Overcoming a plateau

“Dr. Kim,

Why did I stop losing weight, even though I haven’t increased my calorie consumption and am exercising regularly?"

- Andrew C., Brea

Dear Andrew:

Even the best weight loss programs can be stalled by a plateau, no matter how much you’ve improved your diet and workout regimen. A plateau is actually something that eventually happens to almost everyone, no matter how hard they try to avoid it. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself fall back into old habits that can derail some of the progress you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Understand that this is a common occurrence, even with the best weight loss programs. At the beginning of a diet, most individuals experience rapid weight loss due to the release of excess water. Then the process slows down a little, and a safer, more normal amount of weight loss is experienced, such as one to two pounds per week.

As you lose weight, you may lose a little muscle, which slows your metabolism and causes you to burn less calories than when you weighed more. At this point, you’ll need to change your approach, which could mean eating less calories and/or increasing activity at a greater level than at the beginning of the diet.

Once you’ve checked with your physician to make sure it’s safe to continue to lose weight, there are a few things you can do to boost your program.

  1. Re-evaluate. Log your meals for a few days so you can make sure that you haven’t fallen off track a little compared to the beginning of your diet.
  2. Further reduce calories. Try cutting 200 calories per day, as long as your doctor deems this safe for you. It’s typically best to not reduce consumption below 1200 calories per day. Anything less could be unsafe and may even leave you feeling hungry all the time, which puts you at risk for overeating. This behavior can ultimately cause you to gain weight again.
  3. Boost activity. Increase your workouts in both intensity and duration to burn more calories and fat. Try adding between 10 and 20 minutes of workout time and adjusting the intensity and resistance levels of each exercise. Since lean muscle mass burns more calories, it will be very beneficial to incorporate strength training into your regimen. In addition, try to increase your daily activity. Walk or cycle to errands, do gardening, park as far away from your destination as possible and take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever you can.  
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