Plateaus are the bane of exercisers and dieters. When you start your diet and exercise program, pounds and inches melt off quickly, but after several weeks your body will adapt to your new level of activity and reduced caloric intake and the losses may slow down. First, you should be patient, as a loss of one or two pounds a week may seem frustratingly slow, but it adds up to more than 50 pounds in a year. Next, you may need to vary your diet or exercise program to break through the plateau.
Where your body stores fat and the regions from which it burns fat depend on your age, gender and genetic makeup. When you diet and exercise you will lose body fat, but you can't choose the areas you lose it from. Your body may burn fat from other areas before it burns fat from your belly area. As you continue to change your body composition as you diet and exercise, eventually you will burn belly fat, but it may be the last area of fat to disappear.
When your diet seems to be working, you may get overconfident and stop counting calories or start sneaking in extra treats to reward yourself for a hard workout. Exercise won't compensate for a bad diet. One hour of moderate- to high-intensity exercise burns approximately 600 to 700 calories, or the equivalent of a latte and muffin. Keep a food diary for a week to ensure that you are eating appropriately for your activity level and weight goal. To speed weight loss, reduce your intake by 200 calories a day, but don't go below 1,200 calories a day. Starvation diets reset your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight over the long term.
Your body adapts to exercise by getting more efficient. You need to increase the intensity or duration of cardio workouts as you develop more endurance. For strength training, if you can do more than 12 repetitions of a given exercise, increase the resistance by 10 percent for your next session to continue building muscles. Also, rather than doing the same workouts each week, avoid injury and challenge your body by varying workouts. For example, rather than running or biking every day, do a variety of different cardio activities such as swimming, elliptical trainer, backpacking or Nordic skiing. For strength training, vary the equipment you use or the types of lifts you do.
Even if you are losing belly fat, unless you develop your abdominal muscles, the area may still be flabby. Although abdominal exercises do not cause you to lose actual belly fat, they do firm up your belly and improve its appearance. According to the American Council on Exercise, the best exercises for your abdominal and oblique muscles are the bicycle maneuver, stability ball crunches and captain's chair exercises.
- The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- MayoClinic.com: Women's Health -- Belly Fat
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour
- ExRx.net: Fat Loss & Weight Training Myths
- American Council on Exercise: Why Is the Concept of Spot Reduction Considered a Myth?
- American Council on Exercise: American Council on Exercise (ACE)-sponsored Study Reveals Best and Worst Abdominal Exercises
- ExRx.net: Weight Training Guidelines
- MayoClinic.com: Getting Past a Weight-loss Plateau