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At a Standstill - Weight Loss Plateaus

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Updated June 04, 2012

You took up walking for weight loss, but your scale seems stuck after you lose the first few pounds. What is going on?

Welcome to the Plateau
When you first take up an exercise or diet program your body quickly sheds some water weight. This is why those "Lose 10 Pounds in One Week" diets can actually work for new dieters. But those are the only easy pounds you will see go.

From Fat to Muscle
Once the first few pounds are gone, the body now is busy building muscle from your increased exercise and burning fat. While this is happening, you may not see any change in weight, but many terrific things are happening in your body that will increase your metabolism and help you keep the weight off permanently.

Walking builds long, lean muscle rather than bulky muscle. This muscle burns calories, all of the time, day and night, even while you sleep. Fatty tissue burns very few calories. By walking and other exercise, you are increasing your base metabolism - the number of calories your body burns each day, even on days you do not exercise. This will help you lose more fatty tissue.

Stop Weighing, Start Measuring
Measure your waist and hips. To fight discouragement and the temptation to resume old bad habits, stop weighing yourself and get out the measuring tape or a belt instead. Measure your progress by seeing how much more you can tighten the belt, or how the inches are coming off on your waist and the widest portion of your hips.

Measure yourself no more than once a week. Daily fluctuations can be discouraging, especially with a scale. Don't let that kill your resolve, weigh no more than once a week if you want to keep weighing yourself.

Make your goal not pounds, but sizes. Dropping a pants size means you are looking better and better, getting leaner. And while that happens, you may not see the results on the scale you thought you would - but it means that you have now supercharged your metabolism by burning fat and adding lean muscle.

Getting Off the Plateau

Eventually you will get off the plateau if you have been steady with your reduced calorie intake diet as well as your increased exercise. If you have seen no change for 3-4 weeks, then you should look at further modifying your diet and exercise.

Why am I on a Plateau?

  • Am I eating more? Keep a food diary to see how much and what you are really eating. With increased exercise your body may be signaling you to eat more, and you may be doing so without realizing it. Check your portion sizes at meals.
    Printable Food Diary in Adobe Acrobat .pdf format.
  • Am I rewarding myself with food? You may be giving in to food rewards that have more calories than you burned off walking. These may be sweets, salty snacks, or even meat and cheese. Check the calorie charts to see how many calories your walking burns (about 100 calories per mile for a 150 pound person) and match that with the calories on the treats you allow.

Plateau Busting Tactics

  • Walk More: Your walking program should build up progressively, increasing your total mileage by no more than 10% a week in order to avoid injury. Look at your walking progress and increase your mileage according to that schedule. As you lose weight, you burn fewer calories per mile, so in order to have the same calories burned, you will need to steadily increase the distance that you walk.
  • Reduce calories: Reduce your calories by a further 200 per day, but do not go below 1000 calories per day unless you are on a medically supervised program. Tactics would be cutting portions and eliminating fattier food, substituting fruits and vegetables for other snacks. If you begin to lose more than 1.5 pounds a week, add back in those 200 calories.
    Walking Calorie Calculators
  • Add More Activity: Find ways to build more activity into each day - take the stairs rather than the elevator. Park in the far corner of the parking lot rather than near the door. Put on music and dance through chores or just for fun.
  • Tone Your Muscles: Walking tones your legs, but you will still need some arm and abdominal exercises to keep the rest of you in shape. Buy a theraband or some light dumbbells for an arm routine and select a good abdominal routine. This will keep the jiggles in check as you lose more weight.

Plateau-Busting Tools

Weight Loss Toolbox
Calculate calories burned, calorie content of food and more.

Weekly Walking Workouts
Spice up your walking with targeted workouts.

Email Buddies
Find an email buddy to encourage you in our Forum.

Related Video
Get a Better Walking Workout by Avoiding these Pitfalls

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