If you recently started a diet to get ready for swimsuit season, you may have hit a plateau–a couple weeks in a row when the scale doesn’t seem to move despite your best efforts.
The causes of plateaus are complex. But there are things you can do to cross them. Here are a few ways you can jumpstart a dawdling weight-loss program:
• Weigh yourself just once a week. Sometimes what you think is a plateau is simply a normal fluctuation in weight. If you are prone to retaining fluid, for example, a high-salt meal or premenstrual bloating can add a couple pounds, while exercising (and sweating) could cause pounds to drop. For the most accurate measure of weight loss, weigh in just once a week, and also use other measures–such as how your clothes fit and how you feel. Taking circumference or body fat measurements can help too, but realize it may take six to eight weeks to notice a change.
• Have reasonable expectations. People lose weight at very different rates, so don’t take a diet’s promise that you’ll lose eight pounds a month too literally. In general, the more you have to lose, the faster it will come off; largely because you’re likely making a greater reduction in calories. You can expect to lose about one percent of your body weight each week–two pounds for a 200-pound person, one to one-and-a-half pounds for a 140-pound person.
• Exercise–but not too much. As soon as you start eating less, your metabolism slows down, reducing the rate at which you burn calories. Exercise can speed your metabolism back up. However, if you restrict calories too much or exercise too heavily your body will start hoarding calories and fat to prevent starvation. A good moderate plan consists of no more than an hour of exercise a day, including warm-up and cool-down, combined with reasonable calorie intake (no less than 1200 per day for women, 1500 for men.)
• Flush out excess water. Often, plateaus are due to fluid retention. To eliminate excess fluid, restrict your salt intake, drink more water, exercise, and eat more fruit–especially cantaloupe, honeydew, oranges, and bananas, which contain water-eliminating potassium. (Just don’t go overboard–they still have calories.)
• Juggle your diet. If nothing seems to work, change the balance of your diet around for a couple of days. For health reasons, we advocate that your diet normally contain at least 50 percent carbohydrates; but a few days with a little fewer carbohydrates and a little more protein can help you get off a plateau–and help you stay motivated.