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Dr. Andrew Rynne
Dr. Andrew Rynne

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Exp 50 years

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Article Home Diet and Fitness Have you hit the Weight Loss Plateau?

Have you hit the Weight Loss Plateau?

Few things can be as exasperating for a dieter as seeing the scale stuck at one place for weeks. Alas, life is not always fair, certainly not on the road to weight loss. Many people trying to lose weight reach a stage where they stop losing further weight in spite of following the diet and fitness plan that was initially giving them good result. If you are also in the same boat, you may be wondering what's going wrong. There could be several reasons for it, but the good news is that it is possible to break the weight loss plateau and continue to stride towards your goal. Let's start with understanding why the plateau phase occurs.
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Why does weight loss stop?


Several theories have been put forward to explain why weight loss plateaus after the initial rapid loss. A mix of various mechanisms may be at play in most cases. Some of the common explanations are:

  1. Body is economizing: As you lose weight, your body cleverly downsizes its requirement, which means your calorie expenditure reduces. Continued weight loss requires your calorie expenditure to be more than calorie consumption. If you do not make a proportionate reduction in calorie intake or burn more calories through exercise, weight loss can come to a halt.
  2. Less muscle: Weight loss is accompanied by muscle loss, which means a reduction in your metabolic rate.
  3. Other factors: A subtle hormonal change, a pill that you started taking, a change in your lifestyle and activity level can impede weight loss.
  4. A more probable reason than the ones above is a change in your attitude. As people reach a more agreeable weight, they tend to become less stringent with their diet and fitness plan. Some extra bites here and there and a little less brisk walking reflects as slower or even no more weight loss.



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What can I do about it?


To begin with, you need to assess your weight loss graph correctly. Are you really at a plateau, or is it that you are not losing as rapidly as you initially were? In case it's just the rate of loss that has come down, it's nothing but natural. The initial rapid loss occurs because of shrinking of fluid, not fat. During this phase you may lose two pounds or more in a week. After that, weight loss primarily occurs through reduction of body fat, a far slower process. Compare your weight weekly on a digital weighing scale, which will show changes of 500gms or less. As long as there is a downward trend, you need not worry. With patience and perseverance you will reach where you want to. Only if you see no further loss over three to four weeks, or inclination of an upward swing, you need to look more closely at the situation. If you are really stuck, try one or more of these methods to send your weight rolling downwards:

  1. Vary your physical activity: Probably your body has become much too well trained to do what it currently does. That's exactly what happens with all trained athletes – they require fewer calories to do the same physical activity as an untrained person. Offer your body a fresh challenge by changing your workout. Adding short bursts of higher intensity activity may help you burn more calories. However, do not injure yourself by suddenly trying an unreasonable stunt.
  2. See-saw Diet: Just as our body gets used to a fitness plan with no surprises, it tends to get smart at utilizing food with no variation. Some diet experts suggest that fluctuating calorie intake may trick your body into burning calories. The idea is to take a few hundred calories more than your requirement on one day and a few hundred less the next. The change gives your body the required jolt to burn more calories. While doing so your goal should be to keep your weekly intake in check.
  3. Add strength training: Strength training builds muscle and gives you a more toned body. By enhancing your muscle mass it enables your body to burn more calories. Include two days of strength training per week, if you don't do it already.
  4. Snip "hidden" calories: The most common roadblock in weight loss is faulty calorie count and control. Scrutinize your diet to see if any of the foods that you take could be having far more calories than you think. There are calories in sauces, spreads, toppings and leftovers. We often don't count these calories. Misinterpretation of portion size is another common mistake that people make. Measuring food and maintaining food diaries is hard work but bears results. If you have not done it so far, start now to ensure that you are not taking in more than you think.
  5. Watch against starvation: No matter what your weight loss goal, it is not advisable to create a deficit of more than 700 calories in a day. Calculate your daily calorie requirement for weight maintenance by multiplying your weight in Kg by 24 (men) or 23 (women). Aim to consume about 500 to 700 calories less than your requirement to lose weight. Taking less than this is like telling your metabolic machinery to shut down and conserve energy, certainly not a very conducive scenario for weight loss. A similar situation can occur if there is a long interval between your meals, and you do not snack at all in between. Consult a dietitian to get a healthier diet plan. Sounds incredible, but eating a little more or perhaps more frequently maybe what you need to reach your weight loss goal.



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Tell me something new!


Perhaps you have been working very hard at getting back into shape. Perhaps you need to take it a little easier. How about a week of exercising a little less and an evening snack with your tea? It will not cause you to lose weight, but it will help you overcome the anxiety and frustration and stop you from giving up your efforts forever. Start afresh after a week or so and allow yourself a few more months to reach your goal. You have been doing great so far and your body is already more fit. Healthy eating and exercising have far more benefits than a trimmer waist; lower blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipids, to name a few. And the trimmer waist will come about, if you hang on!