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October 7, 2012
By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

You work out five times a week, you watch your calorie
intake and you’ve cut out all those tempting, fattening
treats from your life but you’re not losing weight. What
gives? You started out well and saw the pounds drop off
but now, weeks later, you’re not losing any weight. Are
you doing something wrong? Stuck at a weight loss
plateau is a frustrating place to be. But even the strictest
dieters experience this situation at some point in their life.
What causes you to stop losing weight and what can you
do about it?

What is a Weight Loss Plateau?

Almost 45 million Americans diet each year and we spend
$33 billion on products to help achieve a fit, trim body,
according to Boston Medical Center. Most of us will not
have an easy ride to weight loss. At some point we find we
are not losing the weight we want. This weight loss plateau
can occur after months or days of diet or exercise but it is
frustrating whenever it happens.

Why Are You Not Losing Weight?

You’re no longer losing weight, despite clocking up the
hours in the gym and eating healthily, for a simple reason.
You hit a plateau when your metabolism slows.

When you first start to exercise or diet you can expect a
rapid drop in pounds because you get your energy through
a glycogen release, and glycogen holds onto water. When
this glycogen is burned for energy you also lose a
substantial amount of water, which accounts for the large
weight loss. Your metabolism is the process of burning
calories for energy and you burn fewer calories when
lighter then you did when you were heavier. You will no
longer be able to maintain the same weight loss without
decreasing the calories you eat or increasing your levels of

Your metabolism may be slowing for a number of reasons.
We’ve looked at the available scientific evidence to find out
why you’re not losing weight and what you can do about it.

Stick to a Weight Loss Routine

Your eating behaviors may be sabotaging your weight loss.
If you want to succeed in losing weight you need to stick
to an eating routine which involves never skipping meals
and almost never eating out, according to a 2012 study
from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

For example, women who skip meals lose around eight
pounds less than those who never miss meals, and women
who go out for lunch at least once a week lose on average
five fewer pounds than those who stay at their desks more

Skipping meals can stall your weight loss because your
body is acting as if in a fasting situation and reacting more
favorably to high calorie foods when available. In
restaurants we do not have the same control over portion
size or ingredients that we have in our own kitchen, so
even a healthy-seeming choice can be a lot more calorie-
laden than its home-cooked equivalent. The study of 123
women aged between 50 and 75 concluded that home
cooking and a regular eating routine was an effective
weight-loss regime.

How Many Calories Are You Really Consuming?

When you start a diet you probably know exactly what you
are eating and you definitely use the measuring scales and
cups to figure the correct portions. But as time goes by you
relax and let things slide – this is when you see the weight
loss slow or stop. How many calories are you actually
consuming? You could be eating more than you think.

The 2012 study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research
Center stressed the importance of keeping a food journal
when trying to lose weight because it is difficult to meet
your calorie goals when you are not paying close attention
to what you are eating. Women who kept a food journal
were likely to lose six pounds more than women who didn’
t. Be thorough and be honest – toppings, sauces, gravies
and condiments count, as do soft drinks and the occasional
chip. There’s a big difference between the number of
calories in a small portion of pasta than in a super-size
version so continue to use your measuring devices.

Also, make sure you are not compensating for a reduction
in calories with an extra intake of calorific foods. For
example, artificial sweeteners can help you lose weight but
if you order a slice of chocolate cake with your diet soda
the end result will be weight gain or a lack of weight loss.

Are All Calories the Same?

Many experts believe not all calories are created equal
when it comes to weight loss. If you are stuck at a weight
loss plateau you may be consuming calories from the
wrong source. Dieters trying to maintain weight loss
burned significantly more calories (about 300 calories more
a day) while on a low-carbohydrate diet than they did on a
low-fat diet, according to a 2012 study funded by the
National Institutes of Health. A low-carb diet emphasizes
meat, fish, eggs, and some vegetables while cutting intake
of bread, pasta, rice, cakes, potatoes and starchy

However, these findings are preliminary and are often
disputed by scientists who claim the opposite is true – low-
fat is more effective than low-carb.

Strangely enough, if you are not losing weight you may
need more calories, rather than less. If you are exercising
and following a low calorie diet your body can think it’s
starving and it will hang onto calories in the form of fat.
Strike a balance by eating enough calories to feel healthy
while losing weight.

Exercise: Fears, Ruts and Myths

If you’re not losing weight, shape up your exercise routine.
When it comes to shedding the pounds, diet and exercise
are most effective when done together rather than alone,
according to a 2011 study from the Fred Hutchinson
Cancer Research Center. Women in the study who both
improved their diet and took regular exercise lost an
average of 11 percent of their body weight after one year.
Women in the exercise-only group lost an average of 2.4
percent of their body weight, while women you only dieted
lost an average of 8.5 percent.  

Some people steer clear of exercise because they fear it
over-stimulates the appetite and causes you to eat more.
But experts say this is not the case – you are not stuck at a
weight loss plateau because you are exercising. A 2009
study by the American College of Sports Medicine, and
other experts, say exercise doesn’t make losing weight

If you’re no longer seeing the benefits you once did from
exercise it may be time to try a new sport, switch to a
different aerobics class, or change the frequency or
duration of your work out. This can help get your weight
loss back on course.

You May Be Losing Fat but Gaining Muscle

If you’re exercising and not losing weight then look on the
bright side – you could be gaining muscle at the same time,
which accounts for the plateau.

Track your body fat percentage over a period of weeks and
see if your body fat is dropping while your weight stays the
same. A drop in body fat brings a lot of benefits to your

Guard Against Weight Loss Plateau Depression

It is important to remember that a slow-down or halt in
weight loss is a normal and natural part of life for people
trying to diet or exercise. In no way should you give up
and return to your old ways because you’ve had a bad
weight-loss week. A 2007 study from Laval University,
Quebec, Canada looked at the psychological effects in
obese men experiencing a weight loss plateau and found
depression risk significantly increased at the plateau
compared with the baseline. It is important to set
reasonable objectives and be a little flexible when pursuing
weight loss over the long term.

Is it Your Age?

A 2012 study from the University of Pittsburgh Department
of Health and Physical Activity has shown long term weight
loss is extremely hard for post-menopausal women to
achieve. Post-menopausal women, according to
researchers, naturally expend less energy and weight loss
strategies that were successful earlier in life are not as
likely to work. As you lose weight your resting metabolic
rate decreases and your appetite related hormones
increase. Researchers suggest that taking weight loss as a
long term goal is more achievable to trying to lose weight
through fast-track diets or exercise plans, particularly
when you are over the age of 50.

Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our Editorial
Board, which includes Certified Fitness professionals.

Related Links
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home cooked meals help you lose weight
Home-cooked meals help you control portion size and ingredients.