That, my friends, is called a weight-loss plateau -and honestly, it's not all in your head.
TBH, your body doesn't really want you to lose weight-when you cut back on calories, it sometimes thinks you're trying to starve yourself. Your body will then make you feel hungry because it thinks something is wrong and wants you to gain that weight back, says Peter LePort, M.D., a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.
Also, when you start losing weight (muscle or fat), your body's metabolic rate slows down, which means your body starts burning calories at a lower rate, too.
Frustratingly enough, there is also a "set point" at which your body does not want to lose any more weight, says Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., an instructor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. "You might notice that no matter what you try, you are always within five to 10 pounds of a baseline weight, she says. When you attempt to lose weight, the body aims to defend its set point, via the brain, to keep you in a certain range.
Still, you're not totally SOL if you've still got a ways to go before you hit your healthy weight. Here's how you can push past your weight loss plateau-and start losing again.
1. Dial your workouts down a notch.
If youre experiencing exhaustion while trying to lose weight, that could be a sign that your workouts are actually too intense. Often, people try to ramp up their physical activity to levels that are not easy to maintain," says Stanford. "While they may get some short-term benefit with regards to weight loss, this may be difficult to maintain which will lead to weight regain.
One study published in the journal Current Biology found that more exercise does not equal more calories burned; instead, those who exercised moderately used the same amount of energy as those who slaved away at the gym. The best route? Stick to the Department of Health and Human Services recommendation of least two and a half hours (or 150 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, plus strength training at least two days per week.
2. Add more protein to your diet.
When you lose weight, the brain and body compensate by making you hungry, which causes you to eat or store more, says Stanford. Research published in the journal Obesity showed that patients being given either a placebo or a weight-loss triggering Type 2 diabetes drug ate 100 more calories per day for every two pounds they lost-indicating that weight loss really does make you hungrier.
To push past this, try adding a bit more protein to your daily diet (like, an extra serving of beans or lean meats), which can help fill you up faster and help you feel fuller, longer, says Stanford.
3. Try to de-stress (no, seriously).
If youve reached the point in your weight-loss journey where literally everyone is pissing you off (trust-it happens), it might be time to take a mental breather to keep losing weight (without losing your mind).
Women who followed a 1,200-calorie-a-day diet, according to a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine , produced more cortisol, the stress hormone, and reported higher levels of stress . And a study published in the journal Obesity found that prolonged exposure to cortisol (like, several months) can actually lead to weight gain-or, if you're actively trying to lose weight, it can at least stall your progress.
The game plan? Try some de-stressing techniques (yoga or meditation, anyone?). Its also important for you to be aware that weight-loss plateaus exist, and to cut yourself some slack when they happen, LePort says. If you know you tend to get stressed out when things dont go your way (fair), you can try adding regular self-care activities into the mix, like hanging in a warm bath with candles and a trashy book.
4. Keep a food journal (and actually, you know, use it).
In the initial stages of weight loss, people may see that weight comes off rapidly because they are creating a caloric and exercise deficit their body hasnt experienced before, says Feller. After some time, however, it can be easy to slip back into bad eating or sedentary habits. Relaxing the reins around portion sizes can stall weight loss, she says.
Try keeping a food journal to keep your diet plan on track, she suggests. People who kept daily food records lost about twice as much as people who didnt, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine .
5. Do more strength training.
Its easy to think that endless cardio is the quickest way to weight loss, but dont skimp on strength training, says Feller. Cardio will result in weight loss, but you will lose lean body mass in addition to fat. And losing lean body mass will reduce your metabolic rate and can precipitate a plateau.
Remember: Make sure youre strength training at least two days a week. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, meaning that the more lean body mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest, explains Feller.
Moves to help you break out of your workout plateau.
11. Carry a water bottle around with you-everywhere.
Water is a game-changer when it comes to weight loss, for a few reasons: For starters, it keeps you hydrated, which can then help keep you feeling good during workouts and in life in general. But its easy to mistake being thirsty for being hungry, Stanford says-and that can lead to unnecessary noshing. If you have already eaten, and one hour later you feel hungry, try drinking fluids first, Parrott says.
To make sure you get enough water -which varies for everyone, but typically means eight, eight-ounce glasses-by carrying around a water bottle with you at all times, so it's there when you need it.
12. Eat vegetables at every. Single. Meal.
In general, people tend to eat the same volume of food every day. So, if you want to lose weight and dont want to feel hungry all the time, youre probably going to want to eat the same amount of food daily-just on fewer calories. (A calorie deficit is the key to weight loss).
One of the best ways to make sure youre filling up on the good stuff is to eat veggies at every meal, Weinandy says. That way, youre replacing higher calorie foods you would have otherwise eaten with lower calorie, healthier fare. Adding veggies at every meal also increases your fiber intake, which, again, helps fill you up and keeps you feeling fuller, longer.