"You're doing everything correctly," I said, carefully reviewing my friend's copiously detailed food journal. She ate clean, addressed food intolerances, combined burst training with weight resistance at the gym, got eight hours' sleep every night, controlled stress levels, and drank optimal amounts of water.
Even doing all that, my friend struggled with weight loss resistance, a term I coined for folks who do everything correctly yet can't consistently lose two to three pounds every week.
Numerous obstacles underlie weight loss resistance, and I addressed seven often-overlooked culprits in this HuffPost blog. Some people immediately get tested and pinpoint their problems. Others, like my friend, weren't so eager to endure extensive testing.
"I'll address those issues in due time," my friend promised, "but I need strategies I can put into action right now to ditch that damn fat for my high school reunion in three weeks."
Combining the latest science with nearly three decades of empirical evidence, I developed these five strategies to overcome weight loss resistance.
1. Cycle your calories. Calories count, but hormones count more. That's why lower-calorie and low-fat diets eventually fail, as your metabolic machinery slows down to adjust for decreased caloric intake. Mixing up your dietary routine can keep your metabolism on its toes. "Rather than trying to eat even less every day, try alternating high and low calorie days," writes Monica Reinagel, CNS, on The Huffington Post. You needn't become militant with numbers. Simply try a mid-afternoon snack on some days while others you stick to three solid meals and no snacking. Keep a journal and scrupulously document your results. If you need a little motivation to write it down: One study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found those who tracked everything they ate lost twice as much weight as those who didn't.
2. Address food intolerances. Food intolerances can create inflammation, insulin resistance, and weight loss resistance. I proposed eliminating gluten for three weeks to see how you feel, but dairy, corn, eggs, peanuts, soy, sugar, and artificial sweeteners also become big offenders for these and other problems. "Eventually, inflammation seeps throughout the body, establishing an environment ripe for weight gain and chronic disease," says Dr. Mark Hyman about food intolerances, noting eliminating problematic foods "may be the single most important thing most you can do to lose weight." Take the challenge. Completely pull these seven foods for just three weeks and see if that doesn't become your fat loss needle mover.
3. Try this modified version of intermittent fasting. One study in the journal Cell Metabolism allowed mice to either eat whenever they wanted or for an eight-hour window. Both groups ate the same amount of calories, yet the fasting mice weighed significantly less, had improved insulin sensitivity, lowered inflammation, and improved levels of leptin, your satiety hormone. You can get those same intermittent fasting benefits without hunger or deprivation. Eat a substantial breakfast and lunch that includes lean protein, healthy fats, lots of leafy and cruciferous vegetables, and slow-release high-fiber starches. Then skip dinner and resume eating the next morning's breakfast. You'll effortlessly create that 16-hour fat-burning fasting window.
4. Become a sugar sleuth. You know devouring pecan-glazed sweet potato casserole will give you a sugar surge, but you might not realize many other so-called healthy foods can provide just as much sugar and create a halo effect so you overindulge. Registered Dietitian Elle Penner says instant oatmeal contains over four teaspoons of sugar and Greek yogurt about three teaspoons of added sugar. Other offenders include vinaigrette dressings and sweetened almond milk. They might not seem like much on their own, but these sneaky sugars add up quickly. Addressing and eliminating them can become key to overcome weight loss resistance.
5. Shake things up. I've had many clients who effortlessly substituted two meals for protein shakes to overcome plateaus. One study in Diabetes/ Metabolism Research and Reviews found people with "metabolic syndrome achieved significant weight loss while preserving fat-free mass when treated with an energy-restricted, high-protein diet that included nutrient-dense meal replacements..." You can get those benefits blending 20 - 25 grams of high-quality protein powder with kale or other leafy greens, avocado, unsweetened coconut or almond milk, and freshly ground flax or chia seeds.
I've shared some of my top strategies for weight loss resistance. Now I'd love to hear yours for breaking fat loss plateaus in the comments section below.