Why Is Your Weight Loss Stalled?
Without realizing it, you could be sabotaging your diet. Learn about common diet mistakes that can stop you from losing weight and how to get your weight loss back on track.
By Julie Davis
“When people embark on an exercise and food program to lose weight, they automatically think that ‘magic’ will happen,” explains Susan Kraus, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. “In theory it sounds great, but it takes much longer to lose weight and more effort than this simple combination, even when all good intentions are there.” It’s easy to trip yourself up along the way with common diet mistakes or by not being vigilant in your efforts. Here are 12 reasons your weight loss could be stuck.
“Many people overestimate how much they are burning when exercising. Many factors determine calories burned, including duration and intensity of exercise, whether the intensity is varied, and the type of exercise. Weight-bearing exercise, like running, walking, and aerobics, leads to burning more calories since gravity requires the body to work harder. With non-weight-bearing exercise, like cycling and swimming, there isn’t as much gravitational stress on the muscles, which means fewer calories are expended,” explains Kraus. “The best way to truly monitor your exercise would be via a journal and heart monitor to see the actual duration and intensity, and how they could be increased.”
“There are many regulatory hormones secreted at night and during periods of sleep,” says Kraus. “The lack of sleep could possibly affect the proper sequence of hormone release.” Staying up late may lead to extra calories if yousnack when you watch late-night TV or party with friends.
A study done at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh found that stress can lead to weight gain in women, particularly in middle-aged women. “There seems to be a link between having altered sleep patterns and fat conservation — both possibly hormonally related — but also many women simply manage their feelings with food, eating mindlessly, because food is a very accessible and quick soothing resource,” says Kraus. And unfortunately, an easy way for the calories to add up.
Skipping meals can lead to food cravings and overeating later in the day — reaching for whatever food is available and making up for the missed calories by eating more. Research at Vanderbilt University found that after approximately 72 hours of not eating consistently, the body shuts down its calorie-burning abilities and begins to store fat, warns Kraus. In clinical studies, after one week, healthy women were seen to lose 16 percent of their resting energy expenditure, which led to increased fat storage and a decrease in metabolism.
You might think you’re cutting back on portions, but may not realize the real number of calories you’re eating. Kraus makes these suggestions: Use measuring utensils and a food scale; learn visual cues to estimate portion sizes. For instance, three ounces of protein is the size of a deck of cards or a checkbook, one cup of rice or pasta resembles a baseball, and one ounce of cheese looks like two playing dice. Keep a food journal of everything you eat and drink to be truly aware of the total amount consumed over the course of the day.
“Very often people lose sight that beverages can contribute a significant number of calories,” says Kraus. Consider the calories in these 12-ounce servings: regular soda, between 150 and 200; no-sugar-added fruit juice, up to 180; sweet tea, about 150; and many sports drinks, 100 or more. Drinking three servings daily over a week can add up to 3,500 calories, or the one pound of weight you could have lost. “Switch to good, plain water, and you will save lots of calories and start to see the weight come down,” says Kraus.
You go to the salad bar and load up on veggies, but then add hundreds of calories with rich dressing and toppings like grated cheese, bacon bits, and croutons. You burn 300 calories by walking for three miles, but then eat a muffin with the same number of calories, erasing the effect of the workout. “You need a healthy, calorie-controlled meal plan with exercise to help maximize calorie burning and encourage the calorie deficit needed for weight control,” says Kraus. Resist becoming lax about calories because you exercise, and resist becoming lax about exercise just because you’re cutting calories.
“Weekend indulgences add up very quickly,” says Kraus. Having an appetizer before dinner, eating extra snacks, and splurging on dessert and alcoholic drinks will increase your daily intake by several hundred calories. “The problem is that whatever is eaten over the weekend will have an impact over the entire week. Rather than taking in 1,300 calories a day that could lead to weight loss, your average might end up being closer to 1,600, wiping out any weight loss,” explains Kraus. One solution, says Kraus, is to eat specific indulgence foods over the weekend within your diet calorie limit.
“Weight loss needs time for us to see results, for the body to change its shape, access its fat stores and use them for energy, and re-contour itself by building lean body tissue,” says Kraus. “Remember, one pound of weight is equivalent to 3,500 calories. If you need 2,500 calories just to maintain your weight, you would need to consistently eat only 2,000 calories daily and exercise about 30 minutes daily (to burn another 250 calories) in order to see a true 1.5-pound weight loss in one week.” It sounds like a lot of effort — and it is. “Diet plans that make hard-to-believe promises are exactly that — hard to believe,” says Kraus.
Any condition leading to decreased mobility and less activity will make the ordeal of trying to lose weight even more of a challenge because exercise is limited and you might end up eating more if you’re home with more free time to snack. Some medications could lead to difficulty managing weight or even to weight gain, including steroids, some psychiatric medications, insulin, and certain beta blockers. Talk to your physician about alternatives, such as receiving some rehabilitation activity, adjusting meds, or working with a registered dietitian to embark on a specific meal plan, recommends Kraus.
Hitting a plateau is a common occurrence, but you need to realize that it isn’t “all about the weight,” says Kraus. You might be experiencing positive physiologic changes that may not be evident just by looking at a scale: As you’re losing fat tissue, you could also be gaining more lean body tissue and getting leaner. In time you’ll resume your weight loss, as your metabolic rate starts to increase. What appears to be a plateau could also be due to other factors including irregularity or fluid retention.
Your body could be trying to tell you that you are at an appropriate weight for your size and your height. Any further attempts at weight loss might lead to muscle loss and a slowing of yourmetabolism because it could take an extremely restrictive meal plan to attain and maintain a lower weight. Ask yourself why you want to continue to lose weight, if you could still manage a healthful lifestyle in doing so, what is inspiring you to want to lose more, and how healthy or appropriate that inspiration really is, says Kraus.