It hardly seems fair: The closer you get to your goal weight, the more difficult it is to make the scale budge. But why are the last 5 pounds so hard to lose?
“You can blame the ‘thrifty gene,’ which is the idea that humans are genetically programmed to survive for long periods without food,” says Rebecca Blake, R.D.N., administrative director for the department of medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York.
Say you were 30 pounds overweight. Your body might be okay with shedding the first 10 or 20 pounds rather quickly once you started making some healthy changes. But those last few pounds? Your body is going to fight hard to hang onto those — thank you very much —just in case there’s a famine around the corner. And while that may have worked well for our ancestors, it’s not so helpful when you’re trying to lose weight. Here are simple steps you can take to lose the last 5 pounds.
1. Eat More Mindfully
Start by ensuring you’re only eating when you’re physiologically hungry — no more nibbling just because you’re bored or stressed — and watch out for empty calories in alcohol, soda, and other beverages, says Blake.
Eliminate distractions while you’re eating — when you’re multitasking, it’s easy to overeat because you’re not focused on your food.
And make sure you’re eating enough to fuel your workouts. Undereating can slow your metabolism and actually make it harder to lose those last 5 pounds. Plus you’ll have less energy to power through your workouts, which can make your workouts less effective and may even lead to injuries.
2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
It might seem counterintuitive to focus on getting more rest when you want to be torching more calories, but hear us out: A growing body of research is finding that people who skimp on sleep tend to be heavier.
Staying up late can make you more likely to indulge in late-night snacking or reach for sugary foods to help you power through the day. Sleep-deprived folks also tend to have lower levels of leptin, a hormone that signals fullness — so aim to get the recommended 7 to 9 hours a night to give your weight-loss efforts a boost.
3. Don’t Rely Too Much on Fitness Trackers
We’re big fans of gadgets, fitness trackers included — but a wearable tracker doesn’t guarantee weight-loss success. One study compared 471 young adults in a behavioral weight-loss program and found that those who were assigned to monitor their progress with a wearable tracker actually lost less weight than those who monitored their progress without the help of a wearable. Researchers don’t have a solid explanation for this, but it’s possible that strapping on a gadget may cause a sense of complacency for some people.
But both groups had significant improvements in body composition, however — so if you love your tracker, there’s no need to toss it. Instead, try adding incentives when you hit a mini-goal — such as treating yourself to a new pair of sneakers when you lose those last 5 pounds.
4. Consider Intermittent Fasting
It sounds like a fad, but science is starting to support the idea that intermittent fasting — alternating periods of eating normally with periods of calorie restriction — may be effective for weight loss.
There are different ways to do it: You might eat normally for five days, then only eat 25 percent of your usual calories for two days. Or you might only eat during a restricted time period each day (anywhere from four to 12 hours) and fast the rest of the time.
Admittedly, intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. (If you have an eating disorder, diabetes, or issues with low blood sugar, it definitely isn’t for you.) But experts say it’s a practical approach that provides some people with an easier road to weight loss. If you’re feeling stuck, it might be worth a try — just be sure to run it by your doctor first.
5. Ramp Up Your Exercise Intensity
Combining a healthy diet with exercise will get you the best weight-loss results — so if you’ve already tweaked your diet and honestly think you’re doing a pretty good job of eating healthfully, then you might need to add more exercise or increase your intensity to continue seeing progress. (And don’t stress about extra cardio making you feel “rungry” — research suggests engaging in high-intensity interval training may actually decrease your appetite post-workout.)
6. Don’t Skip Strength Training
“Generally speaking, when people try to lose weight, they either diet, aerobic exercise, or some combination of both,” says Wayne Westcott, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at Quincy College. But if you overlook strength training — or you avoid lifting weight because you’re worried about “bulking up” — you may miss out on strength-training benefits like increased power, better muscular endurance, and effective fat loss.
The losing-the-last-five-pounds struggle is real — by the time you’re this close to your goal weight, your body has already adapted to your healthy new lifestyle. But with a few simple tweaks, you can lose the last 5 pounds — and start focusing on maintenance.