Surviving a weight loss plateau is not just about overcoming an exercise or a nutrition issue. It requires one to balance one’s physiological, emotional and psychological states.
You can’t just blame the plateau on age and genes. Whenever you feel that you have stopped losing weight or your fitness level is not improving, you might consider the checklist below to break the so-called “weight loss plateau.”
Condition and physique
Do you have a condition that resists weight loss?
Consult a health professional, preferably an endocrinologist, to rule-out thyroid and hormonal problems like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). These conditions need to be analyzed and controlled by medical supervision.
Are you burning enough and eating the right amount of calories?
Every individual has his/her formula for weight loss. See a credible weight loss professional who can assess your current eating and exercise status. There should be a balance between your energy intake and output. You might be burning 800 calories per day, for example, but still exceeding the recommended calorie intake.
Have you already reached your leanest physique?
Based on my experience, lean individuals with lower fat percentages usually have a harder time losing the last three to five pounds. So if you’ve already reached a body fat level of 25 percent or less, then you have to work extra hard, especially when it comes to food quality (less fat, low-sodium, and less sugar) to lose the last few pounds. Keep a journal to effectively monitor and evaluate your calories.
Your weight and diet history
Have you already lost a huge amount of weight?
If you still eat the same amount of calories and have already lost at least 10 pounds, then you should be eating slightly less by now as compared to when you started your program.
To estimate, subtract 10 calories from your starting calorie intake for every pound of weight loss, provided that you have the same volume and intensity of exercise per week. So if you’ve already lost 20 pounds, then you should be eating 1,800 calories instead of 2,000 calories. Take note that individual calorie requirements differ, based on one’s fitness level, exercise types, weight, age and gender.
Are you eating the right combination of foods?
You should still stick to a balanced eating plan consisting of grains, protein, fat, fruits, and vegetables to get the most important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to improve your metabolism, increase energy level, have adequate recovery time, and function well during the day. If one of the food groups is missing, like carbohydrates, then your body will become inefficient in burning calories.
Are you still on very low-calorie fad diets?
Most people who are always trying quick fix diets commonly experience a weight loss plateau. Diets which require you to eat less than what you really burn daily—your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the amount of calories that you burn in 24 hours even without moving—makes you lose more of your lean weight (weight of muscles, water) than the fat.
Very low-calorie diets (less than 1,000 calories) will lead to muscle loss, slowing down of metabolism, and lack of energy to perform more exercises.
Your current physical training
Are you still exercising at the same intensity?
According to an article by Jason Karp published in IDEA Fitness Journal (May 2011), trainers should help clients break a plateau by helping them to gradually, systematically, and progressively add training stress their fitness programs.
For example, cardio can be tweaked to break a plateau by following different phases: Phase 1 is focusing more on increasing duration per week (high volume, low-intensity), phase 2 is a tempo workout (high volume, low to moderate intensity), phase 3 is interval training (moderate volume, high intensity), and phase 4 is interval training (low volume, very high intensity).
Are you still doing the same type of physical activities?
You need to vary your physical activities either by changing the training load and/or volume, or adding/combining you chosen exercise type with a new one so that your body will make more effort to adapt.
If you’re used to running five days a week, then maybe it is time to try a new activity to help break your plateau, like circuit training and swimming, great cross-training activities to improve your exercise performance and prevent injuries.
Your stress level and emotions
Do you lack rest and recovery time?
According to Karp, one of the most overlooked aspects of training is recovery because improvements occur during the recovery period and not during the workout itself. So if you’ve been exercising too much and eating right, but without enough recovery, then you will have a hard time adapting to your next training session. This would mean decline in performance and burnout.
Is your stress level high right now?
If your motivation is not as high as when you started, then there must be something going on in your life right now that needs to be resolved. You should accept that things like this happen and we don’t need to pressure ourselves when it comes to weight. Just being able to maintain weight is already an accomplishment.
If you experience relapses, then you should be ready to get up and do something about it, because attitude adjustment is very important in resolving weight issues.