Losing weight is a lot of work. You count calories. You avoid that piece of pie that you really want. You make time to exercise every day. (Well, almost every day.) If you’re hitting the gym, making the right food choices and still not losing weight, it can be tempting to quit. Why do all this work if the scale isn’t budging? If you have hit a weight loss plateau, here are five things to try help you break through.

1. Check Your Calories

The first step to breaking through a plateau is to take a detailed look at what you are eating. Write down everything you eat for a week. Take the time to measure the creamer you put in your coffee and the amount of food you put on your plate. (You may need to invest in a food scale to properly measure your foods.) After a week, look at your calorie count. Believe it or not, you may be eating too little. This will cause your body to hang onto all the calories you eat, in case it needs them for fuel later. For example, if you are eating 1200 calories a day, you are consuming too little. Upping your daily calorie count to 1350 will make a big difference in how you look and feel. If you realize you are eating too many calories, then reduce the amount by 100 – 200 calories for a few weeks. If you are still stuck after adjusting calories, then it might be time to focus on the exact foods you are eating.

2. Change Your Macros

Macronutrients are the three main parts of food: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Try cutting back on carbs and replacing those calories with fat and protein. If you don’t want to cut carbs, then consider replacing processed foods like bread and pasta with whole foods like sweet potatoes, zucchini, and fresh fruit. Do you think you might not get enough protein? Add lean meats into your diet and see how you feel after 2 weeks. Remember not to be afraid of healthy fat. Eating fat does not make you fat and will actually help you feel full for longer, keeping you from overeating. You can also try eliminating food groups for a few weeks to see if they are causing you problems. For example, some people cannot eat cheese or milk and still lose weight. If it is not a vegetable, lean meat, or healthy fat, then try cutting out that food group for a few weeks. If you still do not see a change in the scale, then it’s time to focus on your exercise routine.

3. Try a New Exercise

If you aren’t regularly exercising, then it is time to start. Begin with with short walks and gentle exercises like yoga. If you already exercise, then change your routine. If you only do cardio, add in strength training. You don’t have to lift heavy weights. Body weight exercise like squats, lunges, planks and pushups will build muscle. If you usually do steady state cardio, try interval training. You can mix up the intensity in your normal routines or try something like high intensity interval training. Conversely, if you always go hard at the gym, take a break. Do some low intensity cardio sessions or lift lighter weights. Muscle is built during recovery, not when you are working. As you add in different elements to your workout, keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat. If you find the scale moving up but your clothes are getting looser, then you’re building lean muscle and burning fat.

4. Sleep More, Stress Less

How’s your sleep? Are you getting enough? If you are constantly sleep deprived, then you are actively sabotaging you weight loss journey. As mentioned above, your body rebuilds itself while it is resting, not working. Both sleep deprivation and stress produce stress hormones which will cause your body to store more fat. You also have a tendency to eat more when you are tired or stressed. Make sleep and relaxation a priority. Take a rest day from the gym. Go to bed an hour earlier each night. If you are feeling stressed, make a list of each of your stressors. Look for solutions to either solve the problem or ease your anxiety. If you can find a friend or family to work with you on the list, even better. Consider adding yoga, meditation, or religious services to you weekly routine. If you are more rested and less distracted, you’ll see an improvement in your gym sessions and eating habits as well.

5. Drink Up

Staying hydrated can be easy to forget when you’re trying to balance food, exercise, work and rest. But if you’re only drinking the minimum amount of water you need, your body cannot properly flush itself out. You might become constipated, which will add pounds, not to mention make for a very uncomfortable situation. Drinking water will also help you feel fuller, causing you to eat less. If you can handle caffeine, then use coffee or tea strategically to fuel your workouts. You’ll burn more calories during and after your session. If caffeine adds to your stress or lack of sleep (see above), then focus on drinking water and ditching high calorie coffees, smoothies, sports drinks, and sodas. Get a large, reusable water bottle and set a goal to drink it throughout the day.  Make sure you are also drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts.

Remember, losing weight is a long, non-linear process. There will always be starts and stops. You’ll need to make changes throughout the process to accommodate your changing body. When you hit a weight loss plateau, you can also use other measurements to check progress. Take pictures and measure yourself every 10 days to see how your body is changing. If you can see a difference in your body, then then you know you’re making the right choices and can continue your current habits. Remember your health is so much more than a number on the scale.

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