Most walkers trying to lose some weight will eventually hit a weight loss plateau – a point where the scale won’t budge. Don’t worry – it’s normal! What can you do if you’ve hit a speed bump in your weight loss journey?
According to the Mayo Clinic, when you first start reducing calories as part of a healthy diet, your body starts burning stored glycogen for its energy needs. Glycogen is partly water, so you may lose weight more quickly at first due to the drop in water retention. As you continue to lose weight, your body will burn stored fat and muscle for energy. Muscle helps make your metabolism faster, so your metabolism will slow slightly as you lose some muscle with the fat. You’ll also simply be lighter than before, which means your body burns fewer calories getting around. The combination of these factors causes many people to have initial successes, but then lose enthusiasm for their plan as they seem to get stuck on a weight loss plateau.
You don’t have to feel stuck at your current weight, however. There are many ways to make sure that you get down to a healthy weight.
Don’t Focus Solely On The Scale
Just looking at the number on the scale may simplify things, but this simplification comes at a cost. As you start exercising more, you may start to tone your muscles as well as burn fat. Muscle is denser than fat, which means that you may still be reducing body fat while your weight doesn’t change much.
Your weight on any particular day may also reflect water retention caused by hormone fluctuations and dietary change. You can get a better idea of your progress by measuring your waistline every month or so. An even better idea is just to note down how you feel after a walk every so often. Generally, if you feel healthier, you are doing better.
It’s also important to remember that everyone’s body type is different. Even if you have difficulty hitting that “magic number,” a better goal should be to get healthier and feel great. The number on the scale is just a target to help you along the way. Feeling great and being able to get active for longer is the result you’re looking for!
Change Up Your Exercise Routine
Your muscles become more efficient as they grow accustomed to a workout. This means that the exercise routine that helped you lose the weight may not cut it anymore once you’ve made some serious progress. When you’re just getting started, a 15-minute walking workout may feel very intense. If you’re an experienced walker, you may walk for an hour or more every day!
You may want to increase the intensity of your workouts and include strength training, since both have been shown to boost metabolism. The more you do walking workouts, the more endurance you’ll build up. This will allow you to walk further and walk faster than before, which can help burn more calories. Consider adding some spice to your workout, like getting more intense or trying Nordic walking!
Update Your Diet
The heavier you are, the more calories you need to perform your daily activities. There is simply more of you to move. The Mayo Clinic points out that this means that as you lose weight, the calories you need to maintain your current weight decreases. To get past your weight loss plateau, you may need to re-calibrate your diet to your new weight. Just make sure you’re eating AT LEAST the minimum number to stay healthy (generally 1500/day for men and 1200 for women). Changing your eating habits so that you eat more lean protein throughout the day may make it easier for you to keep to your new caloric requirements, too.
One great way to estimate what you should eat is to estimate your resting metabolic rate (RMR). RMR represents the number of calories you burn when not doing anything. Add on your exercise, and that’s what you burn during the day! Pacer’s coach can do this for you automatically, or you can use a calculator online (or check our piece linked above).
Be Honest About (and Track) What You Eat
As you start to lose weight, it’s easy to get careless and forget about portion sizes. It’s also easy to treat yourself to some food rewards to celebrate your success. This can undermine your success and put you on a weight loss plateau.
To combat this, you can try keeping a log of what you eat. You don’t necessarily need to track every day, but it can be a good exercise to pick an occasional day and take a look at just what you’re actually taking in. Once you understand how much you are actually eating, it will be easier to make healthy food choices.
Take a look at what you’re eating and see if there are high-calorie foods that don’t actually bring you joy and make you happy. Many of us drink soda or high-calorie coffee drinks out of habit. You don’t have to deprive yourself of your favorites, but you’ll often find that you can swap certain foods (or drinks) with healthier versions and not even notice. Swapping just one soda per day for unsweetened ice tea can really add up!
Find Ways To Manage Your Stress
Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases in times of stress. Cortisol is generally unhealthy, and can also cause increased levels of belly fat. Getting rid of stubborn belly fat is difficult enough as it is, so small changes in this area can make a big difference. Sometimes people deal with the increase in cortisol and stress by comfort eating, which can interfere with your healthy eating plan.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other, more healthful ways of dealing with stress. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi are great stress releasers (stress release + exercise like walking is an added bonus!). You can also set aside time for activities that help you unwind, such as taking a warm bath or sitting down with a good book. You might try writing down the things that stress you out and then write out a plan to deal with those stressors.
If you come up with a stress plan, you’ll have other options to go to before you grab something to eat. This can make it easier to stick to your healthy eating plan, and help to bust through weight loss plateaus.
Drink water, not calories!
Your body sometimes responds to feeling dehydrated by giving you a sensation that feels like hunger. Drinking plenty of water can help keep this false hunger feeling at bay. Just make sure that you are drinking low or no-calorie beverages that don’t have a lot of sugar or calories. Particularly steer clear of alcohol, which has nothing but empty calories.
Drinking calories is one of the easiest ways to derail a healthy eating plan. Most sugary drinks are not filling, and may actually make you feel hungrier. By choosing drinks like unsweetened iced tea or just good old plain water over sodas and sports drinks, you can go a long way towards eating healthier. Better yet, make your own low-calorie mocktail by adding lemon, cucumber, berries or other tasty treats to flavor your water.
Be Sure You Get Your Sleep
A lack of sleep causes a release of cortisol and a hormone called ghrelin. Both of these hormones cause you to hang onto fat, and contribute to eating more. You may have experienced a feeling of hunger when you’re tired that doesn’t seem to go away even after eating. That’s where it comes from!
Sleep is also the time when your body recovers from your tough walking workouts. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re likely to be sorer after a long walk and have less energy to walk the next day. You also may put yourself at greater risk of injury. Make sure you rest up and recover so you can keep hitting your step goals.
Lack of sleep also interferes with your thinking and makes controlling your impulses harder, which sabotages your weight loss plans. To get more sleep, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Try to schedule in 8 hours to sleep, and keep away from the screens a half an hour before bedtime.
Don’t Give Up
Weight loss plateaus are a normal part of losing weight. The human body is fantastic at adjusting to new situations, including exercising more and eating less. Chances are, yours will settle on a new comfort zone as soon as it can. Your goal should be to create a new, healthy comfort level for your body that you can stick with for a long time. So long as you stick with your goal and adjust your program to your circumstances, you will power through your weight loss plateau!
If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer now for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.