- Jessica Lechman, RD
How to Break a Weight Plateau
Losing weight is challenging in and of itself, however, keeping the weight off for good is
where the challenge really begins. As we lose weight, our body sends subconscious signals to our brain telling it to increase our appetite and decrease our feeling of satiety after we eat. Our energy expenditure also decreases by about 20-30 calories per day for every 1 kilogram of weight that is lost. This is known as "adaptive thermogenesis" and it plays a big part in weight loss and getting stuck in weight plateaus.
Due to these physiological responses to resist continued weight loss, a lower energy expenditure coupled with a desire for increased energy intake makes long-term, consistent weight loss very hard to achieve. With all this being said, if you find yourself stuck at a weight loss plateau lasting anywhere from 3-4 weeks, there are steps you can take to get out of it.
One method would be to further decrease your caloric intake to account for these physiological responses. One of the challenges with this is the increased hunger that comes along with weight loss. Additionally, having a smaller calorie budget to work within feels restrictive and there are less opportunities for eating out or eating high calorie foods if trying to stay within your budget.
Another factor to consider if we take the route of further reducing calories is to make sure to keep your fiber and protein intake where it is at, even with a decrease in calories. Both fiber and protein are going to play an important role in keeping us from feeling hungry and keeping us full longer. Additionally, protein requires more energy for the body to digest, therefore increasing your energy expenditure. Keeping a high protein intake will also help to ensure the weight we do lose is fat mass, instead of muscle mass.
Before deciding to further restrict calories, a good tool to utilize would be self-monitoring. If you are not doing so already, self-monitoring can be especially useful in this scenario to see how much you are actually eating versus basing our hunger off of the signals we are receiving from our brain that have been steadily increasing over time and that we might not have noticed. Ultimately, this will help you to reassess your habits first before deciding to decrease your caloric intake.
Another route you can take to come out of a weight loss plateau is to increase your energy expenditure. Physical activity will not only help you burn additional calories, but it will also help you to put on more lean muscle mass. It is important to incorporate both cardio and strength workouts into your routine. Cardio workouts will help you burn more calories than strength training, however, a strength training routine of at least 2x/week will be the most beneficial when it comes to increasing lean muscle mass. Muscle tissue is metabolically more active and burns more calories than fat tissue, ultimately, helping you come out of your weight loss plateau more resourcefully; providing greater benefits towards maintenance of weight lost.
The last method that you can take is to put a pause on continuous energy restriction. There is research to show that greater fat loss was achieved with intermittent energy restriction periods (alternating calorie restriction with calorie balance). Interrupting energy restriction (calorie deficit) periods with periods of energy balance (calorie balance) was shown to reduce the unfavorable metabolic responses that occur with weight loss, resulting in improved weight loss efficiency. Alternating between two weeks of energy balance followed by two weeks of energy restriction for a total of 16 weeks has been shown to be an effective structure to follow when integrating this method.
Ultimately, incorporating any of these three methods when you reach a plateau in your weight loss will help you to continue along your weight loss journey.
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