For anyone who has successfully lost weight, you will have noticed that weight loss tends to slow over time.
Whilst lower calorie diets can result in significant weight loss of 1-2kg a week initially, over time it tends to reduce to as little as half a kilo or less a week, which is incredibly demotivating. What is important to know is that a slowing of weight loss over time, and even a weight loss plateau is a normal part of the weight loss process.
Here, all that is happening is that the body has readjusted to your calorie restriction and/or exercise regime and has reached a state of stability. This can happen at different times for different people, but usually after a weight loss of several kilos. A weight loss plateau is also not defined by a couple of days of no change on the scales, rather at least a couple of weeks with no significant weight change. So, if you feel that you may be in a plateau, here are some ways to get your weight loss back on track.
Assess your calorie intake
It may seem counter intuitive but sometimes after a significant initial weight loss of 5kg or more, we actually need more calories to provide enough fuel for a fitter, healthier muscle to efficiently burn body fat. This means that having a rough idea of your overall calorie intake will help to inform you of whether you may be eating too little (or even too much).
As a rough guide, consuming fewer than 1200 calories each day is likely to be inadequate for most people, and as such you may need to increase your calories by 200-300 each day to kick-start weight loss. Or, on the other hand if you are consuming more than 1500-1600 calories a day, you may need to cut back a little for a week or two to get things moving.
Get honest about your movement
If you are not a natural mover, and approach your weight loss journey by ticking the box on a minimum number of steps each day, this could be the issue. Whilst fitting in some movement each day — a walk or gym session or exercise class — is a good thing, ultimately you may need to get your heart rate up with some cardio training to get your muscle to burn calories more effectively.
This means that if you are basically moving enough to get to 10,000 steps and then sitting for the rest of the day, continuing your weight loss journey may need you to up the ante and move as much as possible.
Make sure you are getting the right amount of carbs
What many people do not know is that there is a grey area when it comes to fat burning — here when your carbohydrate intake is low, but not low enough to achieve ketosis but too low to give your body the energy it needs, your weight loss can plateau. Or in some cases, if you are limiting your calories but your carbohydrates remain too high a proportion of calories, again your weight loss can slow.
The easiest ways to check the amounts of carbohydrate you are consuming is via a calorie monitoring program such as MyFitnessPal or by enlisting the help of a qualified dietitian.
Generally speaking, carbohydrate amounts ranging from 100-160g support weight loss in the average female doing an hour or less of physical activity each day.
Change your eating times
Ultimately change is the key to taking control of a weight loss plateau, and sometimes changing the times we eat is enough to give the metabolism the boost it needs. There are no set rules here.
If you usually eat breakfast at 7am, try having it an hour or two later. Or, if you regularly eat dinner at 8pm, try moving it earlier and allow for a longer overnight fast. Or if you eat more on weekends, try lightening your intake a couple of days each week. The body likes to be stable, so the more change you introduce to your regular habits, the better it is for metabolism.
Give yourself a break
Again, this may seem to be the opposite of what you would expect, but sometimes after a period of relatively strict dieting, the body may need a break from constant calorie restriction.
If you follow a strict diet each day, and have done for some time, or if you exercise religiously every single day, a meal or two off each week, or a day off from training could be what your body needs to recover and regroup. If you are constantly hungry or craving sweet foods, or feeling especially tired and run down, indeed a meal off and or a day or two off training can help your body. Remember though, it is a meal or day off, not a whole day or week!
Author Susie Burrell is a leading Australian dietitian and nutritionist, founder of Shape Me, co-host of The Nutrition Couch podcast and prominent media spokesperson, with regular appearances in both print and television media commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition.