Help I’ve Hit A Plateau!

dont give upAhh, the dreaded P-word. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle or increase your fitness level, almost everyone has hit a plateau sometime or another. In fact, I’ve hit several plateaus during the last couple years. The most important thing to remember when trying to overcome a plateau is change. Your body can plateau for several reasons and this often requires a change in either your diet or fitness routine. In this blog, I share my own struggles with plateaus and provide insight on how myself and many patients have overcome challenges, both fitness and diet-related.

Are you eating too few calories? Or over-exercising?

Sometimes we can become over restrictive with our caloric intake. Yes, consuming fewer calories than those that are burned off can help you lose weight, but there is a point when consuming too few calories begins to sabotage your metabolism. Not eating enough nutrients can stress the body and cause it go into starvation/fat-storing mode. When your metabolism is compromised like this, it is very hard to lose weight and actually makes it fertile ground for gaining weight. Over-exercising can also cause this severe caloric deficit. Most research suggests that consuming less than 1200 calories per day can lead to alterations in metabolism and possible nutrient deficiencies.

Be honest with yourself.

With the stress of finishing grad school and planning a wedding, I had gained a few unwanted pounds. I couldn’t figure out where the extra weight was food-diarycoming from since I hadn’t really changed my diet…or so I thought. It took having a real honest look into my eating habits to realize I had been eating out more often and was enjoying chocolate a bit too frequently at the end of the day as a stress-reliever. Restaurant-prepared menu items and desserts/sweets are two common high-calorie culprits in our diets. A good way to identify trouble zones in your eating habits is to keep a food diary for one week. You will then be able to analyze what areas you need improvements in. (ex: eating out every day for lunch, too big of portions of late-night snacks, frequent consumption of free food at work).

Do you need a snack?

Many patients have told me that they do not snack between meals because they are trying to save calories. If you’re going too long between meals (> 6 hours) or having physical hunger pains 2 hours after having a meal, then you need to plan accordingly and prepare a healthy, protein-rich snack. Remember, those hunger pains are your body’s metabolism telling you to refuel. Try to stick with snacks that have some staying power. Greek yogurt, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs are all protein-packed snacks that can satisfy hunger and increase your energy level during that afternoon slump!

Does your workout need a makeover?

I can happily say that in my first year of marriage, I stayed the same weight. What helped me accomplish this was clean eating and regular exercise. During that year, I found that increasing my strength-training frequency and backing a bit off of the cardio helped me stay happy and healthy. I’ll admit, I like to work hard at the gym and lift heavy weights, but after a year of serious strength-training, my body fat % had only marginally changed and I didn’t see the definition I was hoping for. Then I took a huge leap. I joined my local Crossfit gym. In just a few short months, Crossfit has changed me in so many ways. My arms are more defined, my legs are stronger, I can do several unassisted pull-ups in a row and more! The transformation that I am most happy with is the fact that my back is no longer hurting. Crossfit has reminded me of the importance of daily stretching and taking care of my muscles and joints.

My husband and I at Crossfit.

My husband and I at Crossfit.

Am I recommending that you should start doing Crossfit? No, it’s not for everyone, but what I do encourage people to do is find a new way to constantly challenge themselves. This could be signing up for your first 5K or walking into your very first Zumba class. Find activities that you enjoy and recruit a buddy! Having a buddy-system can help you both hold each other accountable with your fitness and health goals. Wherever your fitness journey takes you make sure it is safe, fun and filled with new challenges!

 

Your Skinny Vacation

vacationVacation and weight gain; unfortunately, the combination is a very common reality for many people. Vacation, for a lot of us, is a time to relax or take on new life adventures. My husband and I recently accomplished both of these objectives on our last vacation. While staying at an all-inclusive resort, we didn’t have to worry about grocery shopping, meal preparation or household chores. Instead, we had full access to a wonderful breakfast and lunch buffets, exquisite dinner restaurants and 24-hour room service. While I did my best to order vegetables with every meal and stay away from fried foods, my fear became a reality when I stepped on the scale my first day back at work. Yes, even a dietitian gains weight on vacation.

Despite working out almost every morning and going for long walks on the beach, the truth was I over-ate my calorie needs. Portion control and a little overindulgence in high-fat foods were the causes of my excessive caloric intake. Common vacation-diet villains that make their presence on our tropical get-a-ways include:

The buffet. No, not Jimmy Buffet; I’m referring to the endless tables of tantalizing foods filled with everything from decadent desserts to bacon wrapped jalapeno peppers. My own response to all this food was, “Oh, this looks good and that looks good and that and that!” You get the picture. It has been well researched that increasing the variety of an assortment increases the quantity consumed. Please visit Dr. Brian Wansink (2004) research on this fascinating food consumption observation: http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/pdf/permission/2004/Assortment_Structure-JCR_2004.pdf

Tips for the buffet-goer:

  • Scan and Plan. Before you grab your utensils, walk around the buffet and compare the variety offered. Try to choose at least one lean protein and fill at least ½ your plate with non-starchy vegetables.
  • Plate size. Choosing a smaller plate will force you to take smaller serving sizes of the variety of foods you consume at that meal.
  • Don’t feel like you’re forced to clean your plate. Most of the time, we take too much food anyway.
  • Sit facing away from the buffet – A tip created by Dr. Brian Wansink, researcher at Cornell University. Wansink suggests that this will help keep your mind from being fixated on the food.

Alcohol. The saying is, “Its 5 o’clock somewhere,” right?  Our favorite poolside beverages are cool and refreshing, but they are often the biggest source of calories consumed on our vacation days. Some of the heftiest calorie-containing beverages include margaritas, pina coladas, strawberry daiquiris, long island iced teas and mudslides. One ounce of 80-proof spirits (rum, vodka, gin, whiskey) contains about 65-90 calories. After adding fruit juice, syrups, mixes or soda, the calorie content of the drink goes through the roof! The pina colada takes the prize for most calories. According to Forbes magazine, a pina colada contains more calories than a Big Mac!

vacation2If you want to consume a refreshing “vacation” beverage, but not pay the caloric price, here are some alternatives:

  • Vodka and water. You may also add a sugar-free water enhancer. In fact, Crystal Light now makes three “mocktail” flavors including margarita, appletini and mojito flavors.
  • Light beer. Most light beers contain anywhere from 65-105 calories.

Remember to alternate alcoholic beverages with water to help prevent dehydration.

frenchfat-mWhile vacations are not the best time to lose weight; the ultimate goal is to maintain one’s “pre-vacation” weight. Make plans to fit in physical activity every day. Luckily for us, there was an accommodating fitness center at our hotel. My husband and I also enjoyed daily walks along the beach, snorkeling and other fun, scenic activities that included physical activity. Don’t deprive yourself of your vacation favorites, but enjoy smaller portion sizes.  Whether the beach, mountains or amusement park call your name this summer, remember to relax, enjoy, take pictures and live well.

 

How to Get Your Beach Body

iStock_000014575855MediumYou’ve been waiting all year for it and it’s finally here. Flip flops, sunglasses, SPF, backyard BBQs, boating, baseball, country music, fairs, festivals…it’s summertime. Summer can mean several different things. It means longer days providing more opportunities to be active in the evening hours. It means fresh fruits and vegetables make their way into our homes for a much cheaper price. It also means wearing fewer layers of clothing. If those stubborn winter pounds are overextending their welcome, here are a few quick tips to rev up your diet for the tank top and cut-off shorts season.

  1. Cut back on processed foods. That includes chips, crackers, pretzels, cookies, granola bars and everything else from that aisle in the grocery store. Items that are stored in boxes or bags require a lot of sodium to help preserve the shelf life of that food item. High sodium intakes can contribute to abdominal bloating.
  2. Protein. Consuming lean protein sources, especially at breakfast helps keep us feeling fuller longer between meals. Don’t forget about protein sources at snacks too!
  3. Non-starchy vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are Mother Nature’s free weight loss medicine. Try to include a serving or two with every meal. Add spinach, mushroom, onions and tomatoes to an egg omelet for breakfast, a dark green side salad at lunch and roasted zucchini, peppers and mushrooms with dinner.
  4. Limit soda. Whether it’s regular or diet soda, both of these carbonated beverages can lead to excess bloating around the waistline.
  5. Remember, it’s okay to snack. Snacking is a chance to refuel your body and keep your metabolism burning bright. Try to keep snack options to 200 calories or less. Try a handful of almonds or one tablespoon of peanut butter with a small apple.
  6. Mind your alcoholic beverages. Many summertime beverages come with a hefty caloric price. Five ounces of margarita contains 370 sugary alcoholic calories and most restaurants will serve you double this amount. Alcohol also weakens our decision-making skills which may lead to unwanted consumption of late-night pizza.
  7. “Eat less, exercise more” is not always the best mantra to follow. Consuming too few of calories also adversely affects one’s metabolism which can make weight loss even harder. Try improving the type of calories you are consuming by choosing lean proteins, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts/seeds and small portions of heart-healthy whole grains.
  8. Change up your exercise routine. We often hit weight-loss plateaus after doing the same workouts week after week, month after month. Try adding some tabata training one to two times per week to provide variety and a new challenge for your body. Tabata is essentially the grandfather of high intensity interval training. The method is simple, yet highly effective. Do as many repetitions as possible for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and then repeat seven more times. A complete tabata sequence is four minutes, or eight rounds long. A great application to download is the Tabata Pro app. It syncs with your music and gives you bells and whistles on when to start the exercise and when to rest. Below are some great workouts to try whether you’re at the gym or in the comfort of your own home. Try to limit rest between exercises to just 60 seconds.

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Exercise

Squats (no weight)

Goblet Squats

Squat Jumps

Push-ups on knees

Push-ups on toes

Push-up+ knee tucks

Stationary Lunge
(switch legs after each set)

Alternating Lunges

Lunge Split Jumps

Plank on forearms and knees

Plank on forearms and toes

Plank push-ups

Remember to always consult with your physician before starting a new exercise program.

Weekend Bingers

Parties, anniversaries, restaurants, ball games, weddings, movies…yep, it’s the weekend! Many of us define the weekend as a time to kick back, relax and indulge with menu items like burritos, burgers, pizza, fries, buttery popcorn and “adult” beverages. While “weekend binging” isn’t a medical diagnosis, it is a habit that can really affect your waistline. Over-indulging, staying up late and a lack of physical activity can make us feel overstuffed, bloated and sluggish by the time Monday morning’s alarm goes off.

A binge (noun) is defined as a period or bout, usually brief, of excessive indulgence, as in eating, drinking, etc.; a spree. To binge (verb) means to eat, drink, etc., too much in a short period of time. Binging may last a few hours or occur on and off all day. Often, it can occur when you’re not even hungry, which can lead to feelings of guilt and depression. How often do we find ourselves justifying our unhealthy indulgences by saying “I deserve it,” “I’ve had a hard week” or “I’ve been saving my calories”?

Consuming too few calories during the week and then over-consuming on the weekend is a major cause of weight gain for many individuals. If you deprive your body of nutrients and calories during the week, your body will adjust by reducing its metabolic rate. This means your body is burning fewer calories each day. This combination of depressed metabolism and overconsumption of poor food choices and calories on the weekend can lead to weight gain. A study published in the Journal of Obesity in 2008 found that individuals following the “weekend cheaters” diet gained an average of nine pounds per year.

thisorthatAnother remark I have heard many people make (even myself) is “I only indulge on special occasions.” My concern with this statement is the fact that “special occasions” can occur much more frequently than we actually think.  For example, it’s your birthday, it’s Aunt Mary’s birthday, it’s Bob from Accounting’s birthday, the Illini are playing, it’s Friday, it’s summertime, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, etc. Depending on the way you look at it, special occasions can occur almost every weekend and even throughout the week.  Of course, the occasional indulgence is quite appropriate and can fit into most individuals’ healthy lifestyles. Once per year, I enjoy a good slice (okay, maybe two) of deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s; but, most of the time, I choose the same delicious and nutritious foods on the weekends as I do during the week.

Here are some tips for having healthier weekends:

1) Squeeze in a longer workout since you have a little more free time than on a weekday. Remember, a one-hour workout is only four percent of your day!

2) Eat like it’s a weekday. That means consuming three nutritionally-dense meals and choosing healthy snacks.

3) Try to stick to your usual sleep schedule. Research regarding whether or not we can actually “catch up on our sleep” on the weekends is debatable.

4) Break the on-again, off-again diet mentality and make eating right a part of your everyday habits.

5) Limit alcoholic beverages. Remember, alcohol depresses our central nervous system which can inhibit our decision-making skills (especially when choosing food/menu items).

6) Order well when dining out. Just because you’re eating healthier is no reason to skip dinner with friends. Look for baked or grilled proteins with side vegetables on the menu.

7) Plan ahead. Typically, my Saturdays are spent running a ton of errands, but I always have a bag of almonds or pistachios with me so I’m not tempted by the candy bar at the checkout counter.

8) Remember to hydrate. Keep a water bottle with you at all times.hydration

 

Eat right and live well—your way, every day.