There comes a point in everyone’s fitness regimen when the numbers on the scale just stop moving and they find themselves mired in a dreaded weight loss plateau. It’s not the end of the world, but it is time for an introspective look at your diet and training methods. Here are eight tips for busting out of that rut and cranking the fat-scorching dial back up to eleven.
1. Get Back to Tracking Food Intake
Keeping a food journal is a proven weight loss strategy no matter what your goals. “Tracking forces you to be honest about portion sizes and small indulgences that may be sabotaging your weight loss,” says Jamie Sheahan, MS, RD. Chances are, you’ve tried tracking in the past and, like most people, you stopped the second you started seeing a little progress. Don’t feel too badly about it. Counting every nibble can admittedly be tedious. Luckily, we live in the 21st century, and just like for everything else, there are a slew of free, easy-to-use apps that will do the calculating for you.
2. Get More Quality Sleep
A lack of sleep interrupts the body’s normal rhythms, resulting in sluggish workouts, increased appetite, and an overall decrease in energy expenditure. In recent years, even more links between sleep deprivation and weight gain have been found. A 2014 sleep study conducted at the University of Chicago found that subjects who got plenty of sleep each night were more likely to make healthier food choices throughout the day. In fact, subjects who got more sleep than usual showed a startling 62 percent decrease in cravings for sweet and salty foods.
3. Eat More Often
Though it might seem confusing and counterintuitive, increasing the frequency of meals can seriously kickstart weight loss. “Many people skip meals thinking it will help them lose weight, but this can wreak havoc on your metabolism and cause your body to hold on to calories by storing them as fat,” says Sheahan. Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism revving like a mustang. You’ll also be less likely to gorge when mealtime finally comes around. Just keep in mind that eating more doesn’t mean eating whatever you want. Keep those small meals as healthy as possible.
4. HIIT It Up!
If long bouts of steady-state cardio aren’t producing any noticeable payoff, your system has simply stopped responding. High-intensity interval training (HIIT), a form of cardio that involves alternating sets of intense exertion and brief recovery, has been shown to burn more fat in a fraction of the time of traditional cardio. “The point of HIIT is to shock your metabolism into a change which gets your training and fat loss back on track,” says Sandra Reardon, IFBB Bikini Pro and ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer. Two to three 20-minute sessions a week might be just what your body needs.
5. Avoid Miracle Fat Burners
If there really was a supplement that could burn fat, don’t you think everybody would be taking it? “There is no magic pill for weight loss, and any supplements that claim to do so are likely a waste of money and could pose health concerns of their own,” says Sheahan. The same goes for fad fat-loss diets. If it seems too good to be true, or worse yet, if it’s been endorsed by a Hollywood celebrity you wouldn’t trust to feed your fish, don’t even consider it. Your progress will stall further and, just like with the “miracle” supplements, you could be doing damage to your body.
6. Increase Your Protein Intake
“Consuming more protein has been shown to lead to more fat loss, even if you’re consuming a lot of it,” says Khadeejah Aamir, CPT and owner of Not So Basic Fitness. A 2015 study published in the Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition found that eating 3.4 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day (roughly 1.5 grams per pound), in conjunction with resistance training, significantly improves body composition. If you’re already eating a balanced diet, it’s important to make sure you’re adding more protein without adding too much extra fat or carbs to your diet. That means egg whites, lean chicken or turkey breast and, of course, protein shakes.
7. Chill Out
“One of the most important factors in weight loss, and the one people generally don’t pay proper attention to, is stress,” says Reardon. Stress increases the body’s production of the hormone cortisol, which has been linked to both weight gain and increased appetite. Side effects of too much stress also include interrupted sleep and digestive problems, both of which will derail your body’s weight-burning mechanisms. True, training and healthy diet both combat stress and anxiety; however, if you’re so stressed that your body is unable to properly recover, you’re not going to see any benefits.
8. Take It Down a Notch
If you’re not losing any weight despite training religiously and eating like a bird, there’s a good chance your body has stopped fighting for you and is now fighting against you. “There comes a point where the body just can’t take anymore,” says Aamir. “It’s under too much stress, producing too much cortisol, and not recovering fast enough to keep up with the physical demands.” Take some time off from training and dieting, and let your body recharge its batteries. Focus on getting as much rest and relaxation as possible, and indulge in some extra calories. It seems counterproductive, but your body will thank you.