You’ve been watching what you eat, saying no to the office complimentary donuts in the kitchen, putting lemon slices in your water and you feel you’ve been putting in the work but now the scale isn’t budging. Oh gosh what to do?

Well this requires you to be realistic and honest about the work you put in, because it’s either 1 of 2 things that happened: either you need to do MORE to make more progress because your body has adapted OR you’re slacking with your program/nutrition. So how do we know where to go and what does it all mean?

Am I slacking?

To find out if you’re slacking, you need to be objective. Not checking how you feel such as “I feel I’ve been putting in the work”. Track or weigh your food. Have your portion sizes slowly increased? This can happen when we get too “comfortable” with our progress. Sort of like going to the doctor, getting antibiotics prescribed for 5 days, on day 2 you feel better so you stop taking them. But you do need to complete the course. Likewise, you need to be consistent with your food quantity and make sure you aren’t going back to previous ways. Or have you done some late night pantry raiding at midnight a couple times this week? If that is the case, then it’s a simple fix,and progress can continue.

Also do track your physical activity. And by this I don’t mean if you’re going to the gym less – because it’s easy to know if you’ve missed 3 days of exercise or if you have been half-assing your workouts – you’ll know you have to pick it up. I mean during the day, are you finding yourself feeling tired and lazy, sitting more, walking less and taking fewer steps? Using the elevator all the time, using the escalator instead of the stairs, just sort of “lazying” it around more? You may be having fewer steps a moving around less. So do take note of that.

Am I rewarding myself too much?

Are you “rewarding” yourself with a big meal/high calorie treat for working out. While the idea of rewarding yourself after putting in work is a good one (positive reinforcement), choosing food as the way to reward yourself will usually lead to eating back the calories. This is quite common and a trap that keeps a lot of us spinning our wheels – you workout really hard (yayyy) then reward yourself with a 500 calorie shake. Do be mindful of this – especially with drinks.

Choose a form that doesn’t directly counter your efforts – go to the cinema, buy yourself a new shirt to match your new version of you if you must, but the best is to simply take pride in who you are becoming, reward yourself with a mental pat on your back. If you have to rely on external rewards and instant gratification, you won’t be able to sustain it in the long term. So do learn to take pride in yourself and enjoy the progress for the sake of he progress itself.

I’m on track but the scale isn’t budging. Now what?

This one is a bit trickier, because now it means you’ve “leveled up” so to speak. You have reached the limit of what your changes can do. So now you have to adjust either your food intake by reducing it, or increasing your exercise activities. In other words what got you here (current situation) won’t get you there (your end goal).

Making such changes depends really on what you’re able to do – you can add cardio activities if you haven’t, increase the cardio you are doing, or reduce your food intake (calories total). Another aspect ties into what was briefly mentioned above: walking more, increasing your steps and deliberately being more active in your day to day life.

This graph showing the total daily expenditure shows what contributes to your energy output – if you simply increase the exercise(EAT) or become more active in day to day (NEAT) your energy expenditure will go up and you will break your plateau.

The aspect of NEAT plays a much bigger role in contributing to your weight progress. It’s why if you have a job that require you to walk around a lot you will find yourself “accidentally” losing weight – sure its accidental because you don’t necessarily decide to do so. Then when you go on leave or you switch jobs to a more sedentary one, you’ll find losing weight is “that much harder”. It’s not harder, it’s just that your NEAT is way lower and you’ll need to focus on either decreasing your food, increasing your exercise (more cardio) or increasing NEAT by taking the stairs, walking to places instead of driving, more home activities such as cleaning, taking the dog for walks etc.

There’s only so much cardio and exercise you can do in a given day – for the average person with an active life – working, family, etc. So focusing on NEAT and food alterations are the best bet.

Making Continuous Progress Isn’t Easy

Staying “on track” especially using a tool such as the scale can make things harder. What to we even mean by on track? Because the longer you go on your journey the HARDER it will get to make the same progress.

As you put in more work, you’ll see less and less results. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t putting in the work, it’s the law of diminishing returns. Your effort to get 80% progress will be doable, but to get to the last 20%, you’ll need to put in exponentially more amount of work to make the same progress. If that is the case, you’ll have no choice but to amp things up. The cost of progress is putting in the work to achieve it, and if you are at a place in which you are not yet happy with, you have to keep pushing.

For this reason, using different tools to measure progress is better than a single one – how your clothes fit, how you look in the mirror, your progress in the gym and how disciplined you feel. You can decide to simply use another measurement that’s less outcome based – such as how much energy you have or your improved mood after exercising.

In summary, reaching a weight loss plateau can feel discouraging, however if you truly are honest with yourself and take note of your daily habits, you’ll find the answer to breaking the plateau lies in one of those factors and thus you can continue on your path to your goal.

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