Whether you're struggling with losing those final pounds or just can't seem to get your weight loss jump-started, it's frustrating to watch your weight stay constant while you diet and exercise. Understand the reasons for not losing weight despite diet and exercise and start shedding pounds again.
Be Honest With Yourself
Keeping a food journal is a helpful way to keep track of calories, but only if you're completely honest about what you're putting in your body. Remember that veggie tray at work where you grabbed a few pieces and dipped them in creamy dressing? That dressing has 63 calories per tablespoon, but the veggies aren't "free and clear" either.
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Each baby carrot, for example, has just 4 calories. Eat six with dip, and you've just added 87 calories to your daily intake, even though you felt you were adhering to your plan. That can really make a difference if you're limited to eating 1,200 calories and not losing weight.
Read more: 10 Dos and Don'ts for Using a Food Diary
Imprecise measuring is another potential pitfall that can add on more calories than you're consciously aware of. Eating a treat, like peanut butter off a spoon, can quell your hungry belly; however, using a spoon from your table to scoop up as much as you can is likely to deliver more calories than you're expecting. Each tablespoon has 85 calories and 7 grams of fat, according to the USDA. Unless you're using a measuring spoon, you're probably eating several times that amount per "spoonful."
Each pound of fat you lose is 3,500 calories you either didn't eat or else burned off with exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic, so it's crucial to be honest for your journaling to be successful. Photo-tracking your food with your smartphone, using an app such as Bitesnap, can make it easy to keep track of those snacks on the go, as well as regular meals. Or keep a small notepad in a purse or pocket to write down foods you've eaten and look up the USDA calorie counts later.
Adjust the Calories
If you're sure you're tracking every calorie accurately, the problem might lie with the total number of calories you're consuming. Even if an 1,800-calorie diet helped you to lose weight initially, it could be that now, the same number of calories is just right to maintain your present weight.
For example, if 1,800 calories were right for you at the start of your weight-loss journey, as your body composition changed, your body likely adapted to the new regimen. This leaves you a choice to lower your caloric intake further or to increase caloric burn. The Mayo Clinic suggests decreasing your caloric intake by 500 to 1,000 calories per day to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week.
However, consuming fewer than 1,200 calories per day if you're a woman (or 1,500 if you're a man) makes it difficult to get adequate nutrition, according to the Mayo Clinic. Ultra-low caloric intake isn't sustainable, as your body will demand more to support its needs, leading to irrepressible cravings. Make every bite count, by honing your diet to include only the most nutritious foods. The Mayo Clinic suggests reducing your calories by:
- Skipping low-nutrition, high-calorie items. That iced latte can pack 162 calories, delivering 10 percent of the day's calories if you're on a 1,600-calorie plan.
- Replacing high-calorie items with low-calorie alternatives. For example, a lemon-lime soda packs 151 calories; substitute sparkling mineral water with a squeeze of lemon or lime, add a few drops of monk fruit sweetener and enjoy a tasty drink for under 2 calories.
- Reducing portion sizes. You don't have to stand around looking hungry while the rest of the family is enjoying a weekend breakfast of pancakes. Just have the griddle master make yours a bit smaller and eat less. For example, a large, 8-inch pancake heaps 240 calories onto your plate, while a more modest 6-inch pancake delivers only 128. Remember that butter, syrup, fruit and whipping cream all add to the count, so choose low-calorie options.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
About 60 percent of the human body is composed of water, according to Johns Hopkins University (JHU), so it's little wonder that staying hydrated is vital for every body process, including weight loss. Drinking water won't magically take off the pounds; however, it will support your body's metabolic efficiency so that you can more easily shed the weight.
Your body needs water to burn fat and, although the mechanism hasn't explicitly been ironed out by scientists, JHU notes that mild dehydration decreases the body's ability to process these compounds. Changes in levels of cortisol, the hormone that signals your body to store more fat, triggered by inadequate hydration, could be responsible for increased lipolysisor, the expansion of cell volume. It could also affect the way that fat gets stored in, or passes out of, the body.
Water also makes you feel full, so drinking a glass of this liquid a half-hour before meals can assist in lower calorie consumption. Cold water is particularly helpful, according to JHU, as your body has to expend more calories in a process called thermogenesis to bring it up to body temperature.
Muscle Weight vs. Fat Weight
As your body begins to shed fat, your exercise regimen is likely increasing your musculature. You might have lost 10 pounds of fat and built 10 pounds of muscle, but your scale still registers the same number. This is a common reason for your weight not reducing in spite of exercise.
Just as a pound of marshmallows takes up more space than a pound of raisins, each pound of body muscle takes up less space than fat of the same weight. If you're noticing that your clothes are roomier in the areas where you had more body fat, such as your hips or belly, you're probably still on target with your weight-loss goals.
Measuring your body and entering the results in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health's American Body Composition Calculator for Individuals can give you a more accurate picture of your body composition than your scale alone. You'll need a measuring tape and skinfold calipers — available for less than $20 online — for the most accurate results.
Enlist the help of a friend to get the most accurate measurements. Measure the circumference of your waist, thigh, calf and upper arm. Then record the length of your upper leg and upper arm. Finally, use the calipers to determine the thickness of the skin on your triceps and scapula.
Keep track of your progress in a notebook. You'll get the most consistent results for comparison if you limit variables that can affect your body's water retention, according to Seattle Pacific University Exercise Science Laboratory. These include:
- Eating or drinking within four hours before you take measurements.
- Exercising within 12 hours.
- Drinking alcohol within 48 hours.
- Using diuretics within a week.
- Reducing the number of calories in your regimen significantly within 48 hours of taking measurements.
It's also helpful to use the restroom 30 minutes before taking measurements to minimize fluctuations in water retention. Keep track of your results regularly, on a monthly or weekly basis. Schedule your measurement-taking sessions with your partner at the same time of day and, if possible, on the same day of the week to account for body composition variations based on any differences in routine from day to day.
- USDA FoodData Central: "Creamy Dressing"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Peanut Butter"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Carrots, Raw"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Homepage"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Coffe, Iced Latte"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Beverages, Carbonated, Lemon-Lime Soda, No Caffeine"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Lemon Juice"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Lime Juice, 100 Percent, Freshly Squeezed
- USDA FoodData Central: "Pancakes, Plain"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories; Getting Back to Weight Loss Basics"
- International Food Information Council Foundation: "Monk Fruit Sweeteners"
- Johns Hopkins University: "Yes, Drinking More Water May Help You Lose Weight"
- UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health: "The American Body Composition Calculator for Individuals"