Beat that plateau!

Laura Greaves
Friday, April 24, 2009
(Photo: Getty Images)

Number on the scales refusing to budge? Don’t panic! Most slimmers will hit a weight-loss ‘plateau’ at some stage. The good news is it’s easy to overcome

So you’re doing everything right. You eat healthily, exercise regularly and have even reduced your Milky Way habit to just one a week. You’ve been thrilled to see the needle on the scales creeping further to the left week after week.

But now, despite your diligent efforts, that needle seems to be very firmly stuck. Welcome to your weight-loss plateau.

A plateau is that frustrating point in your slimming journey when your weight remains determinedly unchanged – often for weeks on end – even though you haven’t wavered from your healthy eating and exercise regime. If it’s happened to you, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

‘It’s absolutely vital to recognise that plateaus are a natural part of the weight-loss process. It’s a bit of a shock when you hit one, but it is normal,’ says Weight Watchers nutrition adviser Emma Stirling. ‘There’s a bit of an urban myth that you’ll constantly lose weight at the rate of half a kilo to a kilo per week. You expect it to be this nice downward graph but it won’t always be that way.’

Stuck on you
So what causes your weight to stick fast even when you’re following your weight-loss plan to the letter?

Contrary to popular belief, a plateau is not just in your mind. While it can be due to boredom or to extra kilojoules sneaking in because you’ve subconsciously relaxed your diet, there are also physiological factors at play.

The main culprit is the body’s age-old instinct to keep its fat stores topped up in case of famine. ‘If you’ve lost too much weight too quickly, it causes a drop in your lean body tissue or muscle mass. That’s what drives your metabolism so it slows, causing a plateau,’ Emma explains.

‘This is a built-in survival mechanism that the body developed far back in its genetic make-up that says, “You’ve been losing weight for a while – this is not good”. It puts a number of stops in place to help conserve your fat stores and so the rate of weight loss slows.’

Added to this, studies show that weight loss can decrease levels of the hormone leptin – which tells the brain when the body has had enough to eat – so the appetite increases. ‘People just feel so hungry and think: “I’ve hit a plateau because I’ve eaten more” but the body may actually be driving that,’ says Emma.

Beat it!
If your weight has stayed the same for just a week or two, it may not be a true plateau. Everything from the time of day you weigh yourself and the clothes you’re wearing to hormonal changes and fluid retention can affect your weight and cause the rate of kilo-loss to appear stalled.

It’s when your weight hasn’t budged after several weeks that you need to look for creative ways to get that number on the scales moving again. ‘If you’re losing less than 200g a week on average, then we would class that as a plateau,’ Emma says.

So how can you nudge those stubborn kilos in the right direction?

‘FESS UP: ‘Be truthful and look at your adherence to your weight-loss plan. Can you look back and see some sort of pattern that’s contributing to the weight not coming off?’ Emma asks. ‘You might be nibbling while you’re cooking or having a few more glasses of wine at the weekend, or your exercise might have dropped off over the colder months.’ Keep a food and fitness diary to help you identify where you might be going wrong.

MIX IT UP: Try something new. Sign up for a new class at the gym, haul your bike out of the garden shed, or swap your breakfast cereal for a poached egg on toast once a week. ‘It’s about shaking up your routine and finding ways to kick-start the weight loss again,’ Emma advises.

GET ORGANISED: When we’re busy, it’s all too easy to convince ourselves we don’t have time for cooking healthy meals – so sit down on a Sunday evening and write a menu for the week. ‘Get as organised as you can and shop for all that healthy food so you can stick to that menu,’ says Emma.

KEEP TABS ON YOUR kJ: When you have more than 20kg to lose, you should aim to eat 7,325kJ daily. When you have just 5kg to shift, however, that comes down to 5,250kJ. Don’t forget to keep a watchful eye on your portion sizes and regularly revise your menus to suit your svelte new shape.

DON’T GIVE UP: ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself. Celebrate other things,’ Emma advises. ‘The number on the scales may not have changed but you may have gained muscle or toned your thighs. The scales aren’t everything.’

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