Staying Motivated When You Hit a Plateau

By Beth Leermakers, Employee Health Coach

Most people are fired up when they first begin a weight-loss or exercise program. After
a few weeks or months, however, motivation may start to wane — especially if you’ve hit
a plateau.

The scale isn’t moving. What do I do?

Go back to basics. Weigh or measure your food to be sure your portion sizes haven’t increased. In the beginning, you measured 1 cup of cereal. After a few weeks, you probably said, “I don’t need to measure anymore. I know how much a cup of cereal is.” If you measured your cereal today, you may find that one cup has grown to 1½ cups or
even more.

Track your calories using an app or even just pen and paper. If you’ve hit a plateau, your calories have probably increased. Most women lose weight on 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day. Most men lose weight on 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day.

Increase your physical activity. You may need 60-plus minutes of physical activity every day to lose weight and keep it off. You can accumulate your daily activity in short bouts of at least 10 minutes.

Focus on the benefits of your healthy lifestyle other than the scale. For example, are your clothes fitting better? Do you feel better physically and emotionally? How is your energy level?

What can I do to shake up my physical activity routine?

Challenge yourself. Take that boot camp, Zumba®, or spin class you’ve been afraid to try. Sign up for a 5K (or longer) walk/run or a bicycle ride. Plan an active vacation so you’ll have to get in and stay in shape to be ready for it. Hire a personal trainer to safely push you past your comfort zone.

How can I jump-start my motivation?

Consider your reasons for changing your behavior. What benefits are you hoping to accomplish? How would you like your life to be different? If you don’t continue your healthy eating and physical activity, what will happen?

Here are some tips you can try:

  • Enlist social support.
  • Find a workout buddy.
  • Ask your friends or family to help you make healthy food choices at home or
    at restaurants.
  • Join a fitness or dance class.
  • Reward yourself (without using food) for taking small steps in the right direction.
  • Place a clear glass jar where it’s visible. Every time you skip a soda, cookie, or
    fast-food meal, donate the cost of that food to the jar. After a few weeks, you’ll have saved enough money to treat yourself to a movie, manicure, or other fun (nonfood-related) activity.
  • Reward yourself for meeting your exercise goal for two or three weeks in a row.
  • Reward your behavior (such as tracking calories, limiting sweets, or walking), not
    your weight loss, since you can’t always control it. Remember, fluid fluctuations due
    to hormones or medications may prevent weight loss some weeks.

To quote a former colleague (Bob Wright at Hilton Head Health), “Weight follows behavior, but not right away.” If you make healthy food choices, limit your calories, and exercise regularly, your weight will eventually decrease.