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How to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau

If you are exercising and eating well, but stuck at a weight loss plateau or worse, gaining weight? This article is for you.

Why You’re Not Losing Weight and Stuck in a Weight Loss Plateau

Anyone who has made a serious effort to lose weight knows how hard it can be at times especially when you hit a weight loss plateau.  Most of the time, weight loss or should I say “fat loss”, is simply a matter of expending more calories than consumed.  The fact of the matter is that we live in a society (North America) that is mostly sedentary with poor nutritional habits.  Moving more and modifying one’s diet will lead to some degree of fat-loss.  However, what about those individuals who are exercising and eating well, but stuck at a weight loss plateau or worse, gaining weight?  This article is for you.

What is Your Next Step?

Book an appointment with your doctor to ensure you don’t have a medical condition that is affecting your ability to lose weight. It is important to establish if you have a metabolic disorder such and Hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Syndrome or Insulin Resistance. Other extenuating circumstances that can contribute to a weight loss plateau are medications.

Hypothyroidism is when your thyroid is underactive; this results in inadequate thyroid hormone production which will slow down your metabolism. Symptoms can include depression, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, weakness, or brittle fingernails and hair.

Cushing’s syndrome is when your adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. An over-abundance of cortisol will lead to weight gain in the midsection, face and upper back. Other symptoms are bruising, fatigue, stretch marks, muscle weakness, inability to heal easily, headaches, a decrease in bone density and acne.

Insulin resistance is when insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas, isn’t being used efficiently by your cells. Typically, insulin is produced by your pancreas which allows your cells to use glucose for energy. When you have developed insulin resistance, the cells have trouble absorbing glucose, causing a buildup of sugar in the blood. Often there are no noticeable symptoms, especially in the early phases. You could be insulin resistant without knowing, especially if you aren’t checking your blood glucose levels regularly.

Prescription medication frequently has weight gain as a side effect. Common medications with this effect include birth control, oral corticosteroids, many antidepressants, some diabetic medications and antipsychotic medications. Discuss your medications with your physician if you suspect they may be the problem to your weight loss plateau. Never discontinue any medication without consulting your doctor, this can lead to serious health threats.

What Else Can Contribute to Weight Gain or a Weight Loss Plateau?

Lack of sleep can be a major contributor to weight gain or a weight loss plateau.  Michael Breus, PhD, author and Clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, Ariz (4), explains ” When you are sleep-deprived, meaning that you are not getting enough sleep or quality sleep, your metabolism will not function properly.” We need to average 7.5 hours of proper sleep at night. However, many people are only getting 5 hours, should you sleep the extra 2 hours, you will start to see your weight drop.

The weight gain is due to two hormones, ghrelin and leptin. When you are sleep deprived ghrelin will trigger you to eat more. Leptin is produced when you are sleeping and tells you to stop eating therefore with less sleep you have less leptin. On top of the hormone imbalance, sleep deprivation will slow down your metabolism.  Add these three together and you inevitably will end up with weight gain.

Stress is another reason for weight gain in our hectic, fast-paced world! Stress and the inability to lose weight are symbiotic due to an increase in cortisol levels. The overabundance of cortisol will increase your hunger response and cause you to store extra fat around your abdomen.

You can’t out-train a bad diet

The most effective workouts for weight loss are often the most difficult for people such as HIIT, Tabata or Metabolic Conditioning. Even the most motivated people find it difficult to push themselves to this intensity so you may be hurting your chances to lose weight effectively.

How much exercise do you need? How many calories do you need? What other variables are there to help or hinder you? How can you break through a stubborn plateau?

Cheating on your nutrition plan is a primary cause of weight gain or an inability to lose weight. The adage ” You can’t out-train a bad diet” is the absolute truth. Does this mean that you can’t occasionally enjoy a naughty treat? No, go ahead and have a simple treat, the problem comes when we are having too many of them too often.

Keep in mind that to lose one pound a week you need to reduce your caloric intake through exercise and diet by 500 calories every day. When you take a “nutrition holiday” on the weekends, you are taking yourself back a step on all the hard work you put in during the week. Avoid the “cheat day” mentality and make better choices for your weekend. Choose to have one “cheat treat” with or after a healthy meal and stick to your daily routine for the rest of the time.

Remember food is fuel for our bodies and not a reward. Stop rewarding yourself with food and instead find an alternative treat for yourself.  Instead treat yourself to a day at the spa, massage or a new pair of “kicks”.

Portion Control and Food Journals

Portion control can also be a cause of weight gain or weight loss plateau, especially when you eat in restaurants constantly or frequently snack without monitoring exactly how much you are consuming. It is often surprising when you start adding up how much you eat. People will snack on almonds without any thought and not knowing that 1 cup of the nuts equals 823 calories which are half of your daily caloric intake.

When you are serious about getting control of your nutrition habits a great way to start making changes is to keep a food journal for 5 days. It is important at this time not to change anything you are doing, otherwise you won’t get a clear idea of what needs to change. Use a calorie tracker to see your daily intake and to explore your macronutrients. You may be surprised that you are overeating and out of balance. Macronutrients will be different depending on your goals, activity level, or sporting events. However, a general rule of thumb for macronutrients is 40% carbohydrates (complex), 30% protein (lean/free range/wild) and 30% fat (maximum 10% saturated with the remainder monounsaturated).

Age Plays a Factor Along with Exercise

Often we wonder why we find it harder to lose weight as we age and the reason is metabolism. People who are sedentary or minimally active don’t preserve their muscle mass. Starting at 25 years of age until you are 50, muscle mass will decline approximately 4% each decade. When muscle mass drops and metabolism slows, without a serious look at activity, your weight will start to edge up slowly.

Combat this with an appropriate workout program that is designed by an elite personal trainer. Your program must include cardio, weight training and flexibility.

Weight loss programs will require you to do 5 days of moderate cardio at for 30 minutes, but the reality is you will need more than just that to burn a lot of calories. Have your personal trainer design an interval program that provides you with moderate intensity workouts 2-3 days a week interspersed with high-intensity interval programs that go for the major calorie kill. HIIT programs burn more calories during your workout and also give you a fantastic after burn effect called EPOC.

Weight training is also imperative for weight loss and health. Weight training not only will give you lean muscle, but with the increase in muscle mass, your metabolic rate will increase.

Initially, try endurance based circuit programs.  These workouts keep your heart rate elevated which burns more calories. Have your personal trainer make you a program that incorporates compound weight training exercises with cardio intervals. Endurance programs follow the rule of completing 2-3 sets of 12 -15 repetitions. Between each superset have some fun! Skip rope, do jumping jacks, challenge yourself to row 500 meters or try the always popular burpees.

Stick with an exercise program you genuinely enjoy and that helps you accomplish your goals. Try to be realistic about what you can accomplish on your own, hire a personal trainer if you know motivation will be a problem.

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

Make sure your goals are realistic, measurable and attainable! Any elite personal trainer will tell you that an appropriate weight loss goal is 1-2 pounds per week. However, that will be dependent on how much you need to lose. Find out from your health professional if your weight loss goal is accurate for your height, age and body type.

Give yourself time to meet your goals. Keep track of your measurements and body fat for a better idea of the big picture. Weight is not the best way to track your success. Be patient, take life one day at a time and remember to stop and smell the roses. Living a healthy lifestyle will always give you more success in life than surfing on the couch!

Good luck with your journey!

Cathie Glennon – BCRPA SFL