Beat The Dreaded Diet Plateau

Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows about the dreaded plateau. It's that roadblock right after you've lost the initial weight, and you can't seem to shed another ounce.

This can be a discouraging time for a dieter. And what's worse, it can last from a few days to a few months. The first thing you should do upon hitting a plateau is to try and determine the cause. Could you be eating more calories than you think?

Research shows that most people underreport the number of calories they eat. It's not that they're lying; they just don't know how to make an accurate assessment of how much they're eating. And even if you're eating less calories than before you lost the weight, you could be eating just enough to maintain your current weight at your current activity level.

It's important to keep in mind that as you lose weight, your metabolism slows down because there is less of you to fuel, both at rest and during activity. So, while a diet of 1,800 calories per day helped you lose a certain amount of weight, if you've hit a plateau, it could be that 1,800 calories is the exact amount you need to stay at your current weight.

This leaves you with two options: Lower your caloric intake further or increase the amount of time you spend being physically active. The first option is less desirable, because you may not be able to get sufficient nutrients from a diet that is very low in calories (and it is difficult to stick to it for very long). It's much better to moderately reduce calories to a level that you can sustain when you reach your goal weight.

The same is true for exercise. Trying to exercise for several hours per day to burn more calories is a good way to set yourself up for failure. Not only does this type of regimen require an enormous time commitment, it's hard on the body, making you more susceptible to injury and overuse syndromes.

One way for you to get off the plateau is strength training. This has been shown to be very effective in helping people manage their weight, because the added muscle helps offset the metabolism-lowering effect of dieting and losing weight. Muscle is much more metabolically active than fat. Therefore, the more muscle you can add, the higher your metabolism will be.

What else can you do? Be sure that your weight-loss goal is realistic and that your expected rate of weight loss is reasonable. Each body has its own ideal weight and size. Don't compare yourself to anyone else, but listen to your body and notice what feels best for you.

Vary your program. The human body is an amazing piece of machinery, capable of adapting to just about any circumstance or stimulus. By shaking things up a bit and varying your program by introducing some new elements, you'll likely find yourself off the plateau and back on the road to progress in no time.

Remember the determination you felt when you first began your weight-loss program? Remember the excitement of watching the pounds drop one by one? Go back to whatever your initial motivation was and see whether it still works for you. It may have been the desire to lose weight for a particular event or to regain your figure after pregnancy. You may have been motivated by poor health or by the shock of just how much weight you had gained.

See whether the same motivation still has juice for you. If not, choose a new one. Keep a picture of yourself looking great on your refrigerator as a daily reminder of where you are heading.