You started out on the right foot, cutting sugar and pledging to workout five days a week. And you were rewarded well for your efforts. The fat started melting away, and your target weight was well within reach. Suddenly, though, the scale stopped moving. You’re just as committed as ever, but nothing seems to be working anymore. You’ve hit the dreaded plateau.
If this sounds like you – and you’ve done everything possible to get the scale moving in your favor again – take heart: We have a list of weight-loss saboteurs that you may have never even considered.
You’re not paying attention to calories anymore.
Months of hitting the gym hard and passing up the bread basket at your favorite Italian restaurant can make you feel like you’ve got a little wiggle room in your diet, and soon you’re swiping stray chicken nuggets of your kids’ plates and splurging on dessert three nights a week instead of just one. But those extra calories can add up quickly, and unless you’re carefully tracking your intake (via a food log, for example), they can derail your weight loss efforts without your even realizing it.
“My advice is to budget planned indulgences—like 100 calories of chocolate a day or a moderate, yet indulgent dinner out on a Saturday night—into an otherwise healthy diet,” says Christie Miller, certified personal trainer/fitness nutrition specialist and founder of EatTrainWin, LLC. “Deprivation doesn’t last; it’s not sustainable.”
Also, says Miller, when you fall off the wagon, you need to get right back on. “If you ate and drank too much on Saturday night, don’t wait until Monday to get started again. Likewise, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water after having an off-plan lunch. Plan a light, healthy dinner and get right back on track. Waiting equals guaranteed failure, and nobody wants that.”
If you thought it was a coincidence that the needle on the scale got stuck the same week you broke up with your live-in boyfriend and found out that you got passed over for that promotion at work, here’s a newsflash: Stress and weight loss just don’t mix.
“When we are under stress, we tend to reach for quick and fast sources of energy like cookies, coffee, candy bars, processed chips and sugary treats,” says health and wellness coach Jeanine Finelli. “This nutritional slaughter results in our adrenal glands waiving the white flag, in a sense. They are the producers of our energy hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, and when we overdose on caffeine, sugar and processed food, the adrenal function declines. This means less energy and more cravings! The result is our body becomes in a state of fight or flight and will hold onto every calorie for pending ‘danger.’”
Your workouts are too easy.
Sure, Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred may have thoroughly kicked your butt the first 100 times you did it, but if you’re still doing that same workout 6 months later, there’s a good chance it’s the reason you’ve yet to reach your ideal weight. When your exercise routine is too easy and you’re no longer challenging your body, weight loss stalls, says Jenny Petitti, RD, founder of Wellness with Light LLC. And you may also be sabotaging yourself with shorter workouts, she adds. “For maintenance of weight loss you need about 60 minutes of cardio most days a week and, again, that’s just for weight maintenance.”
On the bright side, if you really have been working hard in the gym, you may not have actually hit a plateau, Petitti says. Muscle weighs more than fat, so the scale may reflect little change even if you’ve totally redesigned your body composition. For a better gauge of results, step off the scale and check the mirror to see how those skinny jeans fit.
You have a food sensitivity.
Food allergies and sensitivities are no longer just for six-year-olds attending peanut-free schools. As it turns out, adults are increasingly discovering that they have issues with certain foods and, more often than not, those issues are translating into unwanted pounds.
According to Samantha Bielawski, a registered dietitian with LifeTime WeightLoss, food sensitivities can wreak all kind of havoc, from triggering excess cortisol production that causes blood sugar to rise, thereby increasing levels of the primary fat-storage hormone, to causing dips in serotonin levels that make it difficult to sleep and feel full after eating, while increasing mood swings and cravings for sweets and carbohydrates.
“From my practice as a dietitian, I see more and more clients achieve weight loss success with the results of a food sensitivity profile,” says Bielawski. “One client lost four pounds over one weekend simply by eliminating the foods to which she was most severely sensitive. What makes their stories even more rewarding are the reports of increased energy, better glucose control, improved mental clarity, better appetite regulation and clearing eczema.”
You’ve got the wrong mindset.
So you’ve heard all the “mind-over-matter” theories and ideologies suggesting that your brain is the most powerful too in helping you achieve everything from a six-figure bank account to the man of your dreams. Well, it’s also true in the case of sustained weight loss.
“It may seem counter-intuitive that our way of thinking has anything to do with our physical body, but it’s actually directly related,” says Dina Proctor, a mind-body connection coach and author of Madly Chasing Peace. “Most of us are overweight for emotional, not physical, reasons. We eat to soothe sadness and upset or to comfort ourselves in times of stress. The food for isn’t our problem – it’s our solution to the emotional roller coaster we try to navigate!
“Conventional diets require us to use willpower and motivation to stick to their programs, but if we feel like we are white-knuckling to keep ourselves on the diet and feel deprived in any way, we set ourselves up for failure. But when we switch from that feeling of motivation to a true feeling of inspiration – wanting nothing more than to eat and exercise in a way that honors and balances our body – we will break through the plateau.”