The most important thing is not to give up. It's easy to get frustrated and abandon your weight loss efforts altogether when the stubborn pounds refuse to budge — or when you find yourself losing the same three or four pounds over and over.
If you give up, though, you'll be amazed how quickly you can pack ten or twenty pounds or more back on! If your weight is holding steady, or increasing very slowly, then your efforts really are working to some extent, even if it feels like it's all for naught. Recognize that maintaining your weight loss for a week or more is something to be grateful for, not angry about.
Here are some common reasons for a plateau and some advice:
- Your caloric needs have gone down. The lighter you are, the fewer calories it takes to sustain you. The same calorie count that was delivering a two-pound-per-week weight loss when you were 15 pounds heavier might cause your new, lighter body to gain a pound per week! If you're using an online calorie counter, make sure you're updating your weight regularly; it should self adjust. If not, use an online calculator (preferably one that takes your gender and age into account) to recaculate your calorie goal for your new weight. I like the one at Livestrong's Daily Plate, but you need to be a member to use it. This one is also good.
- Your portion sizes are creeping up. This happens to everyone after a while. It's worthwhile — and eye opening! — to measure everything for a few days until you have a handle on it again.
- Your body has adjusted to your workouts. Remember how hard it was when you first started [walking/jogging/zumba/whatever-you-do]? Is it that hard now? You need to be exerting the same amount of perceived effort (label it on a scale of 1-10 for yourself) in order to be burning the same number of calories. As your body becomes more efficient at what you've been doing, you'll need to step it up or change it completely.
- You are indulging in little bits that add up. When you first started dieting, it probably consumed your mind and you were diligent. Now, maybe you toss 'just one' cookie into your mouth now and then, or have a couple of a friend's french fries. An hour later, you might not even remember that you nibbled fifty calories here, a hundred calories there. Weight Watchers has a rule: You bite it, you write it. Commit to getting serious about your program again.
- Sometimes you can't identify a reason. It still doesn't hurt to change up what you're eating, what kind of exercise you're doing, or step up your dedication to measuring and recording your food intake. Eating more protein and dropping more carbs helps some people over a hump. Moving calories earlier in the day helps others. Switch up your exercise routine — more cardio/less weightlifting or vice versa — to keep your body responding.
If you discover that you've plateau'd because you were nibbling or overestimating portions, or stopped recording your food altogether, practice forgiveness. You're human, this happens to everyone! Recommit, let it go, and move forward.