Why Do Diets Stall?

I’ve been stuck at a 10-pound weight loss plateau for several months and can’t seem to lose any more. I’ve been eating more healthfully and walking an hour a day. What can I do to get over that hump?

– March 5, 2002

Updated 1/27/2005

Congratulations on your 10-pound weight loss. Hitting a plateau is a frustrating and inevitable part of most weight loss programs. Since yours has lasted several months, you probably should re-evaluate your plan. Bear in mind that you have to create a deficit of 3,500 calories to drop a single pound – that means that you have to burn more calories via exercise or eliminate more calories from your daily diet.

If you’re limiting calories and exercising daily, you should expect to lose about one percent of your body weight per week. Since that’s not happening, try tracking your daily caloric intake. To maintain good health women should not cut calories below 1,200 per day. If you haven’t been counting calories, you may be surprised at how many you can consume even when you’re following a healthy diet. To find out how many calories you need daily to maintain your present weight log onto www.caloriecontrol.com , click onto the weight maintenance calculator and enter your height, weight, age and activity level. The result you get will be the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. To lose, you’ll have to eliminate some by cutting back on food or increasing the intensity of your exercise. Since you’re already walking an hour a day, you might try picking up your pace.

Here are some other suggestions for getting past weight loss plateaus, courtesy of Franca Alphin, a dietitian at Duke University Health System’s Sports Performance Program:

  • Weigh yourself only once a week. Remember that what may seem like a plateau may be the result of a few days of fluid retention from a high-salt meal or premenstrual bloating.
  • Flush out excess water by lowering your salt intake, drinking more water, exercising, eating more fruit – especially cantaloupe, honeydew and oranges (bananas are helpful, too, because of their water-eliminating potassium, but they’re higher in calories than the other fruits suggested).
  • Juggle your diet by changing the balance of foods for a few days. For example, several days of fewer carbohydrates and more protein can help push you off a plateau.
  • Andrew Weil, M.D.
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