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My girlfriend has been on Weight Watchers for quite awhile and although she's lost a considerable amount of weight, she's still over 60 lbs away from her final goal. The problem is that for over the past month she's been stuck at the same weight (give or take a pound). She's pretty strict on tracking her diet intake and works out 4-5 days a week (mainly cardio on her own, cardio/strength training with her trainer 2x a week). She's still noticing clothes getting looser, so we're pretty sure her fat loss and muscle gain are evening out. Of course seeing this big plateau in weight loss is pretty demoralizing and between the two of us we cannot find new things to try outside of exchanging new exercises our trainers throw at us.

Granted everybody's different, but are there some effective tricks for pushing past a weight loss plateau? I've read that women can have a harder time dropping weight compared to men, but she was making great progress and she's just been stuck at the same point.

EDIT: She's hit a couple plateaus in the process so far, but they were short term for 2-3 weeks at most before progress became visible again. So she's aware that they are a natural part of the process. This current plateau has gone past that point which is a big reason for the demoralizing point of view.

I've also gone through losing over 50 pounds myself, so I'm familiar with what it takes to lose weight. So I've picked up a lot of tips myself that I've passed along to her, but they haven't helped so far.

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5 Answers 5

There are a few things to mention here:

  1. Consistency and persistence is key. I know that being stuck can be demoralizing, but if you want to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle, you can't have thoughts of giving up at the first roadbump.

  2. Having said that, if she has been dieting consistently for a long time, it can help to take a short break. Long term dieting will affect hormone levels and metabolism. Taking a week or two off can allow your metabolism and hormone levels to return to normal levels, making future weight loss easier. Note: this does not imply pigging out for a month straight. Just a week or two of eating maintenance should do it.

  3. As you lose weight, your caloric requirements go down. This means that the same amount of food that was effective for weight loss earlier is not as effective after losing a "considerable amount of weight". She may need to eat even loss or exercise more.

  4. If her clothes are getting looser, then it's possible that she is losing fat but her weight overall stays the same because she's also gaining some muscle. This isn't a bad thing - it's healthy and will help future weight loss efforts.

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Excellent answer; I'd give a +1 for all four points if I could. –  Greg Mar 8 '11 at 22:43
    
+1 as well. Great comprehensive answer! –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 8 '11 at 22:50
    
I keep telling my GF about point 4. The number on the scale doesn't mean all that much if there are other changes happening. We make too much of it. –  MPelletier Mar 24 '11 at 21:02
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After losing 65 pounds myself and helping my wife lose 40 pounds, I went into fitness training and focused specifically on coaching people with a lot of weight to lose. I say this not to brag but so you know the position I'm saying this from, one not just of my personal experience but also the experience of working with others.

First, plateaus happen. They just do. The body is extremely complex and not predictable and sometimes you may go several weeks without losing weight. Sometimes you may even gain it. It's not always fat, but in fact can be water weight and other factors that are sometimes related to the stress of dropping the weight.

I'm not sure what you are using to gauge progress but weighing daily is fine to see the trend over time but making decisions should only happen weekly or bi-weekly as that's enough time to see a real change. So, I wouldn't call a plateau a "real plateau" unless it's lasted at least 2 - 3 weeks. This is where many people get frustrated and give up, so the key here is "don't give in." Keep pushing.

If you get past that point, obviously something has to change. You really have two main opportunities to do this: training and nutrition.

With nutrition, sometimes it may seem counter-intuitive but you may want to increase calories slightly to give your body a break from extreme dieting. While I know Weight Watchers is based on points I'm not a fan because I don't think it promotes the right types and combinations of foods. If anything, one smart move will be to add as many fresh or lightly steamed vegetables as possible. I know so many people who don't believe how powerful it is to add tons of vegetables and are amazed when they do it and break through a plateau. When I dropped my weight, I would literally bring a whole bag of frozen broccoli or green beans into the office and cook it and eat it throughout the day.

The other is fiber. It's easy to eat "x" calories with processed foods, bars, pre-made meals, but one thing you'll find is a lot of those lack fiber. To the extent you can switch to as natural as possible with your foods - pick whole oats over processed cereal, pick old fashioned oatmeal over instant, pick fresh fruit over fruit juice, etc - you'll also increase your fiber intake.

Last but not least, this one is very specific to women. Unfortunately, history created a huge misperception of fats as evil and people have shied away. People are finally starting to learn fats are not created equal and that there are healthy fats. They are still shy of these fats however and too many people work on reduced fat as opposed to switching to quality fat. Women require a steady intake of healthy fats and oils as their estrogen production is tied to it. I can't tell you how many women I coached would come to me AMAZED after just a few weeks of adding fats because despite the extra calories, they suddenly started dropping weight, lost cravings, even saw reduced PMS symptoms and more regular menstrual cycles. If your wife is not eating foods with healthy fats - salmon, other cold water fish, even getting 2% as opposed to 0 fat dairy - I'd suggest she try that out and even consider supplementation with fish oil or flax oil. That can be a major plateau buster for someone not getting a quality intake of healthy fats.

For training, changing the style of training is key. Most people do slow, steady state (long jogs, bikes, etc) and switching to interval-style training can be a booster (you can Bing "HIIT" and find out more). Hopefully her trainer isn't sticking to the same resistance routine but is keeping that fresh as well. If she's not into cardio, perhaps a cardio tape or something that has her moving in a different way will help.

The key is change - change the nutrition, eat healthy options but don't eat the exact same meal every day, and change the training. If she needs to add a little more and her schedule permits, do it! Keep pushing through and you can and will bust that plateau.

Best of health and success to you.

Jeremy

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Awesome answer - THANKS. –  Joe Blow Sep 20 '11 at 2:01
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While she's working out, she will gain muscle and lose fat, and that can appear as a stall. If she still wants to focus on losing some weight, and still has 60 pounds to lose, she could likely cut 500-1000 calories from her diet and maintain some weight loss while not limiting muscle gains. Every 500 calorie daily deficit is a pound per week.

I'm not incredibly familiar with the specifics of Weight Watchers, but I do know that there is no reason for a normal, healthy person (without hormone problems, or other health problems) with excess adipose tissue (fat) not to be able to lose it while continuing to work out and maintain a healthy lifestyle, with the exception of too much caloric intake.

If she is still losing inches, but not losing weight, I personally wouldn't be as concerned about it, as cutting more calories can add some complications such as hunger and/or weakness during workouts. Those complications can easily be dealt with, however, if she would like to see the scales drop as well.

I did this myself on the Atkins diet. I stopped losing weight but was still dropping inches. I cut nearly 1000 calories from my diet and started losing again immediately.

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I'm more a fan of smaller changes. If stalling, drop your body weight in calories. You weigh 200? Cut 200 calories. You weigh 300? Cut 300. Try that for two weeks, rinse, repeat, rather than cutting out so much that you're starving for days. –  Jeremy Likness Mar 8 '11 at 22:37
    
@Jeremy Likness - I just don't get hungry, even if I eat nothing for several days. That was why I suggested not cutting at all as long as she's still losing inches, even if she's not losing weight. I understand how frustrated people get with being hungry and not losing weight, so as long as one is still finding noticeable loss either in inches or weight I advise them to continue what's working, rather than changing something up. –  Nathan Wheeler Mar 8 '11 at 22:43
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Weight loss is not a linear process and it is quite common for people to plateau while loosing weight. This is something that has to be accepted and should be a positive for your girlfriend so that she can understand that what is happening is normal. It's a matter of persisting with the diet and with the exercise although there won't be any immediate visual indicators that she is progressing.

The plateau happens as part of your body's normal adaption to weight loss. It has to adapt to the new situation and this takes time. So even if you persist through this plateau there will likely be others as your girlfriend heads towards her goal.

Let her know that it is normal and it will take time. Also she can take pride in knowing that by eating right and exercising she is still doing the best thing for her body even though there is no weight loss.

Good luck and keep up the hard work!

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When anybody hits a plateau they need to change up their exercise regimen. The body got used to the old ways.

I would up the strength training to 3x a week at least - bump it up to 4x a week if she wants results faster. A lot of cardio makes your body efficient at it. Your legs get used to running the same distance; your heart gets used to pumping the right amount of oxygen for that distance. You want your muscles to be inefficient to keep the results coming.

I highly recommend this program having done it myself. She will not be disappointed with the results. That program has a little cardio in it but really emphasizes strength training. Post-workout, need to replenish with a protein shake - feed your muscles.

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