Dear Dietitian: Slow Weight Loss

Leanne McCrate

Dear Dietitian,

As I get older, I seem to have more trouble with my weight. I know about eating healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, and exercising, but it's hard to do with my busy schedule. I don't believe in fad diets that promise to help you lose weight fast. Many of those diets don't seem healthy or logical. What is a healthy, realistic weight loss goal each month? I have recently lost 7 pounds, but I almost always seem to plateau.



Dear Alice,

Congratulations on your new health change! I also want to commend you for being skeptical of fad diets; they only perpetuate the "yo-yo" cycle. Fad diets create a rapid weight loss in the beginning by simply inducing a water loss.

As we age, our metabolism slows down, as does our activity level, but our food intake often stays the same. The obvious result is weight gain.

The healthiest way to lose weight is at a moderate rate, about five pounds per month. While most of us want the weight off right now, it just doesn't stay off that way. There are several advantages to losing weight more slowly, the first being you don't have to starve yourself! We all know that in order to lose weight, you simply have to take in fewer calories than you burn. Simple but not easy.

The second advantage is that you will lose fat instead of muscle. When you lose weight quickly, your body will lose some muscle while trying to preserve fat. It's just your body's way of protecting itself. It doesn't know if you are lost in the desert for months with little access to food, so it will preserve fat since that will be needed as a long-term energy source.

Third, slow to moderate weight loss helps you change your eating habits, which is necessary to maintain weight loss. Eat smaller amounts of the foods you enjoy. Incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and mono- and polyunsaturated fats into your diet.

You mention that you reach a plateau in weight loss. This is sometimes referred to as a set point. It's a weight that your body is comfortable with, and it is hard to get above or below it.

The best defense against a plateau is exercise. With our busy lives, it is hard to fit in an exercise plan. Do something you enjoy, then you will more likely to keep it up. You may start by walking around the block every evening for a week. Slowly build up to thirty minutes of exercise at least four times a week. You will almost certainly feel better, which helps perpetuate the healthy cycle. Don't give in to sitting on the couch and watching television.

When you exercise, you build muscle, which weighs more than fat but takes up less space. That's why you look better in your clothes when your muscles are toned. You may have heard that you burn more calories at rest when you have more muscle. These are all good reasons to go for it!

Planning ahead is key to a healthy diet. Do what works for you: three meals a day with nothing in between or plan healthy snacks. Write down meal plans at the beginning of the week. Side dishes, such as salads or mashed potatoes can be used for multiple meals, easing the task.

Fresh vegetables are simple-- corn on the cob, sugar snap peas, fresh tomatoes – delicious! In the interest of convenience, meals can be made in the slow cooker. A rotisserie chicken can be purchased at your local grocery store.

Making health changes may seem time-consuming at first. Make the effort; put in the time. After about a month to six weeks, the changes will be your new pattern and eventually, you will be able to enjoy your weight loss for a lifetime.

Good health to you!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at