1. Take a two-week break
You’ve been faithfully following your diet, but after a great start the weight’s stopped coming off? This effect, known as the diet plateau, is a common problem.
However, a new study carried out at the University of Tasmania has found that taking regular two-week breaks from dieting can outsmart it.
The researchers were investigating the ‘famine reaction’ which occurs when the body responds to losing a large amount of weight by hanging on to fat, believing food is becoming scarce.
For dieters this evolutionary survival mechanism has the knock-on effect of stalling weight loss.
The study found those who dieted for two weeks then had two weeks off over a 16-week period were more likely to lose weight than those who continuously cut down. They were also more likely to have kept the weight off six months later.
2 Understand how weight loss works
The reason most people lose weight very quickly during the first few weeks of a diet is that a lot of what is lost is water. Once your body has shifted this excess fluid, it’s normal for your rate of weight loss to slow significantly.
Check your progress and ask yourself whether the pounds have really stopped dropping, or just eased up. Experts agree that a sensible rate for safe, lasting weight loss is one to two pounds per week.
3 Take a weekly selfie
Last year, a study by the University of Alicante in Spain found that creating a photo diary was an extremely effective tool when it came to shedding pounds.
Over 80% of dieters taking full-length selfies each week as a record of their changing shape managed to reduce their waist size significantly. The researchers believe the body snaps motivated the slimmers because they could clearly see the results of their dieting.
4 Readjust your calorie intake
“As you lose weight, your metabolism can slow because your body requires fewer calories to fuel the smaller-sized you,” says nutritionist Linda Foster.
“Therefore, the calorie intake that you initially had when you began your weight-loss journey will need to be adjusted to match your body’s current needs,”
Try an online Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) calculator, such as www.dietplan.co.uk/Tools/BMRChecker , which takes your height, weight, age and activity levels into account to work out the daily number of calories you would need to consume to maintain your new lower weight.
Then reduce that figure by around 500 calories to give you the rough daily intake needed to keep losing weight.
5 Or try eating more!
While it’s true you need to create a deficit between calories in and calories out to shed weight, cut your intake too much on an extreme diet and it’ll have the opposite effect.
“If your calorie intake is too low or you get too hungry, you start to lose metabolism-boosting muscle as well as fat,”
“To lose weight while still preserving this important muscle, you might actually need to increase calories.”
The trick is the right foods. Linda recommends filling up on lean protein such as chicken or fish, whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts and avocados.
6 Prioritise your sleep
A full night’s sleep is vital for shifting body fat because it resets the hormones that control metabolism. Even a couple of nights of sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which encourages the body to overeat and store fat on the belly.
7 Start measuring portions
In the days of super-sizing everything it’s easy to forget what a sensible portion of food looks like. But eating too much, even of healthy foods, will soon sabotage weight loss.
Give yourself a serving-size refresher course. Luckily your hand provides an easy way to visualise a sensible portion of common foods for each meal:
-Pasta, potatoes and rice = fist-sized
-Protein (meat/fish) = palm-sized
– High-fat foods (e.g. cheese) = a thumb-sized portion
– Fruit and veg: Two to three handfuls
8 Switch to eggs for breakfast
Research shows choosing eggs first thing keeps you feeling fuller than cereals, making you less likely to reach for snacks mid-morning. This one simple change can be enough to get a stalled diet back on track.
9 Try shorter workouts
If you’re spending a full hour in the gym you might be wasting your time and energy. New research shows shorter bouts of exercise are better for weight loss – as long as you do them regularly.
A study done at the University of Copenhagen found people who worked out for 30 minutes every day lost just as much fat as those who worked out for 60 minutes a day.
They suspect the people who did shorter workouts were left with extra energy to be more active throughout the rest of their day. Little activities all add up, burning more calories over the whole day.
10 Start passing on the salt
The scales might have stopped tipping in your favor because your body is retaining too much water. And the most common trigger for this is consuming an excess of salt. Water clings to salt like a magnet, so the more you eat, the more your body hangs onto it.
11 Eat more protein
Protein contains an amino acid, leucine, that many studies have identified as a potent trigger for burning body fat. So, if you’ve been following a diet full of lots of fruit and veg, you may need to add in more protein to kickstart that weight loss again.
Aim for a serving every few hours, because even though protein-rich foods such as eggs, nuts and meat contain more calories than an apple or salad, research shows they keep you full longer and therefore lower your overall calorie intake for the day.
12 Eat almonds before exercise
Almonds are rich in the amino acid L-arginine, which can actually help you burn more calories during workouts, accelerating weight loss, according to a report in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
13 Vary your exercise
Slogging away on the treadmill three times a week? The problem with repetitive exercise is that our muscles become familiar with the same old workout, making it less effective. To see a change in body fat, you have to challenge your body.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been shown to burn body fat effectively. This means alternating between fast and slower speeds rather than just continuing at the same pace. Or if you prefer walking outdoors, pick somewhere that includes a few hills which will vary your pace naturally.
14 Take a water bottle everywhere
One of the most overlooked causes of a diet plateau is dehydration. Drinking plenty of water can keep hunger at bay and keep your energy and mood levels high, making you more likely to resist cravings and stick to your diet. Keep a water bottle in your bag so you’ll remember to sip throughout the day.
A simple tip is to monitor your urine. If it is a dark yellow colour, you’re not getting enough water – it should be a pale straw colour.
15 Get yourself a diet buddy
Sharing the journey with someone who also wants to lose weight can help ensure you stick to your plan. It can even add an element of healthy competition.
16 Look at sizes, not scales
Remember muscle weighs more than fat so focusing only on weight can be misleading. A much better judge of diet success is how you look and feel in clothes. You might weigh the same, but slipping into a smaller pair of jeans is a confidence booster that will help you stick to your diet more effectively.
17 Get a pedometer or fitness tracker
Apps and devices are a really good way to encourage activity and outsmart stalled weight loss – without you really noticing. Aim for 10,000 steps a day which is roughly five miles. Swapping short car journeys for walking and always taking the stairs will help.
18 Keep a food diary
Are you honest about how much you really eat? Most people aren’t, which is why writing down every single thing you consume for a week will identify where you can make changes. A diary also makes it easy to spot empty calories, such as soft drinks.
19 Remember booze calories count as well!
Sticking religiously to your meal plans but the weight’s not shifting? Many dieters forget to factor in alcohol – yet a glass of wine (175ml) contains 130 calories and a pint of beer adds 215 calories to your daily intake.
20 Try to eat mindfully
Research shows being distracted when you eat a meal – for example by
watching TV – tends to make people eat more calories than when they focus on the food. Setting aside time for meals and making them a screen-free affair is a good idea.
21 Rethink your goal weight
“It’s entirely possible your weight loss has slowed because you’ve reached your ‘happy weight’,” says nutritionist Linda. “This is the weight your body is most comfortable at – and if you try to achieve a much lower weight, it will work against you.”How do you know you’ve reached your happy weight? Linda suggests checking in with your GP – if they agree you’re at a sensible weight for your height and frame, perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about the scales.