When you first started to overhaul your food and fitness habits, you were slimming down faster than a new celebrity mom. But now that you're getting closer to your goal, the scale is no longer cooperating. What gives?
Part of the problem is that bigger bodies burn more calories, so the smaller you get, the harder you have to work in order to drop pounds. But that doesn't mean you have to starve or kill yourself at the gym to lose more fat.
We called up celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak (responsible for such impressive slim-downs as Jessica Simpson's) to find out how to push past your plateau and finally reach your weight-loss goal. Here are the 5 Pounds author's top five tips for losing those last 5 pounds:
"There are 168 hours in the week, says Pasternak," so if you're exercising for only 3 of those, then there are 165 hours of the week that you're not active—sitting at your desk, sitting in the car, sitting at dinner. That shows you the importance of staying on the move all the time -- not just during spin class." Pasternak's recommendation? Invest in a fitness tracker. "I tell all my clients to get a Fitbit to monitor how much (or how little) they move throughout the day," he says. "There are several studies that show that people who take at least 10,000 steps a day have more success losing weight than people who actually go to the gym."
You've heard it before, and Harley will say it again: Getting quality sleep is essential if you want to stay slim and happy. In fact, in a recent study from Columbia University, scientists found that people who sleep less than seven hours per night are heavier, gain more weight over time, and have a harder time losing weight than those how log more than seven hours of shuteye.
"If you're talking about doing exhaustive, long aerobic bouts—like running a marathon or half-marathon—then pre- and post-exercise nutrition is more important," says Pasternak, "but for regular exercise under 90 minutes, you're not going to deal with severe glycogen depletion or blood sugar fluctuations."
If you're hungry and low on energy, then by all means eat a pre-workout snack, but don't force extra calories because you think you need them. "I tell people who are exercising just to look and feel good, to plan your three meals and two snacks a day, and then put your workouts in wherever you want," says Pasternak. "And make sure that whatever meal or snack happens to follow your workout contains good quality protein—like from a balanced smoothie—to help your muscles recover.
And unless you're going hard for more than an hour, definitely don't consume calories during you workout: "You're in the gym trying to expend calories, and you'll end up putting calories back in faster than you're even burning them!" says Pasternak.
"Many people found the original, very-low-carb version of the Atkins diet to be radical and too extreme, but in its essence, it told an important message that the key to slimming down is really just getting rid of the sugar," says Pasternak. "And though a strict low-carb diet may be difficult to follow for most of us, the messaging was right." Added sugars have been linked not only to obesity, but also to diabetes, heart disease, and even death! "I recommend keeping an eye on your carbs if you're trying to slim down, and one easy way to ensure your diet isn't too carb-heavy is to ditch the sweets and processed grains," says Pasternak. (This sugar-saving supermarket guide will help you fill your grocery cart with foods that are better for your waistline).
For one, you may be pursuing an unhealthy ideal and don't really have 5 pounds to lose. But even if you do need to shed a little more fat to be healthy, the best way to get to your happy weight is to focus on your health, not the scale. "I'll never forget that when I moved to the U.S. from Canada and I had to get health insurance, the insurance companies were charging me a premium, because according to the height-weight charts I was morbidly obese," says Pasternak. "I was 5'11 and weighed 235, and according to the charts, I was 56 pounds overweight—I was lean and healthy, but I just had a lot of muscle mass, which weighs more than fat."
So how can you stay on track without weighing yourself? Focus on your habits, not the number. Pasternak recommends making some daily health goals (like the ones he outlines in 5 Pounds) and asking yourself every night if you've completed them. "If you can answer yes, then that's success, because you have direct control over your behaviors, whereas you don't have direct control over the scale," he says. "You're hoping that your healthy behaviors will show up on the scale, and quite often they do, but not necessarily on our schedule." And as long as you're feeling better and looking better, what does it matter what the number says?
"When I use the term '5 pounds,' it's more of a symbolic 5 pounds," says Pasternak. "It's like, you want to look 5 pounds lighter, you want to feel 5 pounds lighter, you want to move 5 pounds lighter—but that doesn't necessarily always equate to the scale being 5 pounds lighter."