By Justine Holberg
You’re tracking calories, working out each day, then bam! For a week or two, the scale refuses to budge…and you realize you’ve hit a dreaded weight loss plateau. Now what? Even though it’s completely normal to hit a snag in your fitness journey, a perceived setback like this can send even the most dedicated dieter off course, away from healthy eating and toward cookies, cake, and pizza. But you can be strong and start getting back on the weight-loss track again. Try at least one of the following techniques, and there’s a good chance you’ll burst through your plateau in no time. Here are five important things to know about hydration and exercise:
1. Zigzag your daily calorie intake. In theory, you’ve got to eat less to lose more, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes you just have to shake things up. Here’s one way to do it: If your average daily intake is 1,400 calories, try dropping to 1,200 one day, going up to 1,800 the next day, and then dropping back to 1,400. The idea is to keep your metabolism guessing. There’s no magic number that works for everyone, so you’ll have to experiment until you find the right calorie levels for you. According to Beachbody Director of Results Steve Edwards, what happens when you zigzag is that you force your body to choose how many calories it needs to recover from the rigors of your exercise program. “Most people who hit a plateau are undereating. If you are indeed undereating, adding calories for a few days, then lowering them again, will help you force your body into a hormonal response that will not only help you break out of a plateau, but—as you learn to recognize the signals—will teach you how much food you should be eating.”
2. Switch up your exercise routine. If you do the same workout each day, eventually it can start to become less challenging, and (unfortunately) less effective. If you push yourself to new levels of strength or exhaustion, you’ll almost certainly see a shift. Here are some ways you can challenge your body:
- Swap your jog for a bike ride.
- Try weights with your cardio routine. (ChaLEAN Extreme® or RevAbs® can help you do this.)
- Add intervals of high intensity to really make you sweat. (INSANITY® is a great workout for this.)
- Drop to the floor for 10 push-ups right now!
The idea is to try something different. According to Edwards, “The better you get at something, the easier it becomes. That’s why we’re always telling you to add more weight as you get stronger, and to move faster and jump higher as our programs progress. But it’s also why all of our programs have phases of training. As your body adapts to stimulus, you need to change that stimulus in order to keep results happening.”
3. Eat some almonds. Almonds are a great snack, plus there’s some research that indicates that they can help you burn fat. That’s because they contain fiber and fatty acids—the good kind of fat that helps you lose weight. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity compared two groups of people who ate a 1,000-calorie-a-day diet. As part of their daily diet, one group ate 3 ounces of almonds every day. The other group ate a mix of complex carbs. What happened? The group that ate the almonds lost more weight. So next time you grab a snack, try a small handful of almonds, or as Edwards says, “Any nut, really. While almonds are one of the better nuts, all of them have a similar nutritional profile and make excellent snacks. That research probably would have turned out similarly if they’d used walnuts or filberts or whatever.”
4. Get more sleep. This may seem like the opposite of number 2, but the truth is is that you could be training too hard, which is about the quickest way to hit a weight loss plateau, because an over-trained body holds on to weight as if it were starving to death. There’s no better way to test this than to try and sleep more. The reason is that your body recovers much more quickly from exercise while it’s asleep, and if you’re burning the midnight oil while trying to do INSANITY, you could easily plateau from lack of recovery time. In a recent study at the University of Chicago Medical School, researchers found that during a period when study participants were deprived of sleep, they metabolized glucose less effectively. Additionally, they had higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which has been shown to impair memory, increase insulin resistance, and slow recovery in athletes. “There’s a good reason why five-time Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx said, ‘The Tour is won in bed,'” says Edwards. Your body’s recovery response during deep sleep is only rivaled by performance-enhancing drugs. When you’re on the borderline of overtraining, getting more sleep is the first thing anyone should try.”
5. Relax. Believe it or not, the one big thing besides diet and exercise that can cause you to plateau is stress. When you’re stressed, your body sends out higher levels of the hormone cortisol that, as stated in number 4, can encourage your body to hang on to fat. “Cortisol is actually a performance-enhancing hormone,” says Edwards. “But it’s gotten a bad rap because we’ve begun living our lives at too high a volume. Cortisol is released at times when the body is in an emergency state. It increases performance, but only over a short period of time. When cortisol is released and forced into action at regular intervals, it causes your body to wear down and switch to more drastic means of survival, like holding on to excess amounts of body fat. Your life shouldn’t feel like one big emergency. As a society, we need to learn to be more tranquilo, as the Spanish say.” We get stressed for many reasons, almost all of which are influenced by the society around us. One of the best ways to combat stress is to get some alone time to chill. If you’re the type who can’t let go, try some forced relaxation techniques, of which yoga seems to be one of the most effective. There’s something special about the mind/body interaction of yoga that forces a relaxed state even from the most stressed of us. If you feel you need a lot of help, dig into an intense course, like P90X Yoga X. For others, something lighter, like Yoga Booty Ballet® Pure and Simple Yoga, will do the trick. If you’re not into yoga, then consider at least adding some stretching into your schedule. Most of Beachbody’s programs have at least one stretching session. TurboFire® even has two!