We hear it all the time—you changed your habits and lost weight steadily, but after awhile, that progress halted. You’ve been stuck at the same weight for days, weeks, or even months. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying your best, feeling like you are doing everything right, yet not making any progress towards your weight loss or fitness goals.
Before you inhale a bag of cookies to console yourself, realize that weight loss takes work, and isn’t always perfect. But, there are plenty of ways you can re-energize your program (and motivation) to bust through your weight loss plateau.
But…what is a plateau anyway?
If you’ve been exercising and cutting calories for several weeks, and you’re no longer seeing the same results that you experienced in the beginning, then you’ve probably hit a plateau. This occurs when your progress comes to a standstill, and can be described as not making any “gains” (such as improving your fitness level or losing weight), but not necessarily moving backwards (losing endurance or gaining weight).
Because every individual is unique, there’s no way to actually predict when a plateau might happen. However, the following principles of nutrition, rest, and variation will jumpstart your body, mind, and metabolism. (This article, part 1 in a series of 3, will focus on nutrition.) Incorporate some or all of the following suggestions to both prevent and overcome a weight loss plateau. With just a little tweaking, you’ll be in your skinny jeans in no time!
Eat the Right Nutrients at the Right Times
1. Make sure you are following your SparkPeople nutrition plan correctly. During set-up, did you accurately account for your level of activity? Or, if you are more or less active than when you started the program, have you changed this option in your set-up so that your caloric plan will be accurate for you? This is very important so that you don’t eat too little for your body’s needs, which can actually hinder your weight loss.
In addition, are you accurately tracking your foods in the Food Tracker daily, yet not reaching the minimum number of calories that is recommended? It’s common to think that cutting MORE calories will result in faster weight loss, but that’s not actually the case. You should never consume less than 1200 calories per day. Eating less than this (or too little in general) makes your body think it’s starving (known as “starvation mode”), so it holds onto every calorie, slowing your metabolism. Increase your calories to fit into your recommended range, and you’ll notice a difference.
2. Your body can only do so much with the tools that it has, so eat well. Aim for a wide variety of foods (instead of the same old thing day in and day out) from every basic food group. Try new fruits and vegetables, ethnic cuisines, and a wide range of lean proteins, including non-meat sources like tofu and legumes. All (or most) of your grains should come from whole, unrefined foods like whole-wheat breads and pasta, and brown rice.
These healthy foods, especially when eaten every three to four hours, will help raise and stabilize your metabolism (and energy) to optimal levels. With fewer ups and downs, your hunger will stay in check, and you’ll have plenty of energy to finish a tough workout.
3. After a workout, refuel with a balanced snack or meal within 30 minutes to 2 hours. Remember, “balanced” does not mean just protein. In fact, most individuals—and even athletes—need less than 10 grams of protein post-workout. Carbohydrates are actually more important, so try to eat an additional 30 to 60 grams at this time, when your body is primed to uptake glycogen into the cells to replace the energy you just used up during your workout.
4. Don’t overlook your huge need for water. Hydration is very important for stable energy levels. (You store 3 molecules of water for every glycogen molecule). Plus, hydration promotes muscle building (powering your metabolism), while dehydration promotes muscle breakdown. So drink up—before, during, and after your workout sessions. The standard “8 cups a day” might not be enough for you, especially if you are exercising regularly.