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How to Beat the Plateau Blues


Adjust calories and change up exercise routines

Many in their weight loss attempts will eventually reach the dreaded weight loss plateau. After steady weight loss for several weeks, and maybe months, some reach a point where the scale ceases to move in the right direction. This can be very discouraging, especially after continued motivation by the previously shrinking numbers.

Defining the weight loss plateau: A plateau is when you are maintaining healthy eating habits along with the same exercise routine and not seeing any further results. This usually can last up to a few weeks, typically not longer. A plateau is not a result of: you were on vacation for a week, or you had friends in town and went out to eat and drink every night or you had a busy week of work dinners and entertaining. I’m not criticizing; this happens to most of us.

So why the inevitable plateau? There are a few explanations. One reason is that as we lose a significant amount of weight, our caloric needs decrease. In other words, the less we weigh, the fewer calories we expend. The same number of calories you may have been following needs to be recalculated using your new measurements. A very general estimate would be to decrease daily intake by about an additional 300 to 500 calories per day.

Another reason may be (as I mentioned before) that you’re consuming more calories than you realize. Especially during the summer months, most of us are off our normal schedules, eating out more frequently, vacationing, maybe grabbing fast food on the road. A helpful way to maintain accountability is to keep a food journal. This enables you to identify problem areas and times. Have an objective friend or work-out buddy review your journal. Maybe there are times of struggle that may not be as obvious to you.

Beware of hidden calories, especially with the holiday season approaching. While nuts are a great hearty healthy snack, one half cup packs in more than 400 calories. Hummus and pita are easy to overeat, especially at a party or in front of the television. Three tablespoons of hummus (and really who stops at that) contains about 100 calories. When you factor in pita bread or chips, calories climb to over 300. Hummus does not contain a lot of the fiber or protein that helps keep us full, but it’s very high in carbohydrates. I like the taste of hummus too; just don’t overdo it. Try spreading it on a low calorie, whole wheat tortilla sandwich to enjoy the taste without the temptation to overindulge. Beware of high calorie appetizers at restaurants. The seemingly healthy Chicken Lettuce Wraps from PF Chang’s is 640 calories for the five ounce dish, and two spring rolls are more than 300 calories. These are just starters, without even counting your entrée.

Another way to get the scale moving in the right direction is to mix up your exercise routine. Try sprints or interval training to burn more fat, add more weights or try a new exercise class. Your body adjusts to the same exercise routine, so mixing it up can rev metabolism, spurring weight loss.

The occasional plateau is normal. You may see a pound or two increase from time to time, but as long as the scale continues to trend down, that’s what matters. Plus, the scale only tells part of the story – monitor how your clothes are fitting and check your body fat percentage. You will eventually see the results on the scale as well.

You’ve got questions? Our nutritionist, Elesha Kelleher, LDN, RD, MPH has the answers. E-mail her at [email protected]