Recharge Your Weight Loss

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.

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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.
FOR GOOD MEASURE: To shed kilos faster, be careful about portion control.
FOR GOOD MEASURE: To shed kilos faster, be careful about portion control.

The dreaded weight loss plateau – it’s something most dieters encounter around the six-month mark, research shows. You continue working out and eating right, 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,” promises Meghan Butryn, a psychology professor at Drexel University.

Why Plateaus Happen

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 help 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 per cent drop in your body weight will slow your metabolism by as much as 25 per cent, experts say.

And the more you lose, the greater the effect, though scientists don’t know why. In a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who lost the most weight saw the greatest dips in their metabolic rates.

And that’s only part of the problem. Your hormones are also making you hungrier than ever, says Dr Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine and the author of The Change Your Biology Diet.

If you shed 10 to 15 per cent of your body weight, your level of leptin – a hormone critical for making you feel full – plummets by 50 per cent, 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,” Dr Aronne explains.

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, says Dale Schoeller, a professor emeritus of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

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, according to a study that he coauthored.

“It takes a tremendous amount of physical and emotional effort to overcome all the biological and environmental challenges to weight loss,” Meghan says. “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. Analyse the weeks or months that you were particularly successful, figure out what you were doing differently then, and go back to it.

"Smart tweaks to your diet will get results and help renew your commitment."
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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. Try eating just 1,000 to 1,200 calories of protein and vegetables for two days a week to get beyond a plateau, Dr Aronne says. On other days, eat 1,500 to 2,000 calories.

Go hard on protein

Eating less carbohydrate and more protein and fat could jump-start your weight loss, Dr Aronne says. He suggests cutting back on starches and adding in more vegetables and lean protein.

“Low-carb diets increase your metabolism and reduce your appetite because they’re high in protein,” he explains. “Plus, eating too many carbs raises your levels of insulin, a hormone that prompts your body to store 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, research found. 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 doing the same thing repeatedly,” says dietitian Torey Armul, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the US.

Incorporate five minutes of jumping rope into your workouts, try spinning instead of swimming, or do 10 minutes of cardio at the end of your strength routine, Torey says.

Find Your Happy Weight

Often, people pick their goal weight arbitrarily or choose an unrealistic number, which can set them up for failure,” says dietitian Torey Armul. So if you’ve hit a plateau and are within 2kg to 4½kg of your target, consider whether the weight you’re at now might be right for you.

You’ve already improved your health enormously by reducing your risk of 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,” Torey says. “Think about what makes you feel good. That’s your happy weight.”