Plateau in weight loss? How to overcome it. Tips from a family doctor.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Have you ever reached a plateau in your weight-loss quest?  You start off well, lose a few pounds (probably some of it water weight), think you’re doing so well … and then the scales just won’t move anymore.  It’s frustrating. I’ve heard so many say, “I’ve tried, and I just can’t lose weight.”  They just quit trying.

Don’t give up.  Here are a few suggestions to help you beat that weight-loss plateau and go on to success.

  1. Start a food diary. A recent study proved it works. It may help you remember those little snacks that don’t seem like much, but can add up.  In addition, you’ll be more conscience about the food decisions you make.
  2. Exercise. To lose weight in a healthy manner, you need to include regular aerobic exercise.  If you haven’t been doing that, start. Try to work up to an hour of vigorous walking per day. The exercise should get you breathing a little hard, but not so much that you can’t carry on a conversation.  Always check with your doctor before beginning a new program.
  3. Lift weights. When I met my weight-loss plateau, this is what did it for me.  After about three months of resistance training for about 30 minutes, four days a week, the weight just started falling off.  Muscle is more metabolically active than fat; hence, your metabolism goes up to expend more calories.  Get some dumbbells, do sit-ups and crunches.  Don’t forget to work your legs.
  4. Look in the mirror. Your goal is to lose fat.  That probably means weight loss, but not necessarily.  Measure your waist.  Better yet, measure your fat with some simple body fat calipers. They will cost you 10 or 20 dollars.  Even the pinch test will do.  PInch the fat around your waist and chest.  Measure the thickness with a tape measure.  Repeat in a month to see if there’s less.
  5. See the article fitness trainer Stacy Berman wrote for us on how to solve your weight loss plateau.

Have any of you ever experienced a weight loss plateau?  How did you solve the problem?

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10 Responses to “Plateau in weight loss? How to overcome it. Tips from a family doctor.”

  1. Blake Says:

    These are great tips. Basic stuff, but proven to work. Thanks!

    Blakes last blog post..Some People Want Us to Fail

  2. Sagan Says:

    Good solid advice. Didn’t think about measuring the fat by pinching though- makes so much sense!

    Sagans last blog post..Recipe: Sagan’s Fantastic Frittata

  3. FatFighterTV Says:

    Yes, adding weights is definitely key for me – especially as I get older. :(

    FatFighterTVs last blog post..Refuse to Regain winner!

  4. jhubbard Says:

    Blake- Basic, but they work. Can’t say that about all the fancy stuff.

    Sagan- It does give you a very good rough estimate.

    FatFight– You are only getting better.

  5. Steve Parker, M.D. Says:

    Good stuff, Dr. Hubbard.

    I especially like the part about the food diary. People often eat more than they think. I usually drink my homemade coffee with a splash of milk. When I substitute a grande latte from Starbuck’s, I have no idea how many calories I’m drinking. It could be a lot more.

    Also, switching up your existing exercise routine often helps.

    Cutting back a little further on caloric intake may also help. A 250-pounder may lose nicely on 2400 cals/day. But when he’s down to 200 pounds, he may have to cut back to 2000-2100 cals. [Check with your personal physician or dietitian first.]

    -Steve

  6. lhubbard Says:

    Dr. Parker,

    Your mention of Starbucks caught my eye since it’s oh-so-close to my heart. How I miss you, Frappuccinos (since cutting back on sugar).

    After looking at the Starbucks nutrition breakdown recently (and being shocked), I’ve learned you can’t assume anything about those dern addicting drinks. Here’s an example, comparing the products you mentioned.

    AT YOUR HOUSE:
    Coffee, 2 cups (16 oz.): 4 calories
    Milk, reduced fat (2%), 1 oz.: 15 calories, 0.4 g sat. fat

    AT STARBUCKS:
    Starbucks Cafe Latte, grande (16 oz.) with 2% milk: 190 calories, 4.5 g sat. fat

    Choosing nonfat milk takes the latte down to 130 calories and no saturated fat. Instead, you could ask for a grande coffee with room for cream and put the milk in it yourself.

    In case you’re wondering, a grande mocha Frappuccino has 380 calories and 9 grams of saturated fat, so at least you’re still doing better than I was.

    Source for regular coffee and milk:
    http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=8964

    Source for Starbucks nutrition:
    http://www.starbucks.com/retail/nutrition_beverages.asp

    Leigh Ann Hubbard
    Managing Editor
    James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor

  7. lhubbard Says:

    P.S. We have a list of cooking substitutions if you want to reduce your fat and calories and increase your nutrients at home. Easy to use with your favorite recipes.

    http://www.familydoctormag.com/recipes/recipes/healthy-substitutions.html

    (We feature new ones in each issue of the print magazine.)

    - Leigh Ann

  8. Dr. J Says:

    Plateaus in any endeavor sure can be frustrating! These are all great pointers that will get us back on that path. Thanks!!

    Dr. Js last blog post..Nibbles: Leptin gets another shot as obesity treatment, diabetes and mental function and screen time and unfit kids

  9. Nathan from New Orleans Says:

    Thanks for the great tips! – especially the 3rd.

    I just started my weight loss crusade and need to start doing some weight lifting and sit-ups, etc.

    By the way, yesterday I went to Kmart to get my daughter a lunch kit and I saw the “Ab Roller” chair on sale that they sell on the infomercials. I didn’t get the price, but it looks like it may be good for the midsection.

    Nathan from New Orleanss last blog post..Write What You Bite and Mute the Tube

  10. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Nate, New Orleans has to be the hardest place in the world to lose weight with all that good food. I am not familiar with the “ab roller” specifically, but it might be helpful if you are having trouble doing crunches without assistance.

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