If I was successful with this demonstration, you already know the answer: you need to find ways to move your right hand. That means you have to change either your diet or your exercise routine.
In my experience, individuals usually find it a bit nicer to modify their exercise routine. This is often because they feel very comfortable with the meal plan they’ve created. They’ve found their rhythm. Also, sometimes folks are following a low calorie diet as it is, so having them cut even more calories could be dangerous. But with exercise, it’s not quite as traumatic to mix things up a bit.
There are many ways to go about this. Here are some examples:
- If you normally just do cardio, add some resistance training. It could be body weight exercises, lifting actual dumbbells and barbells, using resistance bands… whatever suits you. Why would this help? Resistance training is one of the best ways to build muscle quickly. Muscle is very active tissue and helps increase our metabolisms by burning calories for us.
- When it comes to cardio, change the intensity. If you normally walk for 30 minutes, jog instead. I don’t expect you to jog for 30 minutes straight. Even if you end up jogging for only 5 or 10 minutes and then walk the other 20, that’s fine. Why would this help? By increasing the intensity, you will burn more calories during that 5 or 10 minute jog than you would if you just walked. We’re finding that by incorporating high intensity activity like this, you not only burn more calories during the workout, but we find there’s somewhat of an “after-burn” effect – which means the body continues to burn more calories after you finished the workout! What a nice added bonus!
- If you feel you could modify your diet and still be consuming at least 1,500 calories each day, then that may help, too. But again, don’t cut your calories too much, because that could be risky. And, as always, be sure your health care provider is aware of your diet and weight loss goals.
I wish you all the best as you smash through your weight loss plateau!