June 2016




    Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the scale just stalls.  That’s when these science-backed strategies come in.  Bust through your plateau and let the slim begin.


    The dreaded weight-loss plateau: it’s something most dieters encounter.  You continue eating well and exercising, yet nothing.  No more progress.  Plateaus are so intensely frustrating that they often prompt people to quit their diet altogether.  You think, I’m putting in all this effort and not seeing results; is it even worth it?  But you can get through it!


    After you lose weight, your body operates more efficiently and needs less energy to do everything, including your workouts, which means you burn fewer calories.  At the same time, your system is biologically programmed to get you back to your former, heavier weight: a survival mechanism to prevent starvation that is left over from prehistoric times, when food was scarce.   This phenomenon, called adaptive thermogenesis, puts the brakes on your metabolism.  A 10% drop in your body weight will slow your metabolism by as much as 25%.  And the more you lose, the greater the effect, though scientists don’t know why.    In most research, subjects who lost the most weight had the biggest drop in their metabolic rates.  And that’s only part of the problem.  Your hormones are also making you hungrier than ever.  If you shed 10-15% of your body weight, your level of leptin, a hormone critical for making you feel full, plummets by as much as 50%, convincing your brain that you’ve lost half your body fat.  It’s like a gas gauge saying you’re running on empty when you’re not.  Your level of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin also spikes disproportionately after weight loss.  Your brain responds by finding ways to get you to eat more.   So instead of measuring every tablespoon of peanut butter as you did at the beginning of your diet, you start to slide.  You stop measuring and start having the occasional cupcake at the office birthday party.  The decline in ‘diet adherence’ is the biggest contributor to early plateaus.


    It takes a tremendous amount of physical and emotional effort to overcome all the biological and environmental challenges to weight loss.  Initially, you can stick with it because you see the results and you get a lot of positive reinforcement.  But after a few weeks or months, you become tired and discouraged by all the work required.  But don’t give up!  You can work past a plateau and become even stronger and more successful.  Here’s how to do it!


    Get Back to Basics

    If you used to track your food, exercise or weight, it’s time to restart that routine.  Logging meals and workouts can help you see where you need to step up your efforts.  If you’ve already been keeping track of these things, take a look at your progress over time.  Analyze the weeks or months that you were particularly successful, figure out what you were doing differently then and go back to it.


    Cycle Your Eating

    Calorie cycling is a fancy term for cutting back calories periodically rather than all the time, which can help you eat less without feeling deprived.  Trying eating just 1,000-1,200 calories of protein and vegetables for two days a week to get beyond a plateau.  On the other days, eat your usual calories, often 1,500-2000 calories/day.


    Go Hard on Protein

    Eating fewer carbohydrates and more protein and fat could give your weight loss a jump start.  Cut back on starches like bread, potatoes, and rice and add more vegetables and lean protein.  Eating too many carbohydrates raises your insulin level and prompts the body to store more calories as fat.


    Do a Workout Revamp

    Besides the obvious benefits, exercise makes your brain more sensitive to leptin, the hormone that triggers fullness.  If you’ve been working out faithfully, a few small changes to your routine can have major payoffs.  Adding fat-blasting strength training or intervals to your sessions can help accelerate weight loss by raising your metabolism and keeping it elevated for hours after you leave the gym.  So can trying some new moves, because over time your body learns how to use less energy to do the same workout.   If you’re getting bored with your routine, your muscles probably are too, and they’re burning fewer calories.  Try something new, or something you haven’t done in a while.   Or try HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which will really boost your metabolism!


    Find your Happy Weight!

    Often, people pick their weight goal arbitrarily or choose an unrealistic number, which can set them up for failure.  So if you’ve hit a plateau and you are within 5-10 pounds of your target, consider that the weight where you are might be right for you.  You’ve already enormously improved your health and reduced your risk for diabetes and heart disease.  Rather than adding more exercise and slashing more calories and then having to work constantly to maintain that lower weight, you could be better off staying put.  Don’t get obsessed with reaching a certain number on the scale.  Think about what makes you feel good.  That’s your happy weight!


    Marnie Soman Schwartz