Dear Lifehacker, A few years ago I lost 30kgs over the course of a year with diet and exercise and have managed to keep it off. The problem is that the weight loss has plateaued out and I find myself doing the same routine and getting no results. I want to shed another 10kg and maybe add some muscle, but nothing seems to work. Should I hire a personal trainer or is there some miracle solution I haven't thought of? Thanks, AB
It's completely normal to hit a plateau after a spell of successful weight loss. As you begin to reach your optimal body size, it becomes increasingly difficult to work off more energy than your consume.
However, this doesn't necessarily mean that you need to pay for a professional. You just need to change things up a little while maintaining a healthy diet (this means not starving yourself.)
First of all, there's no reason to despair. As we explained in a recent post, the dreaded weight-loss plateau is actually a good thing -- it should be treated as a milestone rather than an annoying hurdle:
Weight loss can be fast in the beginning because the more weight you have to lose, the faster it comes off. The closer you get to your goal weight, the slower things get. So it’s not a sign you’re doing something wrong; it’s a sign you’ve done things right! It’s a sign that you’re completely normal and have hit a point that everyone hits on their weight-loss journey. A plateau is a mark on the road, letting you know you’re heading in the right direction, and that you’ve made a lot of progress.
So what can you do to circumvent this biological roadblock? One possible solution is to up your calorie intake. Hear us out. Science has shown that cutting back on calories for a long period of time can lower your metabolic rate to conserve energy. The end result is less weight loss even with increased exercise. By alternating your calorie intake between between high and low days, you should be able to get your metabolism back to normal. Explains nutritionist Monica Reinagel:
You could alternate between 2000-calorie days and 1200-calorie days. Over the course of a week, you’d trim an extra 1400 calories but the higher calorie days should help keep your lizard brain from panicking.
Plus, the introduction of high-calorie days will help to keep your willpower under control. (i.e. -- you can eat the occasional treat as part of your diet.) Just be mindful that calorie cycling is not for everyone: if you have a medical condition such as diabetes, you should definitely consult your GP first.
Another obvious solution is to upgrade your workout. Try alternating between two 30-45 minute full body workouts, at least two times per week. (You can find some examples in this workout guide.) If you're using weights, make sure they are loaded to maximise the amount of energy you burn. For example, you should feel pretty wiped after 10 reps -- if it feels like you could easily do five more, you need to increase the weights for that exercise. This will also help with muscle growth.
Most health professionals do not recommend working out every day, as you need to give your muscles a chance to recuperate. However, it's important to remain active on your days off even if it's just going for a jog. Putting a little extra effort into your non-gym days can make a significant difference to weight loss.
As we mentioned earlier, it's important not to starve yourself in a bid to lose weight, but you also need to ensure you aren't consuming more energy than you burn off. If you're taking in too many calories, exercise will not lead to weight loss resulting in a perpetual plateau that there's no escape from.
If you're not doing so already, track everything you eat and keep a record of the total kilojoules consumed each day. There are a multitude of apps that can help with this, although a trusty notepad will get the job done just as well. Just use whatever method works best for you and be sure to stick to it.
In terms of what to eat, it's obviously a good idea to avoid overly processed foods which contain little nutritional value and encourage overeating. In short, you need to make those kilojoules count. Good options include beef, pork, chicken, seafood, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, potatoes, pasta, rice and cereals. As always, moderation is key.
You can find oodles of additional advice via our healthy eating, exercise and weight loss tags. Good luck! We'd also like to hear from readers on this one -- what weight-loss strategies have you found effective after hitting a wall? Let AB know in the comments section below.
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