6 steps to take when you hit a plateau
Not only did you feel the great changes taking place, but you could see them as the number on the scales dropped. But then something happened: the numbers have stopped moving and they’ve been stuck for a few weeks now. You’ve hit a plateau. But don’t give yourself a hard time, because many of us go through the exact same thing.
“You are always going to hit a plateau at some point, it’s just a matter of when,” explains accredited practising dietitian Melanie McGrice. “You could be 80kg and lose the first five to 10kg quite easily, but then that’s where you might plateau. Many people find their plateau occurs around the five to 10 per cent mark.”
Dr Helena Popovic, an expert in applying brain science research to weight loss, adds that plateaus can occur to give the body a chance to naturally adapt to its new weight. “A good analogy is this: You know when people climb mountains and the air becomes thinner? You’ll find you’ll start struggling for air, but if you stay at that altitude for a while your body will adjust,” Popovic says.“It’s a similar thing with weight loss. Your body just needs time to adapt to the new state.”
Hitting a plateau isn't a sign you should give up on your goal. “It doesn't mean anything’s wrong,” Popovic says. “Just keep reminding yourself how far you’ve come and how much better you feel. This is a time to pause, reassess, write down all the positive changes you’ve made and all the positive benefits you’ve gained beyond just the fact you’ve changed your weight.” Congratulate yourself, then keep your eye on the goal with these expert tips.
1. Eat more protein
“If you're not meeting your daily protein requirements you may be losing muscle mass, and that has a very long-term impact upon your metabolism,” McGrice says. “So make sure that any eating plan you follow meets your protein requirements and doesn't cause any muscle-mass loss.”
The recommended daily protein intake for women is 46g – for example, the amount found in one cup of lentils plus 80g skinless chicken – however, McGrice says, “I find most women actually need more than that, particularly when they’re losing weight.”
Great sources of protein include eggs, grilled chicken and legumes - all ZeroPoint™ foods.
2. Build muscle
Another way you might be losing muscle as you lose weight is if you don’t incorporate any resistance training into your schedule. “This means that while you might see some great results initially, eventually your metabolism will drop, and so will your ability to lose weight,” says WW resident fitness expert and exercise physiologist Neil Russell.
“When you’re in a plateau, start thinking, ‘I need more muscle,’” Popovic adds. “More muscle means a faster metabolism, a lower risk of gaining abdominal fat and less chance of developing diabetes. And having more muscle increases survival rates in cancer and reduces its recurrence.”
3. Change up your activity routine
There are two things you should consider when you’ve hit a plateau. The first is whether you’re moving enough. “Re-evaluate the activity you do every six to eight weeks. Also try to progress the intensity of your activity (the effort you need to put in) or volume (the total amount of work done) each week,” suggests Russell.
The second thing to consider is on the other end of the spectrum – are you doing too much activity? This can cause a spike in cortisol, which can then stop you from expending energy. “You’ll know you’re doing too much if you’re genuinely tired but still dragging yourself to the gym every day. I’d suggest backing off a bit,” Popovic says.
4. Stress less
“When you’re depriving your body of kilojoules, some people will start to produce more cortisol,” Popovic says. Studies have shown that increased cortisol levels are associated with more abdominal fat. Popovic recommends meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques to help lower those cortisol levels to help you move on from your plateau.
5. Make sleep a priority
If you’ve been going really well with your food and activity, the missing link could be sleep. “If you’re frequently sleep deprived, you’ll wake up with higher than normal levels of cortisol and the hunger hormone ghrelin, and lower levels of leptin, the hormone which regulates hunger,” Popovic explains. “That combination of hormones drives you to eat more and retain fat.”
Look after your sleep hygiene by avoiding digital devices close to bedtime, keeping your bedroom at a cool 18°C, and getting up at the same time every morning.
6. Hit refresh
This might come as a surprise, but McGrice suggests you might need to refresh your eating plan when you hit a plateau. “Have a rest, take a moment to rethink your current behaviours, and then commence the eating plan again,” she says. “You want to make sure you’re not gaining weight during this time, but just stabilising.”
A WW Coach can help you work out what’s best for you.