Obesity expert reveals what you should do when weight loss hits plateaus: ScienceAlert

Anyone who’s tried to lose weight will know these nine frustrating words: The last five pounds are the hardest to lose.

You are about to reach your target weight, but all of a sudden the scale has stopped moving, even though you are still following the same healthy diet, lifestyle and exercise routine.

There is a scientific basis for why shedding the last few pounds is difficult called the weight loss plateau.

But before you Google one of those programs that promises to help you shed those last five pounds, here’s some important information about why it happens, and five simple things you can do to help yourself.

Understanding the Weight Loss Plateau

The weight loss plateau is basic biology.

When your body registers something that threatens its survival, it automatically triggers a series of physiological responses to protect itself against the threat.

So when we adjust our diet and reduce our calorie intake, our body registers that we are losing weight and thinks it is under threat. It makes adjustments for protection, lowers our metabolic rate and burns less energy, slowing the rate at which we lose weight.

It also secretes higher levels of an appetite hormone called ghrelin, which is known to increase hunger and help retain fat stores.

Research has shown that this plateau begins to slip between three and six months of weight loss, and then weight regain usually occurs. So, for those who need to lose a lot of weight, the plateau will be evident long before the last five pounds.

A weight loss plateau can be hard to break. Regardless of the period, this is a sign that your previously successful approach to weight loss needs to be changed.

Here’s what you can do.

1. Review your weight loss goal

The first and most important thing you may need to change when you hit a weight loss plateau is your definition of healthy body weight.

Ask yourself: what’s so special about the weight I’m trying to achieve?

Many people use body mass index (BMI) to set their weight loss goal, but the number on the scale – and the score generated when you enter your weight and height into the BMI calculator – is a nonsense. It doesn’t tell the whole story of what it means to be at a healthy weight.

This is because the BMI calculator misses two more meaningful measurements: body fat percentage and body fat distribution.

If you have been exercising regularly as part of your weight loss plan, you will have gained muscle or improved your muscle to fat ratio, and muscle is heavier than body fat, which impacts your the number on the scale.

You are also likely to have changed the distribution of fat in your body, reducing the amount of unhealthy fat stored around your stomach, near your organs, reducing your risk of disease.

So grab the tape measure, check your clothing size, and think about how you’re feeling to confirm if you really need to shed those last few pounds. Work towards a waist circumference of around 80cm for women and around 90-94cm for men.

2. Focus on meal size throughout the day

The current fad is intermittent fasting. This often means that breakfast is the first to be dropped from the menu in an effort to cut calories from the diet and shorten the time you are allowed to eat throughout the day.

But when you eat and how much you eat at each meal matters, and breakfast is the most important.

Controlled research studies have shown that this is when your body makes the best use of the calories you put in – in fact, it burns calories from a meal two and a half times more efficiently in the morning than in the evening.

Instead of shrinking your meal window, load up your breakfast and reduce the size of your evening meal.

3. Consider more muscle-strengthening exercises

Relying on diet alone to lose weight can reduce muscle as well as body fat. This slows down your metabolism and makes it harder to maintain weight over the long term.

Any physical activity will go a long way to preserving your muscle mass, but it’s important to incorporate a few days of muscle-strengthening exercises into your weekly exercise routine.

Bodyweight exercises — like push-ups, chin-ups, planks, and overhead squats — are just as effective as lifting weights in the gym.

4. Review your food intake

As you lose weight, your body needs less fuel, so it’s essential to review and adjust your calorie intake when you hit a weight loss plateau.

Generally speaking, you need to consume 10% fewer calories when you reduce your weight by 10%, just to maintain the new weight. But that shouldn’t mean deprivation or starvation.

Instead, you should focus on an abundance of nutrient-dense foods and limit treats and takeout to just once a week.

5. Check your stress

Stress will derail your weight loss success. Stress increases your body’s cortisol production, promoting fat storage and triggering unhealthy food cravings.

The best type of stress management is exercise. To encourage more exercise, grab something you like, whatever it is. But be sure to include variety, because doing the same routine every day is a surefire way to get bored and avoid activities, and can also make it difficult to reach your goals.

The bottom line

A weight loss plateau is frustrating and can derail your dieting attempt.

Understanding why the weight loss plateau is happening, making sure the weight loss goal you set is realistic, and following the steps above will get you back on track.The conversation

Nick Fuller, Charles Perkins Center Research Program Manager, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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