Most people who are into a weight loss diet start a love-hate relationship with the scale; some because the diets recommend it, others because they don’t trust the diet. They need some solid proof that the diet is delivering what it promised. Whatever your personal reason, you may come to a point where the scale reads more or less the same day after day, and even for weeks at a time.
There’s nothing more frustrating in a dieter’s life than this stand still––called plateau.
This is where many dieters end up after the initial euphoria and romance with the new diet program wears off. You might be riddled with doubt and self reproach.
Did I slip up?
What is it that I’m doing wrong?
Will I ever be able to get past this?
Hitting a plateau is not entirely your fault. It results from your body’s fight to survival; it wants to ensure that you don’t starve to death––by holding on to the remaining fat reserves. You’re actually working against your body when you try to lose weight, especially if you’ve been carrying around that extra weight for long. Hitting a plateau, or several plateaus, during your weight loss journey may be unavoidable, but there are a few things you can do to postpone and overcome this.
Tone down your life
Have you taken on more than you can handle? When you have to juggle your responsibilities both at home and at office, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to relax. Add to that social commitments, be it mandatory attendance at club meetings and parties or community work.
We all have a tendency to be overachievers. But that puts us under constant stress––or continuously high cortisol levels––which play havoc with our physical and mental fitness. Even commitment to put in a certain amount of exercise per day or per week can be highly stressful. That’s one of the reasons why many overenthusiastic dieters hit the plateau faster than people who put off exercise for the next phase in their weight loss agenda.
Cut down your exercise
It clearly sounds counterproductive and contrary to what you have learned from all the info gathering exercise you have done before starting out on the weight loss journey. Who doesn’t know that diet and exercise need to go hand in hand for effective weight loss? Well, they do, but only for so long...
Believe it or not, starting a rigorous exercise program at the same time as beginning a calorie-restrictive diet is counterproductive, especially if you have more than a few pounds to lose. Your body is put under double stress, raising your cortisol levels abnormally high. Physical injuries, especially to the knee joints and the back can be another major issue.
Your skeletal framework requires well-toned bundles of muscles to keep its integrity. People who regularly exercise have already developed strong muscles that support the joints when they are put under stress. Remember that the joints of an overweight or obese person are already under tremendous stress from the extra pounds they are carrying around. Add to that the additional stress of exercise.
The lax muscles in people who have led a sedentary life until starting the diet cum exercise program would not be prepared to offer the necessary support, resulting in sprains and more serious problems like vertebral disc displacement.
If you have more than 10-12 pounds to lose, delay exercise routines until you have taken off at least half of the extra weight. You can, of course, start being more physically active, like going out for walks more often or simply cutting down on the time you spend on the couch and the bed by pottering around in the home and garden. Even practicing low-key relaxation poses of yoga or Tai Chi is fine.
Coming back to rigorous exercise, be it aerobic or anaerobic, it causes minor injuries in your body. The muscle fibers break up and inflammation results, followed by a repair process. Energy is required for this process, and that’s part of the additional energy expenditure that exercise causes.
Whenever an injury happens, cortisol levels rise. The inflammation that follows injuries is body’s effort to repair the injuries. But water retention is part of this. If you see the scale showing an upward trend, rather than a drop, after a satisfying bout of punishing exercise, it comes from the extra fluid from inflammation.
To many who start on a weight loss diet, exercise is extra penance for all the transgressions of the past as if cutting down on the calories is not enough.
Be kind to yourself; be kind to your body.
You’ve already taken a brave decision and definite steps towards a better, healthier you. That itself is a redeeming factor. Now, to sustain the journey until you reach the goal, you need to deal with the roadblocks in a rational way...
Spice up your life
This may sound just the opposite of what we mentioned above, but we’re talking about spicing up your food here. Yes, it’s about using more spices in food preparation and as garnishes.
Herbs and spices have been around for thousands of years, and for very good reasons. You add them to your main staple foods in small quantities, but they take the foods to a whole new level. But enhancing taste and flavor is the least of what they do.
Spices and herbs are antioxidant foods in concentrated form.
- They help bring down inflammation in the body.
- They help you cut down on salt and sugar that we otherwise use to flavor foods.
- They boost your metabolism.
Here are some of the spices to add to your food.
- Jamaican allspice
- Pumpkin pie spice mixture
- Apple pie spice mixture
- Gourmet Italian spice
Spices are highly potent, so use them in moderation. Add just enough to liven up the dishes.
As we have seen, chronic inflammation can derail your weight loss efforts as well as trigger metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus. Reducing stress and avoiding exercise-related injuries may help bring down this risk, but you may need the extra support of anti-inflammatory foods.
Spices do help reduce inflammation, but you need to include anti-inflammatory macrofoods–foods that you regularly have in larger quantities–in your diet.
- Omega 3 fatty acids – You get the best of them from animal sources such as salmon, krill oil etc.
- Leafy greens – spinach, Swiss chard, kale - the darker, the better
- Colorful vegetables and berries – Have more of the yellow, orange, red and purple colored fruits and veggies
- Tea – All types of tea, but green tea in particular, are great as weight-loss aid.
Sleep and relaxation
Your body and mind requires a certain amount of sleep every day. It is universal to man and beast, and across cultures. You might be able to train your body to reduce your sleep requirement to some extent, but it is ultimately bad for you. Some people deprived of sleep lose weight, especially in highly stressful conditions such as in war zones. Most others gain weight when they don’t get enough sleep.
Studies have shown that our food intake also increases with sleep deprivation. That’s because of the extra production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and the suppression of leptin that signals satiety, in addition to the extra hours available for snacking. We also lose the advantage of REM sleep, during which body uses up calories the most.
You should ideally have a minimum of 7 ½ hours of night-time sleep at all times, but especially so during a weight loss diet. Sleep is one factor that many diet programs fail to address. Make sure that you choose one that gives importance to a healthy, wholesome lifestyle, including sufficient amount of relaxation and sleep.
The next time your scale shows that you’ve stalled, increasing your sleep to 9 hours may be just the thing to break free of the plateau. Add the other abovementioned measure to it, and you’ll soon be on track again.