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It’s January, So Let’s Talk Plateaus

January 16, 2012

Weight-loss plateaus: They are one of our most popular topics this time of the year, especially if you are new to Atkins. If you resolved that 2012 would be the year to lose the weight, you may be about two or three weeks into the process. I’ve been on the Community Forums, and have seen that quite a few of you are worried because your weight loss has stalled a little. First of all, it’s important to understand that weight loss is not a linear process. It happens in fits and starts, and is affected by a variety of factors. Let’s start by defining what a true plateau is:

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.

So, to a certain extent, we shouldn’t even be having this plateau conversation until February. Right now your goal should be to follow Atkins exactly how it is described in the book The New Atkins for a New You. Be patient, and give the program the time to work.

With that being said, I will address a few reasons that could eventually cause a plateau so that you will be armed with the knowledge necessary to move past any stall with confidence.

1.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.

2.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.

3.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.

4.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!

5.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.

6.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.

7.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.

8.Are you over consuming 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.

9.Is insulin the enemy? Insulin, as you know, is the fat-storing hormone and will cause you to store fat around your waist first. It will also retain sodium in your body, causing your body to retain water, which, as you learned, could account for weight gain. Instead of just relying on the scale, get a tape measure and measure your waist regularly; hopefully you are still losing inches even if the scale is slow to move.

10.Muscle vs. Fat. Fat and muscle have different densities, and therefore they vary in volume. In other words, fat takes up more space than an equal amount of muscle. That’s why two people who weigh the same can look very different depending on how much fat and muscle they have. This is also why you should evaluate your progress by inches lost, how your clothes fit, and which notch you use on your belt versus relying solely on the scale. It can also explain why weight loss might slow or stall if you start exercising on Atkins. If you add resistance training to Atkins, you might be accumulating muscle while losing body fat, which is great—but it could translate into a slower weight loss according to the scale, even as your clothes begin to fit better and you begin to reshape your body. You are losing fat and inches, since resistance training protects muscle but does not impede fat loss.

Now that you know what to look for when evaluating your progress (or lack thereof), there is no reason to give up and return to your old way of eating. And remember that weight loss is only one way of measuring success on this program. Are you feeling more energetic? Are you sleeping better? Are your clothes fitting better even if the scale is moving slowly? These are all signs that something good is happening to your body. Be patient, follow Atkins as it is written, and you will almost certainly see results before long. When in doubt, spend a little time on our Community Forums and reach out to some of our Atkins veterans. They’ve all been in your position at one point or another, and are a great source of motivation and encouragement. Good luck!

Share and Share Alike

Have you experienced a plateau before? What advice do you have for someone just starting out on Atkins? Please share your thoughts with the Atkins Community and also let me know what you’d like to hear about in the future.

Register with Atkins today for additional tips, low carb recipes, and ideas on how to overcome your weight loss plateau.

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