Reaching your weight-loss goal can be fraught with challenges — including that weight-loss plateau where nothing seems to shift. It’s tough to keep going when the results aren’t forthcoming but these tips, from those in the know, will help you push through to the end.
Anyone who’s tried to lose weight knows how it goes. You start out really motivated and committed and launch yourself into a healthy eating and exercise routine. You have success, lose weight and feel great. You form new habits. You lose more weight. But after a while the losses get smaller and hurdles crop up — staying motivated becomes harder. Even if you’ve lost a lot of weight, those last few kilos — whether it’s five, 10 or 15 — can seem the hardest of all to lose. Here’s some advice from expert nutritionists, and others who have been there, on how to overcome this tricky stage.
Problem: “I’m not losing like I used to!”
HFG reader Karen* has lost 20kg over the course of a year. She has 15kg left to lose to get to her ideal weight, and although recognising how far she’s come, she’s feeling discouraged.
“I’m used to losing bigger amounts each week, and it’s been great,” says Karen. “But now I’m only losing a few hundred grams a week, or sometimes even nothing. It’s discouraging. I’m doing the same things with my eating and exercise as I was when I was losing more so I don’t understand what’s going on.”
According to nutritionist Bronwen King, Karen is on a plateau. “Her body has undergone a huge change in losing 20kg and needs time to adjust to the changes. Plateaus are periods of stabilisation, a protective response from the body as it fights for your survival. It does not know how long the ‘famine’ is going to last after all!”
The more weight you lose, the longer the plateau and the harder it is to get off it — which is why the last few kilos seem so difficult to lose. So what are some strategies to overcome this?
Celebrate your plateau instead of despairing. Take comfort in the fact that plateaus are normal and that the longer you are on them, the more comfortable your body is becoming with its new weight. “If you are not gaining, you are winning,” says Bronwen.
Take stock of your habits. Your body may have adjusted to the strategies you are using to lose weight. You may need to do something differently to kick start weight-loss.
Check portion sizes. Are they slowly creeping up? Try cutting portion size back size by 10 per cent.
“I always go back to weighing and measuring things, like I did when I was first trying to lose weight,” says Kirsty Donovan, who’s successfully lost and kept off 30kg. It can be surprising how those portion sizes can grow without you realising it — it can come down to something as small as unknowingly having a bigger pasta or rice serve, or the difference between a medium and a large potato.”
Check alcohol, soft drink and fruit juice intake. “It is easy to forget these are high in kilojoules,” says Bronwen.
Increase your activity. As fitness improves you have to go harder for additional weight-loss.
Make sure your weight-loss goal is realistic and one you could maintain long term. Remember: a lower weight needs a lower food intake.
Problem: “I’m bored with the same old food”
“I’ve enjoyed the meals and snacks on the HFG weight-loss plan,” says Rhonda, 28. “But now I’ve lost a bit, I would like to branch out to some other things — I find I’m getting bored with the same meals and snacks and it makes me prone to being tempted by unhealthy stuff.”
Bronwen says this is common, and a reason why people can fail to maintain their weight-loss long-term.
“Many people find sticking to what works is a safe and comfortable position,” she says. “But to maintain interest in a ‘rest of life’ approach, it’s a good idea to extend your food and recipe repertoire. Use a reliable source like HFG recipes. Set yourself goals that extend your horizons such as a new recipe every week, a new lunchbox idea on Fridays, entertaining the healthy food way once a month… Find a healthy food buddy to swap ideas and share recipes with and you will soon become more confident in keeping life enjoyable as well as healthy. This will also reduce the temptation to fall back on old less healthy habits.
Kirsty says when boredom strikes, she looks back at her old food diaries. “You can easily forget what you’ve eaten before, and looking back at what’s worked in the past can give you fresh inspiration.”
Problem: “I feel like I’m all on my own”
Getting healthy and losing weight can feel like a solitary pursuit when you’re the only one in the family who’s actively doing it. Emma*, 51, says she struggles with staying motivated when the rest of the family isn’t eating or exercising the way she is.
“I’m often eating slightly different meals from my husband and kids, who don’t need to lose weight. Sometimes, it feels like a lot of work and it’s easy slipping back into eating like they do.”
Bronwen says this is not unusual. “Traditional dieting is about deprivation and suffering — not a path anyone would choose for fun. Families are often unsupportive because they are worried they will lose out or be deprived in some way.”
The ‘rest of life’ approach to weight-loss is about lots of small habit changes which if done slowly and positively can be an engaging and enjoyable process.
“The best way to get family on board is to not to make a big deal of it,” says Bronwen. “Do things slowly and quietly and in a way that inspires rather than puts them off. Show them you enjoy the process and they are more likely to join in. Instead of removing ‘offending’ foods, introduce new and interesting varieties and recipes. Let your food do the talking. If there is no perceived loss, family members should soon get behind you. And a whole family approach benefits all, regardless of their age, sex or weight!”
Kirsty has dealt with this issue in her family. “It doesn’t work long term if everyone’s not eating the same thing. My family eats everything I eat so we’ve actually all become healthier. They have larger servings or the odd treat that I don’t have, which is fine.”
Kirsty also makes exercise a family affair. “The whole family doesn’t have to go for a run. But in the weekend, I will go running and the kids will join me on their bikes,” she says. “Or we’ll all go to the pool together and I can swim laps while they play.”
Problem: “I’m sick of my exercise — but I don’t know how to change it”
“I’m exercising regularly, but I’m getting bored with the same old running and weights. It’s worked so far, though, so I’m worried that if I change what I’m doing, it won’t work the same,” says Debbie*, 42.
What we often forget when exercising is that we become fitter and stronger the more we do it. The same routine becomes easier and eventually provides fewer perceivable benefits such as weight-loss. “Changing your routine by pushing yourself more can shock your body off a plateau,” says Bronwen. “This can be more intensity, more distance, more time, or doing it more often.”
Problem: “It’s hard to think ‘long term’”
“I’ve been on so many diets”, says Diana*, 52. “It’s really hard to get my head out of the space where I’m thinking I only have to do this for X more weeks, then the diet is over and I can go back to normal. I don’t know how to get over the hump of thinking I’m not just doing this to get to one goal, I’m doing it forever.”
Bronwen says this is a typical failing of traditional ‘diets’ — and it’s why she dislikes the concept. “Traditional diets ask too much of us,” she says. “They demand the self-discipline of a saint and willpower that our physiology screams against. They focus on unrealistic end points rather than enjoyable processes. Essentially, they set us up to fail. A ‘whole of life’ approach works if it is enjoyable and you can see and feel the benefits.”
Kirsty says this hurdle is one of the hardest she’s had to overcome. “It was really hard to get out of short-term ‘diet’ thinking, to know that I’ve got to make these things into lifelong habits. But you have to have consistency to make the change stick. Now I tell myself that I’ve come this far, so I can do it, and I can keep doing it. It’s about keeping on doing the things that have worked so far and tweaking them so they keep working.”
Tips for long-term success
- Focus on an enjoyable journey rather than an end point. Make health gain your goal and weight-loss the added bonus.
- Focus on the foods you need for health rather than foods you have to cut out.
- Identify habits that work against health gain and make small changes to these. Focus on one change at a time, and when it has become your ‘automatic pilot’ move on to the next. Choose habits that are the easiest to change first and go slowly.
- Don’t give up if you go backwards. Small glitches are normal and a minor setback in a ‘rest of life’ approach.
- Congratulate yourself on your successes. Enjoy the journey and the new feeling of health and vitality each step brings.
- Remember: being healthy isn’t a goal you achieve and then tick off your ‘to do’ list. It’s a lifelong process and we all need to keep adjusting what we’re doing to suit what’s happening in our lives.