Ask the Dietitian: How Can You Overcome a Weight-Loss Plateau?

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
by Sidney Fry, MS, RD
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Ask the Dietitian: How Can You Overcome a Weight-Loss Plateau?

Four words we hope to avoid at all costs when trying to shed pounds and slim back into shape: I’ve hit a plateau. Like the image conveys, you’re climbing, climbing, climbing toward your weight-loss goal and suddenly all numerical progress comes to a screeching halt and levels off — or so it seems.

However, the reality is plateaus are normal, and just because the numbers on the scale aren’t dropping quite as dramatically as they might have when you first started, it doesn’t mean you have failed in your efforts. In fact, a plateau is a good sign — it indicates you’ve made progress.

WHY DO PLATEAUS HAPPEN?

Many people experience a more-rapid-than-normal drop on the scale the first several weeks of a drastic diet change or calorie deficit. Much of this can be attributed to the fact our bodies release stored glycogen, a carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. There’s a lot of water in glycogen, and when glycogen is burned off, water is released, creating a “shedding” effect.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN THE SCALE STALLS

Rather than stress over the number on the scale, place your focus elsewhere. Do your clothes fit better? Are you sleeping more soundly or exercising harder, longer and better than before? Think quality over quantity, emphasizing physical differences and improvements over numerical ones.

Moreover, if the weight loss is considerable, it’s important to remember your now-smaller frame may require less energy to operate. In other words, when you weigh less, you burn less.
Instead of quitting, use this plateau as an opportunity to reflect. More often than not, the closer you are to reaching your goal the slower the weight-loss momentum. But even slow movement toward your goal is progress. Not everything associated with your health is externally visible or even trackable. Many of the changes you’ve made are likely internal. Fat loss, muscle gain (or loss), gut alterations and metabolic improvements due to changes in diet and lifestyle can’t all necessarily be measured on the scale.

HOW TO MOVE PAST A PLATEAU

Consider new improvements you can make like eating less sugar and refined carbohydrates and drinking less alcohol. You can also add natural fiber and higher-quality protein to your diet, which helps you feel fuller longer and promotes muscle growth, respectively.

Hitting a weight-loss plateau is also an opportunity to explore your exercise routine. Drastic calorie deficits and the elimination of several food categories will likely jumpstart your weight-loss journey — and that’s great — but you need to consider the sustainability factor long-term. Try finding a new type of exercise, whether that’s running, a four-week power-walking plan for weight loss or HIIT, to spice up your routine.

THE BOTTOM LINE

When you hit a weight-loss plateau, instead of getting frustrated take a step back and look at all the things you’ve accomplished thus far. Maybe you feel more confident in your clothes or have more energy and feel less stressed. Then take the time to find small changes you can make to keep yourself on track. Here are 10 tips to overcome a weight-loss plateau and eight nutrition tweaks to try.

About the Author

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Sidney is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer, editor and mom based out of Birmingham, Alabama. A registered dietitian with a passion for research and being proactive about health, she loves to eat, write, run and create simple, tasty meals with whole-food-based approach. Find out more from her website, Instagram or Twitter.

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