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Hit A Plateau? 3 Keys To Moving Forward

weightIt’s a familiar refrain. You started a weight loss plan, perhaps consisting of a reduced-calorie diet coupled with some reasonable exercise. And you got some terrific results. After years of being overweight, you were able to finally watch the scale start to move backwards, and your smile was getting bigger and bigger as your weight decreased. Then, the unimaginable happened. You got on your scale and you noticed that it had stopped its downward progress.

This can be very discouraging. Why is this happening? And what is more, how can you start that scale’s downward progression again? Here are a few tips that will help.

Physical Causes

When you first started your diet/exercise plan, you likely saw rapid weight loss. This fast reduction doesn’t last forever and almost always slows down after a short period of time. This is very, very common. Why? The Mayo Clinic describes the reason, saying,

When calories from food are reduced, the body gets needed energy by releasing its stores of glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. Glycogen holds on to water, so when glycogen is burned for energy, it also releases water, resulting in substantial weight loss that’s mostly water.

After a couple of weeks, another factor comes into play that can stymie your efforts to some degree. When you start to lose muscle during a weight loss plan, your metabolism can slow. Part of the reason for this is that you total muscle mass decreases on a heavily restricted diet. Your body actually burns your muscles for energy. With reduced muscle mass comes reduced metabolism, so even when you do the same activities you did before, you burn fewer calories than you used to, with the consequent reduction or plateau in your weight loss.

Knowing these physical causes is a first step towards finding an action plan. It also is the first step towards getting the right mental attitude, as discussed next.

It Starts Between the Ears

Right at this point, when you are discouraged and down, is a dangerous time. It may be here that you decide that your program isn’t working, and tell yourself that it’s simply not worth “depriving” yourself. This can lead to a pattern of yo-yo dieting, where you go ahead and give in to that tempting, high-calorie meal, get discouraged and say a little binge won’t hurt, and then give up on your healthy eating plan entirely. Of course, after a while, you realize you’ve gained back all the weight you lost, and then decide to get serious again. But losing and gaining weight like this is dangerous. Medicinenet.com tells us:

Some studies suggest that weight cycling may increase the risk for certain health problems. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and gallbladder disease.

The worst thing you can do right now is revert to your old eating patterns. Remember that you are already experiencing the health benefits of the weight you’ve lost. You also need to evaluate your overall health goals here. Ask yourself what you really want to achieve. Do you simply want to look great for your beach vacation next month? Or do you want to move to a pattern of life that is healthier, with permanent results?

Keep Good Records

Understanding how much food you are actually taking in is important, as is keeping a good weight loss chart.

As far as weight loss is concerned, you may want to be careful about obsessively getting on the scale every day. Some recommend only getting on it weekly. That way, you’ll see long-term trends as opposed to short term goals. Also keep in mind, it is normal for weight to fluctuate quite a lot during the day, sometimes more than five pounds (almost all water weight.) Therefore, weigh yourself at the same time each day. Make it part of your morning ritual, before you start in on breakfast. If you’ve hit a plateau, it is also important to track everything you eat. WebMD tells us:

Underestimating just how much food you’ve eaten is a common mistake, one that can lead to a weight loss plateau or weight gain.

It is easy to underestimate the calories that are taken in. Sometimes, you can simply forget what you’ve eaten, especially if these are between-meal snacks. It is also very common over the course of a diet for your portion sizes to increase. Keeping a record of everything that passes your lips will prevent this. If you also record how you were feeling, you can home in on feelings that could be triggers for overeating in your case. Also, you will be able to note when you might be cheating. This can help identify times where you especially need to be on guard, perhaps having ready-to-hand a healthy alternative that won’t cause you to substantially blow you diet.

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

Most people do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Even the relatively conservative U.S. guidelines recommend 7-13 cups of produce each day. These nutrient-packed foods have enormous health benefits; they contain many vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that your body needs. When your body senses a deficiency, it can trigger hunger pangs, even when it doesn’t need more calories.

One advantage of choosing these foods is the amount of bulk that non-starchy vegetables contain. Your stomach has stretch receptors. A given number of calories in green vegetables takes up much, much more room than, say, that same amount of protein or fat. When you eat large quantities of these leafy greens, these stretch receptors are activated, signaling your body that it is full.

With leafy green vegetables, it is impossible to eat too many. You simply can’t eat enough to get fat, and your body has to do a significant amount of work to extract the nutrients in it, lowering the calorie hit even further, sometimes into negative territory!

Try this: Fill your plate with vegetables, preferably a salad (low calorie dressing, please), treating any meat and starches as the side dish. Start your meal with that salad. Doing so will satiate your appetite much more quickly, keeping you satisfied and making you feel less deprived.

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