Breaking the Weight Loss Plateau
August 31, 2015
With the start of a new year, you’re feeling more motivated than ever to look and feel your best. So you decide it’s finally time to lose those extra pounds. You start by going through your pantry and tossing all the unhealthy, fatty, processed, sugary foods, and then you revamp your diet to include mainly whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and veggies. You also start working out five days a week. And, much to your delight, the pounds start melting off consistently every week.
But then, one week, despite your careful dieting and hard work at the gym, the scale doesn’t budge. You try not to get discouraged, until the following week, when the same thing happens. And the next week, the scale actually goes up a few ounces. Frustration sets in, and your motivation to continue your healthy lifestyle slowly starts to wane.
Sound familiar? Far too many dieters have experienced a similar scenario—what’s known as the much-dreaded weight loss plateau.
Why Weight Loss Stops
So exactly what causes this phenomenon? Well, one of the main physiological reasons weight loss can come to a halt has to do with how your metabolism changes once your body starts dropping the extra pounds. These changes require you to make adjustments to your diet and exercise routines in order to keep losing weight, as you’ll see.
Let’s start with your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the energy your body uses when it’s at rest to maintain life-sustaining bodily functions, like blood flow and heart beat. BMR accounts for up to 70 percent of the calories you burn every day. Your BMR is determined mainly by your weight, but your height, age and sex also influence it.
When you lose weight, your BMR goes down. By example, the BMR of a 5’7”, 190 pound, 45-year-old woman is 1,539 calories. If this woman loses 30 pounds, her new BMR would be 1,403 calories. This means she burns 136 fewer calories when at rest.
First you need to determine your BMR (http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator), then you can figure out how many calories you need to burn in order to maintain your current weight or to lose more weight. A formula called the Harris Benedict equation (http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/harris-benedict-equation) takes into account your BMR and your activity level to give you a calorie amount you should be consuming every day to maintain your current weight. So if you want to lose weight, you would eat less than that amount.
It’s a good idea to reevaluate your BMR and plug it into the Harris Benedict formula every few months as you continue on your weight loss journey, especially when you hit plateaus. Plateaus are pretty clear indications that it’s time to readjust your calorie consumption.
Several other physiological factors can lead to weight loss plateaus as well. These include chronic stress, food allergies and hormonal and nutrient deficiencies.
Stress itself does not make you fat. However, stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol has an important role in helping your body respond to immediate stresses, but when it lingers in the body too long due to chronic stress, it can worsen insulin resistance, promote fat storage (often as abdominal fat)1 and even cause poor food choices and overeating.2
If you are experiencing chronic stress due to work, financial hardship, relationship problems or other issues, find ways to eliminate it as best you can. Therapy works wonders for some people, while yoga or meditation provides better relief for others. Discover something that works for you and stick with it.
When most of us think of food allergies, we think of life-threatening, throat-swelling reactions to foods like peanuts or shellfish. Fortunately, these types of severe allergies aren’t too common. However, what’s more common among children and adults alike are mild food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities that cause significantly less serious, though still troublesome, symptoms like gastrointestinal and digestive problems, chronic bloating and water retention.
When you eat a food to which you have an intolerance or sensitivity, the mucosal membrane of your intestinal tract reacts by becoming inflamed. The mucosa’s job is to release digested nutrients into the bloodstream through microscopic holes. But when it’s inflamed and swollen, gaps form in the mucosa that release inadequately digested food particles, as well as toxins, into the bloodstream. The immune system steps up to fight these invaders, which sets the stage for even more inflammation.
Remember, all injuries, whether caused by trauma, viruses, bacteria, toxins or allergens, are characterized by an inflammatory response. The real problem here develops when you constantly eat foods to which you are sensitive, because the intestinal inflammation becomes chronic and never goes away.
Worse yet, this chronic inflammatory response to food allergens has been linked to obesity. In fact, in one study of 120 people who wanted to lose weight, eliminating foods to which they were allergic/intolerant allowed them to not only lose weight, but also see improvements in body mass index, waist and hip circumferences, blood pressure measurements and overall quality of life.3
Some of the most common allergenic foods include wheat and other gluten-containing grains, dairy, tomatoes, soy, corn, nuts, shellfish, strawberries and eggs. Ironically, though, the foods many people are allergic or intolerant to also happen to be the ones that they crave the most or feel addicted to. Eating a problem food actually causes the body to release feel-good endorphins, a feeling that can quickly become quite addictive itself, not unlike those experiences from drugs or alcohol.
If you suspect you might have a food sensitivity or allergy, talk to your doctor about getting tested, or simply order a reliable home test kit (see www.vrp.com/test-kits/food-allergy-general).
You can also try an elimination diet at home. Start by eliminating, one by one, highly allergenic foods like the ones listed above. A good place to start is with the foods you crave the most. After a few weeks of not eating that particular food, start eating it again and see how you feel. If you find yourself feeling sluggish, bloated or gassy, then you likely have a mild allergy or sensitivity towards that item, and you should completely eliminate it from your diet.
Hormonal and Nutrient Deficiencies
As we age, our bodies produce fewer sex hormones. In women who enter menopause, especially, this hormonal shift can affect appetite and weight loss.
Estrogen affects the brain’s levels of neurotransmitters that control eating and appetite, so the decrease in estrogen that women experience during menopause can wreak havoc on appetite control.
Furthermore, deficiencies in nutrients like magnesium and chromium add fuel to the fire.
Magnesium is often overlooked as a key player in weight loss and maintenance. Lack of it can lead to the improper utilization of food, which has far-reaching effects, including obesity.4 Magnesium is also necessary to move glucose into cells, where it is used to make energy. Without sufficient magnesium, insulin and glucose become elevated, and the extra glucose gets stored as fat.5
Chromium picolinate is another overlooked nutrient in the war against the bulge. This nutrient plays a role in transporting insulin to cells, as well as metabolizing fats and carbohydrates. Chromium picolinate has even been found to be beneficial in boosting weight loss. In one study, researchers found that taking a minimum of 200 mcg of this nutrient daily for 72 days lead to significant improvement in body composition, including increased lean muscle mass and reduced body fat.6 Not only that, but chromium picolinate also has been found to decrease appetite and increase satiety.7
To get over a weight loss plateau, consider adding both of these nutrients to your daily supplement regimen. Aim for 300 to 400 mg of magnesium and 200 mcg of chromium daily. For severe imbalances, you may want to talk to your doctor about additional natural therapies to bring your hormones back into check.
Along with addressing all of these physiological aspects associated with weight loss plateaus, a few lifestyle and behavioral changes could get the scale moving again.
Keep your exercise varied. After a while of doing the same types of exercises day after day, your muscles tend to get used to the routine and no longer feel challenged. Keep your body guessing by changing up your exercise routine—alternating between cardio (jogging, tennis, jumping rope, box jumps, climbing stairs, sprinting) and strength/resistance training. And be sure to vary the intensity and duration of your exercise, as well.
Keep a food log. You may think you are staying within a certain amount of calories per day, but are you really? Did you consider that handful of M&Ms you took from your co-worker’s candy jar on your way to your meeting? Or the several sips of your spouse’s soda you enjoyed during the movie? Or that quick fast food breakfast you forgot you ate on your way to your doctor’s appointment? All those seemingly insignificant sips and snacks add up to a lot of excess calories. Be totally honest and truthful when keeping your food diary, and you’ll quickly learn where you can cut out unnecessary calories.
Reassess and reset your goals. Now that you’ve lost some weight, maybe it’s time to look at your original weight loss goal and see if it still applies to your life right now. Perhaps you are five pounds away from your goal weight and you’ve been stuck at this weight for a month. Well, it’s possible that your body has reached what it considers to be your ideal weight. If that’s the case, it might be time to start a weight maintenance plan instead of forcing your body to lose more weight than it really wants to.
While weight loss plateaus can be frustrating, they are, more often than not, a weight loss reality. Fortunately, making a few simple adjustments like the ones mentioned here can get you over the hump and back on track.
1. Yale News. http://news.yale.edu/2000/09/22/stress-may-cause-excess-abdominal-fat-otherwise-slender-women-study-conducted-yale-shows#.
3. Lewis JE, et al. J Obes Weig Los Ther. 2012,2:1.
4. Singh RB, et al. Magnes Res. 1998 Mar;11(1):3-10.
5. Alzaid AA, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1995 Apr;80(4):1376-81.
6. Kaats GR, et al. Curr Therap Res. 1996;57(10):747-56.
7. Anton SD, et al. Diabetes Technol Ther. 2008 Oct;10(5):405-12.
(obtained from the Whole Insider)
Food Allergies Intolerances/Sensitivities , Weight Management , Women's Health