I work out and eat healthily, but my weight just plateaus. Why? –Heidi T.

This is a very common occurrence when trying to lose weight. Fortunately, a weight loss plateau can be overcome with a few simple changes to your routine.

A weight loss, or fat loss, plateau is generally accepted by fitness professionals as NO change is body weight for three consecutive weeks. There are many reasons for plateaus, but the most common include:

:: Miscalculating your calories intake. Predominantly, weight loss plateaus are related to “calorie creep”, or eating more calories than you think you are eating. Tracking your calories in a food journal is a surefire way to avoid this problem; there are many journals online and phone apps available to track calorie consumption on-the-go. Along with miscalculating calories, when you decrease your calorie intake your metabolism slows down. This is because your body enters “starvation mode” and spares fat along for survival. Never eat less than 1,200 calories per day, as your body requires at least that much to function normally. To keep your metabolism steady and to remain feeling satiated longer, eat six small meals per day and increase your water consumption.

:: Same old workout routine. There is a common misconception that long cardio sessions burn the most fat. Actually, weight training can burn more calories, and high intensity training (H.I.T.) burns the most calories. H.I.T.’s short, intense bursts of cardio or complexes of strength-based movements require more energy to recover from, and therefore burn more TOTAL calories than steady state cardio. Building muscle mass requires great amounts of energy (calories) and muscle needs more energy to maintain its mass. Also, the body has an impressive ability to adapt to the stresses (resistance straining) put upon it and will always find a way to burn less and less energy for the same exercises.Most people adapt in 6-8-weeks, so change your workout regularly to challenge yourself, spur on more weight loss and build lean body mass.

Lack of sleep and too much stress. Sleep deprivation causes the release of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that catabolizes muscle and promotes the storage of fat. As a significant amount of muscle repair occurs during deep sleep, try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Inadequate amounts of shut-eye hinder your ability to recover from exercise, making plateaus more likely. Stress comes in many forms, but all sources of it cause the body to produce cortisol and increase your chances of “emotional eating”. Seek out ways to reduce stress like taking periodic walks out of the office and practicing yoga, Pilates or meditation.

–by Michael Cancilla, Certified Personal Trainer