Anyone who’s trying to drop some pounds knows it requires healthy eating, being active and … a lot of patience, dedication, commitment and perseverance. Sometimes it’s difficult to get things started — but, more often, initial weight loss occurs, only to be followed by a frustrating plateau. No matter how quickly you’d like to shed weight, it can be a slow, meandering process, even when it seems like you’re doing everything right.
This can happen for a variety of reasons, including stress, sleep and missteps with calculating your calorie burn or your daily calorie requirement. But there are ways to wake your weight loss from the dead.
Use an app like MyFitnessPal and take a good, hard look at what you’re consuming throughout the day. Everything counts, including liquids and small snacks. If you’re eating more calories than you’re burning each day, your body can’t shed excess pounds. Conversely, you could be eating too little. Undereating switches your body into energy-conservation mode, which slows your metabolism, reduces muscle mass and actually stores fat.
According to Dr. Rupal Mathur, losing muscle lowers your basal metabolic rate (BMR), or how many calories your body naturally burns throughout the day. Once your BMR changes, your calorie requirement changes. So, while eating 1,800 calories per day, for example, might result in weight loss for a few weeks, that same amount could be too much once your BMR decreases. Continuing to eat the same would then result in a plateau.
Overall, Mathur says diets can work for short-term weight loss, but they’re not long-term solutions. That’s because the word “diet” implies a temporary change. “The bottom line is that diets don’t produce lifelong results; only a change in your lifestyle can do this,” she says. “Eating right, exercising, eating mindfully and combating emotional eating are all important parts of a lifelong weight-loss plan.”
“When you hit a plateau, you want to change up your workout,” says Lindsay Schwab, a Dallas-based personal trainer. “Introduce some variation occasionally to help stimulate progress.” She explains that, if you do the exact same thing over and over, your body becomes more efficient at that particular activity. “Your body can learn and adapt after doing the same thing enough times, so that it burns fewer calories to carry out the process. So, mix it up!”
Schwab also says that, when trying to lose weight, you should incorporate both cardio and resistance training into your routine. “Combining the two types of workouts is not only the healthiest option, but it’s also the most effective way to support your weight-loss efforts,” she says. “This is because cardio burns more calories during the workout, and resistance training helps you maintain or gain muscle.” And, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.
“Without even moving, a pound of muscle burns about six calories per day, while a pound of fat burns about two … The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn while at rest,” says Schwab.
Studies continue to show a link between inadequate sleep and obesity. A study from the Department of Exercise Science at the University of South Carolina found restricted sleep — even just one fewer hour per night — negatively affects weight loss. Study participants lost less fat but more muscle than their well-rested counterparts. And catching up on sleep over the weekends likely isn’t enough to reverse those changes in body composition.
Not getting enough sleep can have cascading effects. It can disrupt hormones that control hunger and appetite, which then causes daytime fatigue that discourages you from exercising. It’s a vicious cycle that can start in childhood and continue through the decades.
Losing weight isn’t easy, and it’s common to experience ups and downs — both on the scale and off. If you hit a plateau, hang in there. By tweaking your diet and exercise routine and ensuring you get enough sleep, you’re more likely to get back on track.
“To kickstart weight loss, I always tell clients to begin with the end in mind,” says Schwab. “When you are pursuing weight-loss goals, your purpose must be greater than changing the number on the scale.”