Trapped on a Fat-Loss Plateau?

Oxygen brings you six workarounds for the dieting mistakes that can sabotage your goals.

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD | July 18, 2016

You think your diet is pretty clean and the manager at your gym knows you on a first-name basis because it seems you’re there all the time. Then why do you feel stuck in place regarding your fat-loss plans? Recent research has uncovered a number of not-so-obvious reasons you may have hit a wall. Here are six ways around some sneaky dietary saboteurs.

Go Off the Grid

Your smartphone might not be so smart when it comes to fat loss. In a study conducted by scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago, exposure to blue-enriched light (like that given off by smartphones, computers and tablets) around mealtime can increase hunger and “encourage” you to overeat. The study authors surmise that this type of light may stimulate brain regions that regulate appetite.

Strategy: Switch off the gadgets and eat mindfully. Focus on the sensory aspects of your meals and snacks such as their taste and texture to help your body register fullness. Treat electronics like your elbows and keep them off the dining table.

Break Out of the Rut

Serving up chicken breasts for dinner every night — night after night — might be one fat-loss roadblock. A 2015 study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that people who consume a wider variety of nutrient-dense foods tend to have slimmer waistlines than those who eat a monotonous diet. One explanation could be that you are exposed to a wider range of fat-burning nutrients by eating a greater variety of healthy foods.

Strategy: Add diversity to your diet and trim body fat in the process by introducing one or two unfamiliar healthy, fresh foods to your grocery cart each week. Arctic char, baby kale or kefir anyone?

Keep an Eye on Protein

We would never question the importance of protein for building lean muscle, but it’s entirely possible that you’re getting too much of a good thing if you’re stuck on a fat-loss plateau. If you’re adding multiple scoops of protein powder to your preworkout and postworkout shakes and regularly polishing off steaks big enough to feed a family of four, you run the risk of consuming extra calories that will pad your fat stores, not your muscles.

Strategy: For building lean muscle, be judicious with your protein intake. Watch the amount you consume at any one sitting — it should be spread throughout the day. But remember that protein shakes are especially important before and after training.

Don’t Be Fooled by “Health-Food” Claims

Many packaged so-called “health foods” can be sneaky sources of sweeteners and cheap fats. A Cornell University study found we often view snack foods that are labeled “organic” as being healthier — that is, lower in calories and fat — than their counterparts without the organic designation, a state of mind that could lead to overeating. Further, “gluten-free” foods may be just as high in sugar, fat or total calories as many of their so-called less-healthy counterparts.

Strategy: Base your purchases on the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list. A study published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs found that thorough label reading is essential when you’re trying to shed fat. Even better, “freshen up” your diet. (Fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats fresh from the butcher don’t need ingredient lists.)

Pre-Treat Yourself

It’s always a good idea to push away the bread at a restaurant, but shunning appetizers could be one reason you stuff yourself silly at mealtime. Results of a Pennsylvania State University study found that when subjects ate an apple 15 minutes before a meal, they slashed their overall calorie intake in a test meal by 15 percent compared to when no fruit was consumed. Kicking off a meal with a low-cal, fiber-filled nosh can help fill you up so you’re less likely to reach for another serving.

Strategy: If you have trouble saying no to seconds during your main meal, try eating a reduced-calorie appetizer such as a broth-based veggie soup, salad or piece of fruit before digging into your entree.

Go Easy After a Fat-Burning Workout

You may think you’re justified in having a second energy bar because you just burned off some serious calories on the treadmill. But beware of overindulging after a workout. In a recent study published in the journal Appetite, people who performed a 20-minute workout labeled “fat burning” ate about 35 percent more calories afterward than they had burned. The “fat burning” moniker may have led them to believe their metabolism was revved up, giving them a license to reward themselves. On the flip side, no excess calorie intake was observed in those who performed a workout labeled “endurance exercise.”

Strategy: Be realistic about your calorie burn at the gym so you don’t undo any benefits postworkout. Or kick things up a notch with interval training, which torches tons of calories and increases metabolism. Scientists in Australia found that volunteers experienced less hunger and desire for fatty foods after interval training than moderate exercise, adding to the fat-blasting powers of this training method.

About the Author

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, M.S., RD, is a Canadian-based dietitian, nutrition writer and recipe developer. A regular contributor for Oxygen and Muscle & Performance magazines, he is also the author of Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Foods for Sports and Adventure (VeloPress, 2016), Muffin Tin Chef (Ulysses Press, 2012) and The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook (Ulysses Press, 2013). An avid cycle tourist, Matthew has pedaled his bike through Thailand, Cuba, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.