Are you stuck on a weight loss plateau?
Unfortunately the road to losing weight and keeping it off doesn’t go in a straight line. There will be good weeks and not-so-good weeks. But if you’re losing less than half a pound for at least four weeks in a row, you might have reached a plateau.
Plateaus are a common part of the weight loss process and occur when the scale is at a standstill (or almost) for several weeks. If your weight stays the same for just one or two weeks, or the rate of weight slows but doesn't stop, it's not a true plateau.
To determine if you’re actually plateauing, figure out your average weight loss starting at your week 4 weight. This eliminates the higher-than-usual weight loss that sometimes happens in the first four weeks. (Some pounds shed in the first few weeks can be down to losing 'water weight' so people are often fooled into thinking they are reaching a plateau when, in fact, they're really just approaching a normal and slower rate of weight loss).
What causes plateaus?
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 per cent 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 WW chief scientist, Karen Miller-Kovach, MS, RD. "It's the relaxing that does people in."
Before you start berating yourself, show a little self-compassion - you've been working hard! Recognise that you may have got a little too comfortable with some aspects of the programme, and that you can still keep moving towards your goal weight. Simply reaffirm your commitment to your weight loss plan, and move forward. Try a new recipe, go back to weighing and measuring, or add some jogging intervals to your daily walk. By mixing up your routine, eating and exercise will be fresh and enjoyable again.
Although a more relaxed approach to your weight loss plan is usually the culprit of a plateau, there are times when something going on within the body is causing the pounds to cling on.
According to Michael Lowe, PhD, professor of clinical and health psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, about a quarter of the weight you lose is actually lean tissue. Lean tissue loss lowers metabolism, which means you burn fewer calories each day. "This effect is relatively minor, but combined with other factors, it can contribute to a plateau," Lowe says.
How to power through a plateau
When you’ve reached a plateau, here are some tips to turn it around:
- Get back to basics. Eat right, and track foods that have SmartPoints® values. Research has shown that people routinely underestimate what they consume daily.1 Go back to some of the habits you honed in the beginning, like tracking diligently and keeping an eye on portion sizes.
- Eat more fruits and veggies. It may seem counterintuitive, but eating more fruits and vegetables might help. Fruits and veggies are low in SmartPoints (most are ZeroPoint™ foods). But they’re also high in fibre and packed with vitamins and minerals. Adding them to your meals and snacks throughout the day will help keep you feeling full and satisfied.
- Increase your physical activity. Look for simple ways to sneak in more activity: 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.
- Focus on your non-scale successes. Remember that your journey isn’t just about that number. Non-scale victories (like looser jeans, better sleep, or more energy) matter, too! And don’t forget to keep your ‘why’ close by. By that, we mean remember why you joined WW in the first place. It will keep you inspired and heading in the right direction.
1. Hill RJ, Davies PSW. The validity of self-reported energy intake as determined using the doubly labelled water technique. Br J Nutr 2001;85(4):415-430.