You’ve been measuring your portions, hitting the gym, cutting out caffeine and sugar…but the scale just won’t budge! This can be a frustrating process, but it’s one many frustrated dieters have dealt with before.
“A weight loss plateau is common and, for many people, it can happen when they're within just a few pounds of their goal weight,” says Richard Ing, MD, bariatric surgeon and medical director of the Bariatric Program at Bryn Mawr Hospital, part of Main Line Health. “There’s no specific reason why this happens, but there are steps you can take to hopefully break through it.”
Write down what you eat
You might already be keeping a food diary or journaling what you’re eating, a common technique for successful weight loss. But have you been totally honest?
If you’ve been successfully losing weight for several weeks, you might have gotten comfortable with treating yourself to a few extra treats in between regular meals, like a handful of chips, snack-size chocolate or even seemingly healthy treats like fruits, veggies or mixed nuts. But these snacks can add up and—if you’re not tracking them—could be the ‘secret’ cause of weight loss hurdle.
For one week, be extra diligent about recording the foods you eat. If you do find yourself snacking more frequently than you realized, that’s okay! You might consider more time in the gym to help you break through a plateau, or restructuring your diet to include four or five small meals per day instead of three larger meals.
Step up your workout routine
When it comes to weight loss success, what you do in the gym is just as important as what you’re doing in the kitchen. But, after a few months, you might find that your usual workout routine isn’t giving you the same results that it used to.
Instead of using the same machine every day or choosing the same running route, challenge your body by trying a new fitness class or introducing your legs to some new hills. These might seem difficult at first but, because it will be a new challenge, they’ll require your body to adapt and will burn more calories.
And don’t forget about strength training, too!
“As our bodies lose weight, they shed muscle and fat—two things that help burn calories,” explains Dr. Ing. “But muscle burns more calories than muscle, so it’s important to focus on building muscle for successful weight loss. Don’t be afraid to try some light strength training.”
Work some activity into your day
If ramping up workouts doesn’t sound like your style, look for opportunities to work activity into other areas of your day, instead. Take a walk during your lunch break, or keep a pair of dumbbells next to the couch and turn your commercial breaks into mini-weight training sessions.
Make time for sleep
What does the quality of your sleep have to do with weight loss? More than you might think.
“When you’re short on sleep, two hormones that regulate your hunger cycle are affected: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin cues hunger, and leptin tells your body when it’s full. When you’re tired, your body produces more ghrelin and less leptin, which keeps you hungrier,” explains Dr. Ing.
This can be why, when you’re in the midst of a busy week at work or traveling, you’re more likely to binge eat or snack in between meals. In addition, you might be more likely to practice unhealthy behaviors like skipping the gym or overindulging in alcohol.
While missing a few hours of sleep every now and then won’t throw your hormones off balance, repeatedly skimping on sleep can take a toll on your efforts and could be the reason for a plateau. Set aside time for quality sleep, and aim for about seven to eight hours per night.
Re-assess your goal
If you’ve tried all of these techniques and still can’t break through your weight loss plateau, it might be time to re-think whether your weight loss goal is a reasonable one for you.
If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight and are in a healthy range for your age and height, you may not need to lose any additional weight. An appointment with your primary care doctor can help you determine the appropriate weight for you and whether or not your goal is a healthy one.
However, if after a meeting with your primary care doctor, you still need to lose weight but are struggling to find success with diet and exercise, there are other options available for you.
“Bariatric surgery can be an option for patients who have not found success with traditional weight loss techniques. It can also help to eliminate chronic health problems that are often related to weight, like high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and high cholesterol,” says Dr. Ing. “Bariatric surgery differs from weight loss through diet and exercise because surgery alters gut hormones that control hunger and your body’s sense of fullness. So after surgery a person is able to lose a much greater amount of weight and not experience weight regain.”
If you’re interested in learning more about long-term weight loss success, join the bariatric program team for an upcoming information session or learn more about Main Line Health’s nutrition counseling and weight management services.