After finally committing to a clean diet and regular fitness routine, the pounds starting flying off and your abs started shining through. But then, disaster struck! The scale stopped tipping in your favor—despite your commitment to your program.
We’re not going to sugar coat it, weight loss plateaus, straight up suck. And they’re made even more annoying by the fact that they always seem to come around when the finish line is finally in sight; when there are just 10 pesky pounds left to lose. If that sounds like your struggle, you’re definitely not alone. A quick Google on the topic is all it takes to see that tons of dieters are having trouble shedding the last few pounds. Is there a logical explanation? Yes. In fact, there are actually a few of them. Is it actually possible to reach your goal weight? Absolutely—so long as you gain some insight into why your plateau occurred in the first place.
To shed some light onto what may be to blame, we checked in with leading weight loss experts and dug through the science of stalled weight loss. Read on to find out what we uncovered and how you can finally get back on track towards your goal weight.
1. Your Metabolism Is slower
It’s a little-known fact but the lighter you are, the fewer calories your body burns at rest, according to weight loss expert, Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D. In fact, for every 5 pounds you lose, Fernstrom says you’ll need to consume about 100 fewer calories to continue shrinking your gut. That means that if you needed to consume about 2,300 calories a day at the beginning of your program, you may only need 1,900 after you’ve shed 20 pounds. But these figures are just estimates. If you want to find out exactly how many calories your body needs to continue trimming down, you’ll need to take a metabolic test. This will reveal exactly how many calories your body burns at rest. Many dietitians and high-end gyms offer this service and, yes, it’s totally worth the cash.
2. Your bedroom isn't dark enough
If you live someplace with a lot of light pollution (like a big city), you may want to think about springing for some blackout curtains or a sleeping mask. When you don’t sleep in a dark enough room, your body can’t produce the necessary amounts of melatonin for a good night’s rest. And when you don’t sleep soundly, you’re more likely to be overweight. In fact, an American Journal of Epidemiology study found that people who slept in the darkest rooms were 21 percent less likely to be obese than those snoozing in the lightest rooms. Isabel Smith, a registered dietitian who was not involved with the study, explains that this is likely due to the connection between hunger hormones and sleep. “When you don’t get quality shut-eye, you may feel less satisfied by your food, which can contribute to overeating. And aim to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep in a dark and quiet space whenever possible,” Smith suggests.
3. You’re being less careful
When you first set out to lose weight, you likely thought about—and maybe even recorded—every single morsel of food that passed your lips. Over time, however, it’s natural to become less careful, which could be slowing your progress. “After a while dieters lose interest in following their meal plan,” Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND, tells us, adding, “At the beginning of a new program, weight is typically shed quickly. This initial weight loss is exciting and often keeps a dieter motivated. But as time passes and the weight loss slows, so, too can the motivation to stay on track with a diet.” The worst part is, you may not even realize that you’ve loosed the reins. To get back on track Palumbo suggests upping your protein intake to ward off excess snacking. Another way to stay motivated: reward yourself! “For every week that you’re at least 90 percent compliant with your weight loss plan, celebrate by buying tickets to a movie or concert, getting a massage, or buying a new pair of running shoes. There are many great ways to celebrate as your physique changes!”
4. Food tastes more delicious
Chew on this: As you lose weight, a hormonal shift occurs that affects how your taste buds communicate with the brain, found a Stanford University study. As a result, things like burgers and chips taste far more delicious after you’ve dropped a pant size or two. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. The better these indulgences taste, the more you’ll enjoy them but the harder they may become to eat in moderation. To avoid overdoing it and stalling your weight loss, drink 16-ounces of water before you chow down. One clinical trial found that research participants who followed this strategy consumed between 75 and 90 fewer calories during their meal. Another thing that may help: chewing gum or popping a mint once you begin to feel full. This will keep your mouth busy so you don’t go back for more grub your body doesn’t need.
5. Your "eating window" is too wide
While eating every three or four hours may help ward off hunger and blood sugar dips that can lead to overeating and poor diet decisions, if you nosh all day right up until you go to sleep you may not progress as quickly as you’d like, explains Palumbo, who suggests sticking to a 12-hour eating window. “Rodent research published in the journal *Cell Metabolism* found that the time span in which food is eaten can majorly influence metabolism. In the study, they found that confining food consumption to a 12-hour window aided weight loss, even if no other changes were made to the animals’ diets. The clock begins once you eat or drink anything with calories, such as a cup of coffee with sugar or milk. If you drink it at 6:30 a.m., you should be done eating or drinking 12 hours later at 6:30 p.m.,” she explains.
6. You’re always on the road
If you spend a lot of time on the road for work, there’s a very good chance that’s why you can’t ditch those last stubborn pounds, accord to a Columbia University study. The intellects behind the report say those who travel for work are more likely to make poor food choices than those with a more standard routine. The same report also found that those who travel for work two weeks or more each month have higher BMI and higher rates of obesity. To keep the pounds at bay while on the road, Smith recommends eating fruit- and veggie-centric snacks every 3 to 4 hours and keeping a reusable water bottle by your side to reach your fluid goals. “Vegetable consumption and water intake are two things that majorly impact weight loss,” she explains. For even more stay lean tips don’t miss these 9 Ways to Stay Lean on Business Trips.
7. The people around you are overweight
“If you’re surrounded by people who constantly eat fries and burgers there’s a very good chance you’ll give into the urge to eat junk, too,” cautions Smith. Scientists concur. According to a review published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people conform to the “eating norms” of those around them. To help the scale start dipping in your favor, always keep healthy snacks on hand (being hungry makes it near impossible to stick to your guns around junk food) and don’t worry about being the odd-man out. Next time you go out to eat, order first. This way you won’t be tempted to say “make that three” when your dining companions all spring for the deep dish and ale.
8. You eat too much salt
You may already know that eating too much sodium can cause water retention and bloat, but what you may not know is that salt can cause actual weight gain, too. And that’s because consuming too much sodium can lead to fatty foods cravings and binges, according to two Deakin University studies. Salt has also been shown to mess with the body’s satiety signals, which can make it more difficult to cut yourself off before you consume more calories than your body needs. To stick to the recommended upper limit intake of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, limit your intake of restaurant food and cut back on sodium-filled grocery items like chips, soup, frozen meals, beef jerky, tomato sauce, and soda.
9. You don't cheat often enough
Not only can a cheat meal help ward off the monotony of grilled chicken, veggies, and protein shakes, it can help keep your hormones in check, too. “When you lose fat, production of leptin—the satiety hormone—decreases to prevent starvation,” explains Palumbo. That means you may feel more hungry than when you were heavier. “This may prevent a person from losing weight or keeping it off,” cautions Palumbo. Sure, prescription medications can help to counteract this, but some experts believe that a carb-rich cheat meal can also do the trick because it tells your brain that you’re not actually starving. As a result, the body begins burning calories at a normal rate again. While we can’t guarantee this will work for everyone, it’s definitely worth trying once or twice to see how it affects your progress.
10. You’re not eating enough fiber
Many dieters focus on consuming more protein and don’t give fiber much thought—which is a big mistake. “Many of us are still short on fiber, a nutrient that may affect our ability to lose weight,” cautions Palumbo, adding, “In addition to whole grains, eating plenty of vegetables can easily up your fiber intake. Other foods surprisingly packed with fiber include beans, oatmeal, berries, and pears.”