Weight Loss Plateau: How to Break the Cycle

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Why We Lose Weight Only to Plateau

All dieters will lose weight, then plateau once or even several times throughout any given weight loss program. Much in the same way that the body can build up a resistance to certain antibiotics, the human body can develop a resistance to certain weight loss regimens and exercise routines. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome a plateau and continue to lose weight.

Before we discuss the ways to overcome the inevitable plateau, it is important to understand why it occurs in the first place. When we start to lose weight, our bodies will attempt to maintain a specific weight called a “set point.” The set point theory suggests that the human body is programmed to remain within a range of 10-20 percent of your own individual set point. Certain chemicals, hormones, and even hunger signal help the body stay within this range.

In the beginning stages of any effective weight loss program, the individual will lose weight quickly. This part of the diet is where the individual will lose the most. Once the body weight begins to approach the set point, weight loss stalls because the body is fighting to keep your weight within the 10-20 percent range discussed earlier.

Unfortunately, in overweight persons, the body has reset its set point to the higher weight range. This will make it even more difficult to overcome a plateau when it occurs. Fortunately, according to Dawn Jackson Blatner, Associate Spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, with the right combination of diet and exercise, you can also reset your set point to defend a much lower weight range.

Fighting Back and Beating the Plateau

Although you might feel like giving up when you hit a plateau, you must continue to forge ahead because there is light at the end of the tunnel. According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ Move! Weight Management Program, plateaus are often temporary. You should stick with your program, but you should also tweak it a bit. The first step is to increase your physical activity. Try adding a few minutes to your regular workout routine and/or add an additional activity to your routine.

Next, start writing down what you eat, especially if you have neglected to do so for several weeks. Why? It is common for extra calories to creep into your diet plan without even knowing it. You may be eating larger portions after a particularly grueling workout session, you may be drinking extra calories (yes, vitamin water, “healthy” juices, soda, and sweet coffee drinks are loaded with calories), or maybe you tend to nibble on a few bits of candy or cookies every now and then, not realizing that small bites add up to extra calories in the diet.

After you have adjusted your diet plan and increased your workout times, the pounds will start to fall off again, slowly. Don’t let yourself get discouraged. While you may have lost 10 pounds or more during the first few weeks of your program, the weeks to follow should average 1-2 pounds per week. At this “healthy” rate of loss, you are more likely to keep the weight off.


United States Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

Phone: 1-800-827-1000

Website: www.move.org

Move! Weight Management Program: www.move.va.gov


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7th Floor

New York, NY 10011

Phone: 212-624-3700

Website: www.wbmd.com