Escaping the weight loss plateau

by Ali on August 8, 2008

One of the most frustrating experiences on the dieting journey is a weight-loss plateau. This is the term commonly used to describe a period of time where you weight just won’t drop, whatever you do. Rather unfairly, it often happens to the “good” dieters – people who keep careful track of their calories and don’t cheat – and it’s demoralising when you’re doing everything right but still failing to lose weight. Plateaus also commonly occur when you’ve been dieting for some time, especially if you’re getting close to your goal.

I’ve suffered a few in my time (to the extent that even a half-pound loss was an occasion for great rejoicing…) so here’s my advice on how to escape the weight loss plateau.

Don’t despair – you WILL lose weight

Remember that the weight loss plateau will end and you will lose weight

However fed-up you feel, don’t give in. If you keep sticking to your daily calorie allowance then you will eventually lose weight. Many people find that when their weight finally drops after a plateau, they lose several pounds in a week.

While you’re standing miserably on the unmoving scales, remember that:

  • Our body weight naturally fluctuates by a pound or two, up and down. Perhaps last week was a “down” week and this week is an “up” week – so you may have lost weight despite it not showing on the scales.
  • If you’re building muscle and losing fat, the scales might not show a loss. Judge your progress by the fit of your clothes instead: are your favourite jeans getting a bit loose?

Do more exercise (or change your routine) to overcome your weight loss plateau

When I first lost weight, I did so by cutting calories strictly, without exercising. Some dieters do manage to remain inactive and lose significant amounts of weight … but then their weight loss stalls. If you suspect this might be the problem you’re having, try fitting some exercise in before or after work, or getting away from the office to exercise in your lunch hour.

For those who are already keen gym bunnies: alter your routine. A couple of days ago, I wrote about how shaking up your exercise routine can boost your motivation if you’re getting bored – but it can also give your weight-loss a helping push. Trying out a new class or sport will get you using previously inactive muscles – forcing you to work harder instead of coasting along.

Change your diet so you zig-zag calories and dodge the weight loss plateau

Some diets give complicated instructions on how exactly to zig-zag calories. I wouldn’t go to any extremes of calculation on this, but I do find that I lose weight better if I have a few days of eating more and a few days of eating less. The reason behind this is generally thought to be that our bodies are brilliant at adapting to harsh conditions – so if we eat 1,500 calories every single day, our metabolism will slow and we’ll burn fewer calories. Cycling between days of 1,200 and 1,800 calories can be enough to keep your body guessing!

One way to do this is to take a week or two off your diet when you’ve been stuck on a plateau for three or four weeks. You might find you put on a pound or two, but they’ll drop off straight away once you start counting calories again. Don’t gorge, just eat normally for a few days.

Another method – ideal for office workers – is to eat more calories on weekend days than during the week. This can help prevent another plateau occurring.

Don’t use the weight loss plateau as an excuse to give up – stick with it, and your hard work will eventually be rewarded.

For more tips, advice and motivation on your weight loss journey, check out my Dieting Basics ebook – 88 pages full of information on everything from nutrition and calories to how to deal with tricky office dieting situations. It might be just what you need to launch yourself off that plateau…

(Image above by quinn.anya)

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