Pushing Through Weight-Loss Plateaus

January 15, 2020
Weight-Loss Plateaus - Aiken Regional Medical Center, Aiken, SC

Losing weight is challenging enough, but hitting a plateau only makes it more difficult. Here are some ways to help keep weight loss moving in the right direction.

For those trying to lose weight, the struggle is indeed real. “During the first few weeks of dieting, rapid weight loss is typically seen because of reduced caloric intake,” says Alyssa Degnan, DO. “The body gets energy by releasing glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. When glycogen is burned for energy it releases water, resulting in an initial, temporary weight loss.”

People often lose muscle in addition to fatty tissue, Dr. Degnan explains. “Muscle mass is imperative to help maintain and keep the metabolism up, which is the rate at which calories are burned. So, as someone loses weight, their metabolism may decline, causing them to burn fewer calories per day than at their heavier weight,” she says. “That can lead to slower weight loss and a plateau.”

Other factors that can affect weight loss

Yo-yo dieting is the process of repeatedly losing and regaining weight. “It’s very common – about 30 percent of women and 10 percent of men have done it,” she says. “But studies have shown that yo-yo dieting can lead to increased body fat, muscle loss, fatty liver, risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”

The ability to lose weight is also affected by age. The older the person, the more difficult it is. “When you lose muscle mass, it leads to a decline in the resting metabolic rate, as muscle burns more calories than fat. But as you age, not only do you lose muscle mass more rapidly, but your body retains a higher percentage of fat,” says Dr. Degnan. “And higher stress levels lead to increased production of cortisol, the body’s stress response hormone. Unnecessarily high cortisol levels can then be stored as fat cell deposits in the body, especially around the abdomen.”

Changing up routines

Switching up your workouts can help you blast through a plateau. Large muscle groups become acclimated to the same workout week after week and are not challenged. “One recent study revealed those who engaged in integrated fitness training programs that include bench presses, seated rows, biceps curls and shoulder presses showed an increase in their maximum oxygen uptake, balance and muscular strength, while reducing their body fat percentage, blood pressure and resting heart rate,” says Dr. Degnan. “You may need to increase the time you work out as well, to get past the plateau. Look at ways that you can increase your physical activity during the day and incorporate more outdoor activities.”

Watching your diet is also important. Dr. Degnan says a diet rich in vegetables and leaner cuts of meat and fish can help make a big difference to shift back into weight-loss mode. She also advises giving up sugary drinks and junk food. “Do an honest assessment of your habits. Review your food and activity records to make sure that you have not become relaxed in your routine or are having larger portion sizes than normal. These are common pitfalls,” she says. “But don’t get discouraged. Ask yourself if you are happy with the current weight loss, or if you desire to lose more weight.”

Weight loss for seniors

If you are 65 or older, approach weight loss with caution. “Nearly 27 percent of seniors over the age of 65 will drop weight involuntarily due to social loneliness and isolation, chronic physical illness, medication side effects, mental illness/depression and decreased ability to perform activities of daily living,” says Dr. Degnan. “The goal is to maintain a healthy weight through establishing and maintaining a regular exercise routine, choosing foods that are high in protein, eating breakfast daily, staying hydrated, prioritizing sleep habits and limiting sugars and empty calories.”

Keeping the Weight Off

The National Weight Control registry reports the habits of more than 10,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept if off for a year:

  • 78 percent eat breakfast daily
  • 90 percent exercise about 60 minutes per day
  • 62 percent spend less than 10 hours per week watching television
  • 75 percent weigh themselves at least once per week