Tip the scales on a weight-loss plateau

Most people experience a plateau at some point during their weight-loss journey. To break through a plateau, you'll need to tip the energy balance by cutting back more on calories or burning more calories by increasing your exercise.

By Jessica Holst

Most people experience a plateau at some point during their weight-loss journey. Plateaus may last a few days to a few weeks and sometimes even a few months.

Rather than get discouraged when the scale seems stuck, try to think of this minor setback as a reminder of the great things you've been doing. Plateaus occur when you've been consistent with healthy eating and exercising. They're your body's way of saying, "I've mastered what I've been doing. I need to change things up and challenge myself!"

So, what exactly happens when you reach a plateau? First, look at weight change in the big picture. Your body needs a certain amount of energy, in the form of calories, just to live — for breathing and other normal organ functions. This is your metabolism or resting metabolic rate. Your body also uses energy to digest food and do basic activities, such as listening to music or reading a book, and to exercise.

A smaller tank to fill

Here's another way to look at a weight-loss plateau: Think of your body as you would a vehicle. To lose weight, you have to cut back on calories or increase your physical activity so that you burn more calories. Doing both is ideal. Over time, as you lose weight, your body doesn't need as many calories to function because there's less of you.

You can compare the energy your body needs to the fuel in your vehicle. A large SUV needs more fuel to fill its tank than a compact car does. As you lose weight, your vehicle (in this case, your body) needs less fuel — fewer calories — to make it operate. That means you'll need to adjust if you want to lose more weight. To break through a plateau, you'll need to tip the energy balance by cutting back more on calories or burning more calories by increasing your exercise. This could be as easy as skipping second helpings at dinner or taking the stairs instead of the elevator as often as you can. Small changes really do add up.

Dec. 08, 2016 See more In-depth