Your biggest fear has come true. No,Scandal hasn’t been canceled and neither has Game of Thrones—we’re talking about something far more terrifying: You’ve hit the dreaded weight loss plateau.
The scale, once a pedestal where you’d celebrate your weekly weigh-in victories, suddenly stopped budging. You’ve laid off your cheat day cookies, added an extra workout to your weekly routine and cut back on healthy foods that aren’t, but nothing will make the scale tip in your favor. Ugh. It’s totally irritating. But it doesn’t have to be depressing or defeating. Fitness and nutrition experts say weight loss plateaus are pretty common and there are ways to break through them.
Although weight loss may stall for a variety of reasons, the primary problem for many is that dropping pounds becomes increasingly challenging the trimmer you become. It’s a catch 22, but it makes sense: When your weight drops, so does your basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy your body needs to keep your heart and other vital organs functioning). When your basal metabolic rate drops, your body doesn’t require as many calories to sustain itself. But since there isn’t an alarm alerting us of this metabolic change, most people continue to consume as much as they did at the start of their weight loss journey. The bad news is, if you don’t burn off those additional calories your body no longer needs, the scale will stop tipping in your favor.
The bottom line: you need to switch up your diet and exercise plan if you want to continue to slim down. While that may sound overwhelming, there’s no need to fret. We combed through research and grilled a handful of nutrition and exercise gurus to learn what tricks and tips will help you ditch those “stage-five clinger” pounds. Click through the slides to get the scoop.
BUT BE SMART ABOUT IT
“I always tell my patients: In order to make a change in your body, something that you are doing must change,” says Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN, a New York City-based Dietitian. And if you’re eating a ton of packaged foods (even seemingly healthy ones), this is something that should change, stat! While an entire diet overhaul isn’t realistic, a snack time makeover is a good place to start. “Replacing crackers, chips and granola with fresh fruits and vegetables can help people overcome weight loss plateaus by decreasing their daily overall calories,” explains Kaufman. Try munching on veggie sticks with hummus or apples with peanut butter. They are both just a portable as your afternoon bag of chips but much better at warding off hunger and helping you reach your goals.
Not a snacker? While it may seem counterintuitive, eating more often can help you kick those extra pounds to the curb, explains Dr. Sean M. Wells, personal trainer and author of Double-Crossed: A Review of the Most Extreme Exercise Program. “Dump the idea that three meals a day is ideal. Eat two 200-calorie snacks between meals that have at least 10 grams of protein and five grams of fiber.” Try noshing on two hard-boiled eggs and a pear, which will fit the nutritional bill. “This type of snack will provide the nutrients you need and stave off cravings that can slow your weight loss efforts.”
Not buying it? A group of French researchers back Wells’ suggestion. They found that study participants who were fed a high-protein snack felt fuller for longer and ate less at their next meal compared to participants who ate high-carbohydrate snacks, or no snack at all. Taking in less calories means more weight will fly off your frame.
Cookies, and white bread and Pop-Tarts, oh my! Starchy, sugar-laden carbs like these are void of satiating ingredients like fiber so they won’t keep you full (and may have you coming back for seconds). “Consuming less sugar, fewer carbs and more protein-rich foods like lean meats, legumes and nuts can keep dieters feeling fuller for longer, which may help them take in fewer calories throughout the day,” explains Kaufman. Plus, protein prevents the breakdown of muscle as you lose fat. The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. It’s a win-win. “Protein needs differ by individual, but typically it is 0.8 to one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight should be sufficient enough to fuel weight loss.”
If getting that much protein doesn’t seem doable for you, at least up your intake during breakfast. Studies show that lean protein in the morning can curb hunger and keep your appetite under control all day. Hard-boiled eggs and yogurt are both portable protein options that you can eat on the run.
Only kidding! We don’t expect you to give your two weeks notice to slash those extra pounds—and, luckily, you don’t have to. Keep in mind though, even if you hit the gym regularly after work, it’s likely not enough to counteract the hours you log at your desk. “When you sit all day your metabolic rate drops, which in turn could diminish your weight loss efforts if you do not adjust your diet to account for the lack of activity,” explains Albert R. Matheny IV, RD, CSCS, Co-Founder of SoHo Strength Lab. Translation: If you’re already eating a healthy diet, moving more throughout the day may make your weekly weigh-ins victorious once again.
Sprinting around your office like Serena Williams isn’t necessary see results; simply getting up from your chair and taking a two-minute walk once every hour can do the trick, says Matheny. Just two minutes of walking once every eight hours adds up to an extra 45 calories burned each day for a 150-pound adult. While that may not seem like a lot, if you keep at it, you’ll burn off one pound of fat after three or four months. Set your phone alarm to go off once every hour so you don’t forget to take a brake.
Hear us out: We told you that eating more protein can help accelerate weight loss, and that’s true when it’s from high-quality sources. Unfortunately, not all sources are created equal. Non-organic meats, for example, often contain chemicals called endocrine disruptors, or obesogens, that may promote weight gain or make it hard to slim down by stimulating appetite, increasing the size and number of fat cells in the body and altering metabolism to favor fat storage. A 2011 study published in the journal Obesity Reviews suggests that these chemicals may indeed be playing a role in the development of the obesity epidemic. Though more research needs to be done to better understand all the effects of these chemicals, play it safe and opt for grass fed, organic, hormone-free beef and chicken and choose wild salmon over farmed varieties.
DRINKS & FOODS
Yes diet drinks have bubbles that fill up your belly and may temporarily make you feel full, but the long-term effects of the demonized drink are the exact opposite, making it more difficult to lose weight. A Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine study found that artificial sweeteners found in soda and other diet foods, like some low-cal flavored yogurts, might cause increased cravings for sweets like cookies and cake. The more often you have those kinds of indulgences on the brain, the more likely it is you’ll cave to temptation. Nix the artificial stuff and stick with whole, natural foods to further fuel your weight loss.
ORDER BINGE SHORT
If people could simply sleep their way skinny, we’d all look like a runway models. While dozing off can’t counteract downing a dozen doughnuts, sleep does play an incredibly important role in weight loss and not getting enough of it can cause a plateau. According to a Science Daily study, if you’re well rested, your body will produce less ghrelin, a hormone that reduces energy expenditure and triggers hunger. Translation: You’ll have less of an appetite and burn more calories, without changing anything else about your routine. Nothing’s better than that! Aim for 7 to 8.5 hours of shut-eye per night for optimal middle-whittling results.
Stress really sucks. Besides making you moody and causing your stomach to churn, stress can bring weight loss efforts to a screeching halt! It prompts the “fight or flight” hormone cortisol to spike, which eats away at lean muscle mass, screws with blood sugar and causes cravings. Get back on track and start dropping weight with the help of mindful meditation. University of California researchers found that the those who partake in the practice tend to have lower cortisol levels. So why not give it a try? It may just help you bust through your plateau.
SETS OF FOUR
You run. You jump. You squat. But the scale doesn’t budge. HIIT (high intensity interval training), or metabolic conditioning, may be the key to your weight loss success, says Wells. Comprised of intense bouts of hard work with short recovery segments, this training strategy stimulates muscle-building hormones and helps fry fat. If you’re not a member of a gym, try a circuit made up of body weight exercises like pushups, burpees, lunge jumps and bodyweight squats (feel free to swap in your favorites). Do 10 reps of whichever three exercises you choose, and then follow that bout with a minute of jumping jacks. Rest for a minute and repeat this circuit four times. If you have access to weights or belong to a gym, follow the same rep count and recovery format, but swap in exercises like medicine ball slams, sled sprints, box jumps and pull-ups.
We’ve heard it time and time again: eating in front of the TV is a diet no-no. When we’re focused on the drama on the screen more than the food on our plates it makes it harder to pick up on satiety cues and easier to down unnecessary calories, diminishing weight loss efforts. If you can’t knock the habit, at least consider buying a TiVo or streaming Netflix so you can skip the commercials. Why? A 2011 study published in the journal,Appetite, found that commercials for unhealthy foods and drinks, like soda, fast food and packaged snacks increase our desire to indulge in those very same foods. So no, you weren’t imagining that the pint in the freezer was calling your name while that Baskin Robin’s ad was on. Ugh. Like it wasn’t hard enough to stick to a healthy diet? Keep commercials off your screen to help the pounds fly off your frame.