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Weight Loss: Plateau No More

What to do when your weight won’t budge.
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WebMD Expert Column

It happens to runners and endurance athletes, and it happens to dieters, too: You’re working hard to meet your weight-loss goal when suddenly, the needle on the scale refuses to budge. This roadblock often occurs just after your initial weight loss, and again when you can’t seem to lose those last few pounds. It’s very discouraging to keep working hard when you can’t see the fruits of your labor. To make things worse, these weight-loss plateaus can last from several days to months.

If your weight loss has come to an abrupt halt, you must be wondering: Am I doing something wrong?

According to the experts, hitting these plateaus is nothing unusual. As your weight drops and your body composition changes, so do your nutritional needs. There are several reasons why your weight can hit a plateau:

  • As your weight goes down, you not only lose fat but also a small amount of muscle. It’s estimated that up to 25% of the body tissue lost during weight loss comes from muscle. Since muscle is critical to keeping your metabolism perking, losing it can reduce your metabolic rate and hinder weight loss. Strength training can help preserve and build muscle to get your metabolism humming again.
  • The set point theory alleges that your body naturally tries to maintain a certain weight where it is most comfortable. If you find yourself stuck at the same weight time and again, you may have reached the comfort zone. Reducing much further typically results in regaining weight.
  • You may need fewer calories or more physical activity to sustain your lower weight. This is the most likely cause of a weight-loss plateau. Further, it’s almost impossible to lose much weight without exercising. Many scientists agree that whether you exercise is the best way to predict whether you’ll successfully maintain your weight.
  • Other factors that can influence weight loss include thyroid or adrenal gland problems, medications you’re taking, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, and quitting smoking.

But more than likely, your weight is at a plateau because your portion sizes have crept up, and/or your workouts have decreased in intensity or frequency. You also may be indulging in high-calorie foods more often.

The truth of the matter is that most people let down their guard a little after their initial weight loss. It’s perfectly natural to get more comfortable with the eating plan, and possibly overlook the prescribed portion sizes or quantities. The result is weight maintenance instead of further weight loss.

One Pound of Fat

Some dieters expect their rate of weight loss to be constant. But most people drop weight more quickly when they first begin a reducing program. This initial loss, unfortunately, is half fluid and does not reflect how much actual fat tissue you’ve burned. It’s only later that each pound lost reflects the burning of real fat, roughly equivalent to 3,500 calories.

So don’t be fooled into thinking that your initial rate of weight loss will continue. It’s hard work to burn off 3,500 calories a week!

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