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How can I break through a weight loss plateau?

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The question

My weight loss has come to a halt. How do I speed it up again?

The answer

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This is a question I am asked often by my private practice clients. After losing 10 pounds or more, why do those last few seem to take forever to come off, or not come off at all?

Well, sometimes it's because you've reached a plateau, despite doing everything right. If you are confident you're following your weight loss plan as closely as you did when you were losing weight, it's time to ramp up your exercise routine. It is not the time to cut back on your calorie intake. That's because consuming too few calories – usually less than 1,200 per day for women – can cause your body to think it's in starvation mode. As a result, your body holds on to every calorie, not knowing when it's getting the next, and weight loss slows down or stops.

Instead, beef up your exercise. If you've been doing the same workout routine for months, challenge your body. Consider cross training by adding different types of cardiovascular workouts to your weekly routine. Or, add an extra cardio workout each week. Or lengthen the duration off your cardio sessions. If you're not already doing so, add strength training to your program.

Most often, however, I see sloppy mistakes get in the way of clients continuing to make progress. After achieving most of their weight loss, it's only natural for people to feel good. Their clothes are no longer snug and they have more energy. Eventually, old habits can creep back in. Here are the strategies I share with clients who fall into this trap. I hope you might find one or two helpful!

· Get back on track now, not Monday. If you slip up on your food intake at one meal, get right back on plan. Don't berate yourself or feel guilty. As I tell my clients, one lapse won't make any difference to the scale. But if you let those slips accumulate, they will show up.

· Measure your food. Creeping portion sizes happen so gradually that many people don't even notice. But the scale does eventually. Refresh your memory about portion sizes. For two weeks, measure and weigh your foods again.

· Get rid of the "extras." An extra dessert, a few tastes while making dinner, a bite or two off your kid's plate. Those extra calories can stall your weight loss progress. Follow your meal plan more closely by resuming a food diary.

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· Be consistent on the weekend. Straying from your plan on the weekend can lead to a few extra pounds on Monday morning. It's water weight but you still end up losing ground as you chase those two or three pounds during the week. Be consistent with your eating habits on the weekend.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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