It's a phenomenon familiar to most people who've tried to shed excess pounds: You're close to your weight-loss goal, and suddenly the numbers on the scale refuse to budge.
You've hit a weight-loss plateau, and you're wondering what's causing the stall. Is there something you're doing (possibly unwittingly) to sabotage your own efforts? Or is it an inevitable physiological part of the weight-loss process?
The answer probably lies somewhere in between.
As much as we may not like to believe it, our actions are probably at the root of most weight-loss plateaus. "Probably about 90 percent of our plateaus are due to 'loosening up,' meaning the half-hour walk, seven days a week becomes a 20-minute walk, four days a week," says Weight Watchers chief scientist, Karen Miller-Kovach, MS, RD. "It's the little relaxing that does people in."
Before you start berating yourself, give yourself a break. Recognize that you may have gotten a little too comfortable with aspects of the program. But you can still keep moving toward your weight goal. Simply reaffirm your commitment to your weight-loss plan, and move forward. Try a new recipe, go back to weighing and measuring your "eyeballed" portions, or add some jogging intervals to your daily walk. By mixing up your routine, eating and exercise will be fresh and enjoyable again.
The body at work
Although less-than-faithful adherence to an eating and exercise plan is usually the culprit of a plateau, there are times when something going on within the body is causing the pounds to hang on.
According to Michael Lowe, PhD, professor of clinical and health psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, about one-quarter of the weight you lose is actually lean tissue. Lean-tissue loss means you burn fewer calories. "This effect is relatively minor, but combined with other factors, it can contribute to a plateau," Lowe says.
Lowe also points out that because pounds shed in the first few weeks of weight loss tend to be made up of about half water, people are often fooled into thinking they are reaching a plateau when, in fact, they're really just approaching a normal (read: slower) rate of weight loss.
Five ways to tip the scale
The good news: Whether the cause is behavioral, physiological or both, there are steps you can take to move past a plateau. First, strengthen your resolve to keep losing, then:
Increase your physical activity
This may be the best way to get the weight off, according to experts. Look for simple ways to get more activity in: Take the family (or the dog) for an afternoon walk. Park the car farther away, or get off the bus a stop or two away from your destination.
Eat right and write
Research has shown that people routinely underestimate the number of calories they consume daily. Keep track of what you eat.
Eat fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with a variety of vitamins and minerals and are typically low in calories. Including them at meal time will help keep you satisfied and contribute to your health.
Spice things up
Forgo your usual turkey on rye for a more exotic water-packed tuna with dill and lemon juice on toasted pita bread. This might stimulate your taste buds enough to keep you satisfied.
Join an after-work volleyball league, attend art openings or just chase your kids around outside. The less you're in the kitchen, the less tempted you'll be to eat.