If you’ve ever worked hard to lose weight by eating healthy, less-caloric foods and exercising regularly, you have probably lost weight and been encouraged by the results. You may also have experienced the frustration of hitting what’s known as a plateau. Don’t get discouraged. It’s normal for weight loss to slow and even stall. By understanding what causes a weight-loss plateau, you can decide how to respond and avoid backsliding on your new healthy habits.
During the first few weeks of losing weight, a rapid drop is normal. In part, this is because when you cut calories, the body gets needed energy initially by releasing its stores of glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. Glycogen is partly made of water, so when glycogen is burned for energy, it releases water, resulting in weight loss that’s mostly water. This effect is temporary, however.
As you lose weight, you lose some muscle along with fat. Muscle helps keep the rate at which you burn calories (metabolism) up. So as you lose weight, your metabolism declines, causing you to burn fewer calories than you did at your heavier weight.
Your slower metabolism will slow your weight loss, even if you eat the same number of calories that helped you lose weight. When the calories you burn equal the calories you eat, you reach a plateau.
To lose more weight, you need to either increase your physical activity or decrease the calories you eat. Using the same approach that worked initially may maintain your weight loss, but it won’t lead to more weight loss.
If you’re committed to losing more weight, try these tips for getting past the plateau:
- Reassess your habits. Make sure you haven’t loosened the rules, letting yourself get by with larger portions or less exercise.
- Cut more calories. Further cut your daily calories by 200 — provided this doesn’t put you below 1,200 calories.
- Rev up your workout. Increase the amount of time you exercise by 15 to 30 minutes and possibly the intensity of your exercise to burn more calories. Adding exercises such as weightlifting to increase your muscle mass will help you burn more calories.
- Pack more activity into your day. Increase your general physical activity throughout the day.
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