22 April 2014 Plateau? Recharge Your Diet

Here's the typical 10 steps in the life of a diet:

  1. You get motivated, perhaps by the scale or a medical issue, and pick a diet
  2. You start losing weight, quickly at first, which stokes your motivation
  3. Weight loss slows a bit, but you're still feeling successful
  4. You may drift off your diet a bit, but still lose weight.
  5. Weight loss gradually slows and then stops, before you reach your goal.
  6. You stick with your plan for another week or two, but still no weight loss.
  7. Frustration sets in. You may take more liberties with food choices.
  8. Diet over.
  9. If you return to your old habits, you eventually regain all that weight.
  10. And eventually you get motivated again and start over at #1.

Fading motivation and weight plateaus are a fact of life for dieters everywhere. A recent study validates what dieters know from experience. The subjects were male patients in the VA, with BMI over 30. Clearly they were obese, and many had recently been diagnosed with obesity-related diseases like hypertension or diabetes. They were referred to a free weight loss program, and at first, the patients diagnosed with those diseases were almost 3 times as likely to sign up as patients who were just obese. But only 15% of them stuck with the program for more than 8 sessions over 6 months. Even poor health loses its motivational effect. The researchers concluded good intentions are enough to stay motivated. As if we needed someone to prove that.

So what can you do when motivation goes down the drain and the dreaded weight plateau sets in? Here are 10 ideas for you to try. Hopefully one or more of them may help you cope and go on to more diet success:

1. Re-imagine your goals. Many people start with overly-ambitious plans to lose too much weight in a very short time. How do you tell? One clue is this: when you plug your goals into a calorie tracker, it says you have to cut back by 1000 or more calories per day, or eat fewer than 1200 calories/day to reach your goal. You may have burned out on a diet that's just too low in calories.

2. Embrace the plateau. Re-define your new weight as your new starting weight. Live with it for 2-4 weeks, while eating modest portions of food, and staying active. Then when you're ready, enter your new weight and goals into the tracker.

3. Take the long view. Permanent healthy weight loss doesn't ever happen quickly. Never. If you have 50 lbs to lose, it could take over a year to accomplish.

4. Shake up your food choices. If you've been eating the same meals and snacks and beverages throughout your diet, change up your choices, while still sticking with your calorie limits and pushing protein.

5. Reimagine your exercise routines. When you do the same old exercise routine over and over and over, your muscles can become more efficient performing that activity, burning fewer calories. Add different things, at different times of day or for longer periods or a higher effort level. If all you ever do is the elliptical, switch to a stationary bike, or add a fast walk or jog a couple of times a week.

6. More vegetables. Fresh or barely cooked vegetables are filling. Fill your meals with more vegetables and fewer grain foods or heaping portions of protein.

7. Get brutal about treats. If treats have been sneaking back into your food choices during the successful part of your diet, it may be time to cut them back. An additional 100-200 calories/day of sugary junk, alcoholic beverages or snack foods can bring weight loss to a screeching halt.

8. Stick to 3 meals. Research suggests that our obsession with frequent eating to stifle hunger could be hindering calorie burning. If your system is always stocked with calories, there's less reason for your body to mobilize fat stores to make up the difference. Eating 3 meals (and maybe a small mid-afternoon snack of high protein food or fresh vegetables) is a good plan, as long as the meals are roughly equivalent in calories.

9. Don't lump all your calories at the end of the day. This follows from #8. Your meals need to be balanced. That way you burn more of your calories throughout the day, rather than sleeping on them.

10. Celebrate the weight you did lose. Reward yourself with something that isn't food. After all, you're at a weight plateau because you did lose weight. New clothing in your newly smaller size can motivate you to avoid backsliding. It can also help you feel better about your new (temporary) weight. Other ideas: a new haircut or color, a trip, new workout clothes, take a class, learn a new skill, or anything else related to your life, home, hobbies or family.

You're not alone on the weight plateau. If you've got diet buddies, or are part of a weight loss support group, don't hesitate to share your frustrations. You may end up crowd-sourcing some solutions that help everyone move forward to diet success.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Weight Loss/Plateau (Weight Stall)

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