Saturday, July 18, 2009

How Do I Prevent the Dreaded Weight Loss Plateau?

Everyone says that to lose pounds/fat you must reduce calories. Some people also say that your body gets used to being on reduced calories and actually becomes more determined to hold on to the fat that it has. Assuming these are both true, my question is: Would it be healthy and would it boost metabolism to eat on a cycle? For example.. to eat very low calories for "x" amount of days, then eat normally for a day or two, then repeat? And if so, what length of time would be recommendable for each part of the cycle? --Alicia N.

Dear Alicia,

What a perceptive question! It's true that you must reduce your calorie intake (or increase the number of calories you burn) in order to lose weight. It is also true that if you stay on a low calorie diet for a while your body will likely experience a reduced metabolic rate in order to conserve energy because it senses you are, in a sense, starving yourself.

In fact, there was a diet around in the 1980's named "The Rotation Diet" which worked on this principle: An extremely low calorie diet (600 calories for women and 900 for men) was followed for three days, a very low calorie diet for four more (900 calories for women and 1500 for men) and a low calorie diet for the next couple of weeks (1200 calorie for women and 1800 calories for men). The diet was theorized to prevent the "plateau" effect that occurs when a low calorie diet is followed for a period of time. In actuality it probably worked because of the extremely low calorie level ingested the entire time a person was following it!

In reality, diets below 1200 calories are likely to be lacking in nutrients and difficult to adhere to for any length of time. To my knowledge, no one is able to live on a diet like this for an extended period of time.
If, instead, you follow a calorie level that is in deficit of your needs by just 200-500 calories each day, you should lose two to five pounds per month and this phenomenon of slowed metabolism--or weight loss plateau-- should not occur. (This site can help you calculate your calorie needs based on height, weight, age, gender, and activity level

Most of the people who contact me concerning a plateau have been on a calorie level that is far too low for them because they wanted to experience quick weight loss. Slow and sure is the way to go for continuing healthy weight loss that you will be able to maintain in the long run.

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