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When the ultimate goal is weight loss, one of the most frustrating things a person can experience is the dreaded plateau. It might help to understand why those plateaus can occur. (Believe it or not, it’s not just to make you crazy.)

1. Water weight loss returns: During the first few weeks of dieting and weight loss, a lot of that initial weight decrease can come from water weight. Water weight loss occurs because the body is using up stored carbohydrate in the form of glycogen (sugar). When glycogen is burned for energy, it releases water (resulting in weight loss that is mostly water). As carbohydrate intake fluctuates day-to-day, it’s not uncommon for some of that water weight to return, which can offset fat loss and cause a plateau.

2. Your body doesn't just burn fat: When you are losing weight, your body burns fat for energy and can break down muscle too. Unlike fat, muscles burn calories, so losing muscle will slow the rate at which you use up energy from food. (This is part of the reason why cutting too many calories can work against you because your body will break down muscle at a faster rate.)

3. When you weigh less, you burn less: As a smaller person, you expend less energy moving around than you did at your heavier weight. To continue losing, you’ll have to increase the calories you burn through physical activity and/or reduce the number of calories you eat.

Remember, it’s completely normal for weight loss to slow or stall, so don’t get discouraged. Now that you understand the main causes of weight-loss plateaus, you’ll be able to devise a plan of attack if/when the number on the scale stops dropping.

If you are currently experiencing a weight loss plateau, take a look at your caloric intake (maybe you need to eat a little less) and/or increase your physical activity. Both should help get you over that plateau.