It’s perfectly natural for you to lose weight in fits and starts. Usually, if you stick with the program for a few more days—or even weeks, in some cases—weight loss will resume. You may just need some minor adjustments to get the scale moving in the right direction again. Here are some trouble-shooting questions that should help you get back on track.
- Have you altered your activity level or made any other significant lifestyle change? Non-exercise activity is the not-so-secret ingredient in ongoing weight management. If you've decreased your activity level, you may have noticed your weight loss has stalled. Simple lifestyle changes are a great way to speed things up. Increasing your activity will jumpstart your metabolism and will also allow you to consume more carbs without gaining weight. Simple changes that include taking the stairs, avoiding moving platforms, parking far from your destination, pacing while talking on phone, fidgeting while sitting at your desk, and the utilization of exogenous weights, such as ankle and wrist weights, during activities of daily living will help you burn more calories.
- Are you taking in more grams of net carbs than you’re aware of? Carbohydrates are a component of so many foods that it’s easy to surpass your recommended net carb level. Don’t forget to count artificial sweeteners (see No. 8 below). Be sure to read labels; salad dressings, condiments, sauces and other convenience items vary dramatically in carbohydrate content. Always select the lowest carb version of a food.
- Are you consuming excess protein? Keep your portion sizes reasonable. You should feel satisfied, not stuffed after a meal. Try this: Don’t eat as much as you normally do at a meal or snack. After 30 minutes, if you’re no longer hungry, you’ll begin to recognize the difference between habit and real hunger. You’ll then be able to stop eating when you’re full, which promotes weight loss.
- Are you eating at least three meals a day? Skipping meals will cause your blood sugar level to drop and may slow your metabolism. You’ll be more apt to overeat at your next meal. One of the benefits of the Atkins program is its ability to stabilize blood sugar and control appetite. Don’t skip meals!
- Are you drinking enough water each day? In addition to helping prevent constipation, water helps keep your body functioning properly in other ways. On any dietary regimen, a minimum of 64 ounces, or eight 8-ounce glasses, of water per day is the usual recommendation. Many people suffer from inadequate hydration, so it's important to be diligent about drinking throughout the day. Water consumption will also help flush toxins from your body and combat bad breath. You're also better able to discern true signs of hunger when you’re hydrated.
- Are you constipated? Be sure that you’re taking in at least 12 to 15 grams of net carbs in the form of vegetables, and not using most of your carb allotment on other foods. After the first few days, your body should adjust and constipation shouldn’t be a problem. When you begin to add more carbohydrates as you advance through the phases, your first choices should be more vegetables, followed by seeds and nuts and then berries— all good sources of fiber.
Another cause of constipation is inadequate hydration. Make sure that you’re drinking the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. If vegetables alone are not enough, consume some supplementary fiber in the form of unprocessed wheat bran or flaxseed meal sprinkled on a salad or ground flaxseed blended into a protein drink. The amount needed to stay regular varies from person to person. Start with a tablespoonful. It may take a few days to find the amount that works for you. Finally, increasing physical activity often helps.
- Have you started new medication?Talk with your doctor to find out if any of your medications affect weight gain or make it more difficult to lose. Medications can alter appetite, metabolism and water retention. If this is the case, work with your doctor to find possible substitutions.
- Are you overconsuming artificial sweeteners? Try to limit your intake to three or fewer packets of sweeteners a day. Count each packet as 1 gram of net carbs. For some people, using artificial sweeteners makes it more difficult to break the carbohydrate addiction.
If these suggestions aren’t enough to get the scale moving, you may be stranded on a plateau. A plateau—meaning an inexplicable pause in weight loss that cannot be traced back to dietary misdemeanors or lifestyle changes—can happen in the later stages of weight loss, after the first, “easy” pounds have slipped away. Fortunately, plateaus are seldom permanent and usually yield to certain strategies. First, figure out if you’re really on a plateau.
What Is a Plateau?
To be a genuine plateau, the pause in weight loss must meet the following criteria:
No weight loss or loss of inches for at least four weeks.
You haven't altered your exercise regimen or made any other significant lifestyle change.
You’re not taking any new medications (including hormone therapy) that may be interfering with weight loss.
You can honestly say you’ve adhered to all aspects of the program.
How to Handle a Plateau
First, stay calm. Don’t give up and return to your old way of eating.
Remember two things: First, your body is not a machine. Nor is it a clone of anyone else’s body. It has its own system, its own agenda and its own timetable. In the long run, your body nearly always responds to sensible management by the person in charge. That’s you.
But in the short run, your body may decide to go its own way, for its own reasons that we may not be able to understand. Don’t get mad at it—or yourself. It’s a good body or it wouldn’t have gotten you this far. Be patient; you can afford to outwait it.
Secondly, the number of pounds lost isn’t the only way to measure success. I hope you've followed our advice about measuring your chest, waist, hips, thighs and upper arms. If you’re losing inches, the scale will eventually catch up. Do your clothes feel looser? Have you tried on those clothes that “felt a little too tight” just a few weeks ago? Look at the other markers mentioned earlier. Are you feeling better than you used to? Do you have the energy to do what you want to do? If so, then something good is happening to your body. Be patient, eat right, and you will almost certainly see results before long.