Well if you read my other post about “Weight Loss Frustration: Have you ever wanted to throw your scale against the wall?” you know exactly where this post is headed. My true hope is however, that you didn’t need to come looking for these plateau busters because you channeled all that frustration into more healthy decisions and weight loss resumed as normal. However…
The reality of the situation is that weight loss is hard. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have 100 million dieters spending 2o billion dollars (ABC News 2012). And the real trick is that there is no single solution for every “dieter” out there. Clearly there are thousands of books written on the topic and the likelihood of me solving the world’s weight loss problems with a single post is slim (pardon the pun). But it’s incredibly possible that I can solve your weight loss problems — and if I can help just one person (you), then I am thrilled!
So let’s take a look at a few things here:
- The simple fundaments of weight loss
- Lifestyle weight loss plateaus
- Physical weight loss plateaus
- Tactical plateau busters
I’ll try to keep this brief and get to the good stuff ASAP…
The simple fundaments of weight loss
As hard and complicated as it may seem, weight loss for the most part, is a simple mathematical equation. To lose one pound of weight, you simply need to burn 3500 more calories than you eat. The best example is cutting 250 calories a day, burning an extra 250 calories a day for a 500 calorie per day deficit. Then, over the course of a week, you should lose one pound. So simple right? And for a while, it really is! You’re motivated, you have a plan, the pain of what caused you to seek change is still fresh, you have a ton of water weight to lose…all of these factors make “dieting” super easy (maybe even a little fun?) for a limited amount of time.
What happens when you realized you really miss cheese? What happens when you forgot how it made you feel when someone asked when you were due (and you’re not)? What happens when the weight loss slows down and it’s just not fun anymore? Well then, I’m sure many of you know what happens, you “hit a plateau” and you enter a new realm of the weight loss phase.
Lifestyle weight loss plateaus
I broke plateaus into two sections here because there are two primary causes for them and they have different solutions. But let’s first look at the lifestyle plateau. This means you might not really be on a physical plateau. It just means that you’re missing your favorites too much, you’re bending the rules more than you did and you’re swapping the snooze button for your morning workout a little more often. This is bound to happen if your weight loss efforts were built on an unsustainable foundation. So what you need now is not so much a tactical plateau buster, but a reality check, maybe a new plan and some motivational fuel to recharge your efforts.
This is time to do some soul searching and rediscover what motivated the initial change. If you’re still super motivated and not seeing the results you were before, it’s time to micro manage your consumption. The best way to do this is by tracking everything you eat and all the calories you burn. There are a ton of fun/free aps for this: My Fitness Pal, Lose It, Fat Secrets are at the top of my list. Or getting a wearable device like a FitBit or BodyMedia device will also make tracking calories burned much easier. So before you determine you’re on a physical plateau, be sure to spend at least 7-14 days 100% on track again.
Important Point: women have vast fluctuations throughout the month based on fluid retention and hormonal changes. Gaining and losing a few extra pounds of water on certain weeks is to be expected. It’s better to measure your weight loss over a 4 week rolling average, than a simple week over week. If you lose 3lbs one week, 1.5 the next, then gain 1, then lose .5, you may feel really frustrated and consider throwing in the towel. But the reality is, you lost 3 pounds. That’s over 10,000 calories not eaten or burned and that’s a big deal. And next week could be another big drop putting you closer to 5 lbs total in just over a month — perfect weight loss! So try to focus on the longer term progress, not just the last few weeks. If you keep doing the right things, more often than not, the weight and scale will follow suit.
Physical weight loss plateaus
Ok, so you did it. You tracked everything, you got in all your workouts and you still didn’t see the scale budge. This is a totally normal part of weight loss. Why? I don’t know and I’m sure it’s not the same for everybody. But there are some things you can do to mix things up, give your little metabolism a kick in the pants and get things on the right path again. Sometimes the smallest shift can make the hugest difference. But it will take time, so patience is critical. Below is a list of the top 13 things I think will challenge you to switch things up, keep you entertained and get you back on the losing track. Try one at a time for at least a week and let me know which one worked for you!
Plateau Buster Disclaimer: Real weight loss is about lifestyle change and making good decisions more often than bad–forever. Permanent weight loss is not a one week fix, it’s finding ways to be happier and healthier for the long haul. But the beauty of the situation is that once you do hit your goal, you do get a few more calories to play with so you can indulge a bit more. Once you build in a killer activity plan, you also get in a few more calories, allowing for more indulgences. The goal of these plateau busters is to give you a little buffet of healthy options that you try on for a week, just to see if you like the habit. Maybe it’s something you’ll stick with, maybe not. But you’re exposing your body and your life to new things and that is a great way to develop healthier habits and also bust through a plateau at the same time.
Top 13 tactical plateau busters
1. Interval Training: You need to mix up your workout! Do something different. Not only will this help break you out of a metabolic coma, it will keep you entertained as well. Try something like adding the 30-Day Cardio Interval Challenge to your regular routine. Or find a steep hill on your run/jog route and push yourself up it for a few minutes, walk down, and charge back up. Do that a few more times towards the end of your outing. Get into a spin class or try something else new like a tabata or plyometrics class.
2. Menu Composition: Mix things up! Same idea as the exercise, you need to metabolicly be confused and mentally be entertained. Since you just spent 1-2 weeks tracking all your food, it should be easy to know what your current composition is. Try bringing your carbs down to 50%, protein to 20% and fat to 30%. Stick with lean protein and healthy fat (nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado). That is just a guideline and will be different for everybody, the goal is to just move something by 10-20% so you can see what the impact feels and looks like on you.
3. Artificial Sweetener: If you have any, skip it. Not simply because of the cancer talk, but because of what it does with insulin and blood sugar. It’s hard to get away from, so start slow and work your way up. You may find that if you replace fake sugar in your morning coffee with a tiny bit of real sugar, honey or agave, that you’ll have a bit more energy in the morning and less cravings later on in the day. Just try it for a week and see 🙂 I wrote this post a while back on how I finally jumped off the fake sugar train, and I’m happy to report, I also lost a few lbs since.
4. Alcohol: See ya later! Not forever, but for at least the next week, just to see what happens. You probably know that alcohol is an empty calorie conundrum and a gateway to poor eating decisions. If cutting it out for a week helps return you to weight loss, then realize you can get where you want to go much quicker. That gets you back to enjoying it guilt-free and in moderation sooner!
5. Take the no dining out challenge: Restaurants can be so fun, but they can be the sneakiest of calorie traps. It’s hard to know and sometimes difficult to even understand how much fat, sodium and calories can be in the food we eat when ordering out. Take control of your food choices and eat 100% of our own meals and snacks for at least one week. Again, this is just a test to see what can make a difference in the short run, not something you have to live by forever. Swap dining out for hikes or walks for social events to double down your calorie savings/burning efforts.
6. Focus on adding color! That “5 a day campaign” has been around forever. Getting in more veggies will make a huge difference in more ways than just weight loss. If you’re looking for an easy, fun way to get great recipes ideas, please do try my Color Yourself Skinny program. There is a trial 7-day and full 21-Day version available.
7. Fiber: Aim to get in at least 30 grams a day if you don’t already. Fiber helps with weight loss on so many levels and is such an essential part of a healthy diet. When you up your fiber intake, also be sure to drink more water too, so everything flows through properly. In addition to eating more fruits and veggies, a fiber supplement is not a bad idea and neither are “fiber enriched” food products. I’ve always been a fan of Fiber One products, especially their bars and cereals.
8. Green Juice: Yes!! Adding a green juice in the morning instead of a caloric coffee or in the afternoon instead of snack can be the best way to super charge your health! You’ll start off feeling amazing because your body is in love with you for feeding it the alkalizing goodness it so needs. Not into juicing yet? I have a post here on how to get started juicing and here are some great beginner juicing recipes.
9. Watch the sodium: Yes, it does cause water retention, which makes you feel bloated and physically weigh more. But spending a week counting your sodium intake will also get you scanning your diet on a micro level. And micro-managing your diet is really the best way to break a plateau.
10. Dieters Tea: I know this isn’t a fat loss thing, but it does help with physical weight loss. And sometimes just seeing that scale budge is motivation enough to keep going strong! You’d be amazed at how much can back up, especially as you clean up your diet and eat more fruits and veggies. This dieters tea is a little bit like liquid drano, but less toxic and far tastier — ha! I like the cinnamon spice flavor the best.
11. Increase your calories. What?! That sounds a bit counter intuitive if you’re trying to add up to a 3500 calorie deficit to lose weight, right? But drastically cutting your calories to speed weight loss can really slow things down for you in the long run. Eating a few more calories per day can actually works quite well for a few reasons. But to keep it simple, it will keep your body confused and ideally prevent it from going into starvation mode. So on your really active days, try to add a few hundred more calories by way of lean protein and healthy fat and just see what happens.
12. Axe the processed food. If it has too many ingredients, especially ones that have more than four syllables or anything you can’t pronounce — stay away from it for a week. This means you’ll be packing a lot of your own snacks — which is fun! If you need ideas, try these 44 Healthy Snack Ideas From Happy People Losing Weight.
13. Try a short detox. I love this 24-hour detox flush and this 3-day liquid detox. Both are pretty nutritionally sound and a great way to clean out your body in a short period of time. You should lose quite a bit of weight (like 4-7 lbs) and expect half of it to come back when you go back to your “normal” diet. But the net loss is still awesome and motivating.
BONUS Tool: You can increase your chances of success on numbers 2, 5, 11 and 12 by dedicating yourself to a safe, healthy, balanced, RD Approved Menu Plan. Plans start at $7.97 and you can try Gluten Free, Paleo, Holistic, Vegetarian or Vegan. They will hold to you a tight macronutrient balance and calorie level, keep you from dining out and put your emphasis on whole/less processed food (especially the Holistic plan).
So there you have 13 pretty good tactical moves you can put into play to supercharge your fizzled out weight loss. Which one are you going to try? Which one have you tried? Which one worked? Am I missing the best tactical plateau buster on this list? Let me know!
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Other Plateau Resources
- WebMD: 10 Ways to Move Beyond a Weight Loss Plateau
- Jillian Michaels: How to Break Through Any Weight Loss Plateau