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Ask Lisa: Break That Plateau

Crystal asks: "How do you break through a plateau?"

Crystal, I'm assuming that you are talking about a weight loss plateau in this instance. Happy to talk about breaking through life plateaus as well in a future post if you want!

I will use the analogy of a plane in flight from California to New York. It does not make a straight path. It veers a little over, a little under and eventually makes it to the destination. You will too! Do not be discouraged. Our bodies are not perfect machines (although they are pretty amazing!). A weight loss plateau is totally normal and you can get back on track.

Why do we plateau? When you first start losing weight, it tends to drop fast. This has to do with glycogen being used for energy. Glycogen is how carbs are stored in your muscles and liver and it holds a lot of water. So, when you initially cut calories (especially carbs), you lose water weight. Beyond that, your metabolism changes with weight loss. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy (calories) you need just to function at rest. Your BMR goes down as you lose weight.

The following numbers are just being used as an example. Let's say that you were able to maintain your starting weight at 2,000 calories per day. You started watching your calories and brought them down to 1,500 per day. You would lose about a pound per week. When you get to your lower weight, you can no longer maintain at 2,000 calories per day. You might maintain at 1,500. So, if you want to lose more, you'll need to bring your calories down to 1,400. You never want to bring your calories below 1,200 as it will slow down your metabolism! Your body tries to protect you. If it thinks you are starving yourself, it will "save" you by protecting the fat on your body. Give your body the confidence that you will fuel it and it will repay you with an efficient metabolism.

When you are truly over weight, small changes in diet and exercise will create big results. However, once you get to the point where you just have 5 - 10 vanity pounds to lose, it takes true fine tuning. You won't have as much room for error (or a treat in this case). Use a food journal or app such as Lose It to track your actual calories.

If you are truly watching your calories, it might be time to change up your workout. Try high intensity interval training and strength training (or a workout that combines the two) to increase your BMR. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate!

Finally, give yourself time. It is so much better to get to your goal slow and steady and to stay there for a lifetime!