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What is a weight loss plateau?

Blog #279

You've been working hard to follow a healthy, low-calorie diet and improve your exercise habits. And your rewards have been watching your weight go down and feeling better. Now, however, for no reason you can identify, the scale has stopped budging. You've hit a weight-loss plateau.



But, don't get discouraged. It's typical for weight loss to slow and even stall. By understanding what causes a weight-loss plateau, you avoid going backwards on your new healthy habits.


So, just what is a weight-loss plateau?

A weight-loss plateau is when your weight stops changing. Being stuck at a weight-loss plateau eventually happens to everyone who tries to lose weight. Even so, most people are surprised when it happens to them because they're still eating carefully and exercising regularly. The frustrating reality is that even well-planned weight-loss efforts can stall.

What causes a weight-loss plateau?

During the first few weeks of losing weight, a rapid drop is typical. In part, this is because when you initially cut calories, the body gets needed energy by releasing its stores of glycogen. Glycogen is a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and the liver.

Glycogen is partly made of water. So when glycogen is burned for energy, it releases water, resulting in weight loss that's mostly water. But this effect is temporary.


As you lose weight, you lose some muscle along with fat. Muscle helps keep up the rate at which you burn calories (metabolism). So as you lose weight, your metabolism declines, causing you to burn fewer calories than you did at your heavier weight.

Your slower metabolism will slow your weight loss, even if you eat the same number of calories that helped you lose weight. When the calories you burn equal the calories you eat, you reach a plateau.


To lose more weight, you need to either increase your physical activity or decrease the calories you eat. Using the same approach that worked at first may maintain your weight loss, but it won't lead to more weight loss.


How can you overcome a weight-loss plateau?

When you reach a plateau, you may have lost all of the weight you will lose on your current diet and exercise plan. Ask yourself if you're satisfied with your current weight or if you want to lose more. If you want to lose more weight, you'll need to adjust your weight-loss program.

Try these tips for getting past the plateau:


  1. Look at your habits. Look at whether you've been eating larger portions, eating more junk foods or getting less or no exercise. Keeping a journal is a great tip!



2. Cut more calories. Further cut your daily calories. Be careful though with cutting more than 1,200 calories a day. Too little calories may not be enough to keep you from constant hunger, which increases your risk of overeating.

3. Ramp up your exercise. Add more minutes of moderate activity to your exercise routine. Adding exercises such as weightlifting to increase your muscle mass will help you burn more calories. Try doing something different. Try a new exercise! Add something new to your routine that you haven't tried before.


4. Increase your general physical activity throughout the day. Go for more walks. Get outside and hike or garden or even build a snowman in the winter time! Doing more physical activity will help you burn more calories.


5. Make sure you are getting enough sleep.


Getting enough rest will help you have enough energy throughout your day. It will help keep you focused.





Don't let a weight-loss plateau get you discouraged. Appreciate the weight that you've lost. Maybe the number you're striving for is unrealistic for you.


Because you've already improved your diet and increased your exercise, you've already improved your health. If you're overweight or obese, even modest weight loss improves chronic health conditions related to being overweight.


Whatever you do, don't give up and go back to your old eating and exercise habits. That may cause you to regain the weight you've lost. Celebrate your success and continue your efforts to maintain your weight loss.


You got this! Keep moving forward! You are already a success!

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