Monday, November 1, 2010

Cracking the weight-loss plateau

Written by Michelle Kempton
Published in Canadian Running Magazine

Can you relate to this situation? You commit to a rigorous workout schedule, really push it hard every time you're running (even incorporating some hills), then avoid tempting foods like birthday cake and popcorn at the movie theatre, only to see no movement on the scale - or even worse, it goes up. How unfair is that? I feel your pain. It gets discouraging and frustrating to hit a weight-loss plateau, but you aren’t alone.

Weight-loss plateaus are very common. Even if you have plenty of weight to lose you can think you're doing everything right, there are a number of factors that could cause a plateau. The first thing you need to do is stop being yourself up (metaphorically speaking) about the numbers on the scale. Hide the scale for a couple of months, or longer if you need to. When you stop losing weight, that's your body's way of telling you something. You need to figure out the cryptic message so that you can start seeing results again. But keep in mind that it's not all about the numbers. If you're running and eating healthy food, then you're becoming healthier, regardless of what the scale says.

Follow these 8 tips to keep burning off those unwanted pounds:

1) Change your workout routine

If you've been sticking to the same workout schedule and intensity for awhile, then you need to kick-start your metabolism again by trying new forms of exercise. Try running some intervals - short bursts of faster running - and work in some cross training. Running may be the best for of exercise, but try mixing it up with hot yoga classes or fitness bootcamps.

2) Confuse your muscles

Rainie Williams, owner of Nu Days Fitness Studio in East Preston, N.S., is an experienced runner and personal trainer. He suggests runners should incorporate weights into their race training. But even then, he explains, "Weight training also requires a rest period. On your six-week training cycle, take a week off and incorporate a total-body routine, using just your body weight, with exercises such as leaping lunges, explosive squats, chin-ups, box jumps and pushups." Williams suggests using muscle confusion to avoid hitting a plateau. "Changing your workout routine every two to three weeks by adding extra weight, superset workouts, plyometrics, intervals and eccentric training will trick your body and bring you closer to achieving your goals" he says.

3) Don't overtain

Maybe you have a rigorous cross-training routine and are eating well, but still finding yourself in a weight-loss wall. Believe it or not, there is actually such a thing as overtraining. Brace yourself for this: Based on my own experience when I overdid it, you might want to cut back on the workouts. Your body needs recovery and rest time.

4) Limit your portions

Even though you're eating healthy food, be careful with portions - you might still be consuming too many calories. To lose weight, you need to burn more than you consume and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, even healthy food. Portion control is key.

5) Easy on the sodium

Williams also advises runners to watch their sodium intake, keeping it to about 2,000-2,500mg daily. Sodium can cause water retention and may have an influence on weight loss.

6) Get your vitamins and minerals

If your body isn't fortified with all the vitamins and minerals that it needs, this can impede weight loss. Food cravings and lack of energy could be a sign that something is missing in your diet. Of course, there is no better vitamin and mineral source than real food, but supplements can help top up what you're missing.

7) Don't Stress it

Stress can be a contribution factor towards a weight-loss plateau, too. We all have stress in our lives, but you need to be able to manage it. Yoga classes can help you decompress, while also strengthening your core and body.

8) Sleep

Are you getting at least eight hours of sleep every night? Not getting enough sleep can have a major impact on weight loss.

Knowing all these factors helps explain how weight-loss plateaus happen, but it still doesn't make the disappointment any less when you're working hard and having a goal weight set.

The more healthy I become, the more I realize that changing my life has to be done on my terms. Instead of just taking advice and moving forward like a robot, I'm thinking about my body, the reasoning behind the change (or lack thereof), and if I believe it's right for me to make the change in my routine, then I do it.

To reach your weight-loss goals, even when you're not always seeing the results you want and deserve, you need to keep making the smart choices, knowing this will work for you in time.

Michelle Kempton is a Cow Bay, N.S. blogger and runner. She lost 120lbs since taking up running.