How to end weight cycling (and beat that plateau!)

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced yo yo dieting, or more technically referred to as “weight cycling.” Simply put, dieting to successfully lose a significant amount of weight in a fairly short amount of time followed by weight regain and often additional pounds.

Have you ever wondered just how many times you can repeat this process before your body has had enough? Or if it’s even a healthy thing to do? Sure, you know that extra weight isn’t a good thing, but you also know that regaining large amounts of weight isn’t, either. And why bother going on a diet if you know the end result will be a number on the scale much higher than when you started? But what other choice do you have?

Eventually there will be a quitting point for your body. You’ve probably already noticed with each dieting attempt it’s becoming more difficult to lose weight – you don’t lose as much or lose it as fast. And no, regaining large amounts of extra weight is not very good for your body at all, it increases your fat to lean tissue ratio and in recent studies, it’s tough on your cardiovascular system, too.

When you lose weight, it’s inevitable that you will lose some of your muscles mass. This equates to a slower metabolism in the long run since fat burns a lot less calories at rest than muscle does (and as a wild guess here, I’m assuming you aren’t hitting the gym when you’ve stopped following your diet, so your muscle gets replaced with fat when you start regaining the weight.) So in this case, it would have been better for you to have never tried losing weight in the first place.

The fact is, statistically 90% of dieters who lose weight WITHOUT bariatric surgery will regain their weight loss within the following year. Discouraging, I know. But some of this starts with having realistic weight loss expectations to begin with. So let’s start there.

A realistic rate of weight loss is, on average, 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. If you weigh closer to 300 pounds or more, than it’s 1% of your body weight weekly (so 3 pounds a week, 4 for 400 pounds, etc.) And most will begin to see a weight loss plateau around a 5-10% weight loss. What does this mean? It means you will begin to see a dramatic slowing in weight loss results or even a complete halt sometime between there. Those who have more to lose (if you are over 300 pounds to start with) may not see this plateau until you’ve lost closer to 20% of your initial weight. But rest assured, it’s coming.

What do you do when that happens? Realize that your efforts to lose weight worked and that your body is responding in the way that it should.  And then accept that you may only see the scale drop by a pound or so per month for a while instead of per week like you are used to. Unfortunately, this is when most people begin to get frustrated and feel like what they are doing is no longer working and so they throw in the towel. That’s a dangerous place to be because you are at high risk to regain the weight to begin with. Your body is in a bit of a metabolic mess and very prone to weight gain because it has not had time to adjust to the new, lower weight you. Throwing in the towel on healthy eating habits and exercise is the worst thing you can do. Instead, do these four things and you will end the yo yo cycle while continuing to see results:

1. Consider lowering your carbohydrate intake to 130 grams per day if you are not already following a low carb diet.

2. Be sure you are consuming plenty of protein at all of your meals – 30 grams is the magic number for most.

3. Exercise a minimum of 45 minutes daily. This is the absolute minimum requirement as recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine for prevention of weight regain. (Don’t shoot the messenger!)

4. Be sure you are drinking a minimum of 8-10 cups of water per day.

Lastly, if you are doing the above things and you can’t get out of it, try keeping track of your food intake for a few days using an online record keeping system like sparkpeople or myfitnesspal (both free and easy to use) to get an objective take on what you are consuming. I once worked with a woman who swore up and down she was only consuming 1200 calories per day. When she finally decided to track it, she was mortified to find out she was actually consuming 2400 per day. That’s twice as much!

You can also consider a weight loss aid, such as an appetite suppressant. I talk about your options in a previous post here, available through your doctor and natural options that you can contact me about if interested in learning more.

Once you understand that this is a lifelong effort, you will begin to understand that there is no such thing as going “on” a diet (because that means eventually you are going “off” a diet) but rather, changing your lifestyle.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle and lose weight, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Email: contact@jillianmcmullen.com

Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

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