We’ve all been there. You officially take the leap and have committed to a healthier you. You start eating better, exercising regularly, drinking more water and cutting out those five sodas a day you thought you wouldn’t be able to survive without. To your surprise, the pounds start coming off and you actually start looking forward to your weekly weigh-ins.
Fast forward a few months. You’re ten pounds from your goal weight. You’ve come so far. You’ve stuck to your same exercise routine and are still eating a healthy diet (no matter how many times you get those Sunday morning donut cravings!) but when it’s time for those weekly weigh-ins, the scale just won’t budge.
Why are those last few pounds so hard to lose? Why do our bodies hit a plateau when we are still doing what seemed to work in the beginning? The answer: routine. Our bodies are meant to adjust to new things so we become more efficient with less work. That’s why creating habits can be so difficult. Eating better and exercising regularly were likely very difficult when you started. As a result your body had to work extra hard to keep up with the new demands. Hence the scale being your friend during this time! Eventually, as your new routines started to become habits, your body learned how to run more efficiently with less work. You no longer struggled to run a mile and could actually carry a light conversation if you wanted.
So the key to breaking through that wall…breaking the routine. We want to throw curve balls at our body to “trick it” and keep guessing at what will come next. The best way to do this is using what we call a FITT model.
F – frequency
I – intensity
T – Time
T – type
We want to give the body something it’s not used to. If you typically exercise 3 days/week increase your frequency to 4 or 5 days/week. Your body will have to work harder to adjust to the increased days of exercise leading to more weight loss and more change.
You’ve gotten really good at running and have actually started to enjoy it (or tolerate it at least). You’ve found your “sweet spot” pace and love how you feel after a good run. Or you finally can lift those 10 pound weights for more reps than you ever thought you could. You decide to stick to that weight because it’s still a challenge, but not as much as it was before. Although this is great for weight maintenance, it doesn’t bode well for continual weight loss. It’s time to up your intensity and keep tricking your body causing it to work harder to keep up with the ongoing changes. For example, instead of running a 9.5 minute mile, aim to run a 9 minute mile. Or add hills to your mile instead of only running on a flat surface. Instead of using 10 pound weights for 10+ reps, aim to do 3-4 reps with 12 pound weights.
Whatever it is you choose to do for your cardio (running, kickboxing, swimming, biking) workouts, increase the time slightly but not too much. For example, instead of swimming for 30 minutes, swim for 35 minutes. Instead of running for only 25 minutes , run for your normal 25 minutes then immediately switch to the bike for an extra 10 minutes.
Let’s say you love the elliptical and have religiously been using that for your cardio workouts. Or you’re hooked on your indoor cycling classes 3-4 days a week and will do anything to keep from missing a class. Our bodies adapt to everything we do so what was once the hardest thing we’ve ever done (think back to your first cycling class…..) gets easier and more enjoyable. Just as stated before, while this is great for weight maintenance, it can leave us frustrated when we are trying to lose weight and not seeing the same results over time. Try taking a kickboxing class 1-2x per week. Or add swimming or running to your cardio routine.
And don’t forget to add strength training, too! It’s proven that building muscle is one of the best ways to burn fat. Strength training 2-3/week is essential for continual weight loss and maintenance, but we’ll save that for another post!