You set out to lose weight, and you’ve been working hard to make serious progress towards your target number. Then when you’re this close, the scale stops budging—even though you’re still doing everything right.
It’s annoying, sure. But it doesn’t have to be painful. We chatted with 10 nutrition experts to find out what you can do to reach the finish line. Here are their smart—and surprisingly easy to follow—tips.
If you kept a food journal at the start of your weight loss journey but started getting lazy once the pounds began coming off, try picking that habit back up. Food journaling helps identify a lot of behaviors you might be doing without realizing it—like having a second helping at dinner or snacking mindlessly, says Keri Gans, R.D. “Until you reach your goal weight, and even for a while afterward, keeping a food journal can be key,” she says.
They may be small, but those little bites, tastes, and licks we all take carry extra calories we don’t need—and make it harder to lose those last couple pounds. Not sure how to break the habit? Every time you have the urge to put something in your mouth that wasn’t planned (like the extra fry off of your friend’s plate or candy from a co-worker’s desk), put those foods in a plastic bag instead. (Or at the very least, jot it down in the notes section of your iPhone.) Sure, it sounds a little weird. But once you gather your mindless eats for one entire day, you’ll probably be surprised by how much extra food—and calories—you avoided eating, says Jennifer McDaniel, R.D.
Try trading your plate for a blended drink three nights a week, recommends Martha McKittrick, R.D. “Meal replacements can help with weight loss because they’re portion controlled. And, a homemade meal replacement is the cleanest kind,” she says. Worried you’ll go hungry? Even though many smoothies are lower in calories than the average dinner entrée, all the protein, fiber, and liquid makes them super filling. Aim for a smoothie with 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt or a scoop of plant-based protein powder, 3/4 cup frozen berries, a handful of leafy greens, a tablespoon of chia or flaxseeds, and enough unsweetened almond milk to make the smoothie the consistency you want.
After weeks (or months) of working to lose weight, it’s normal for your enthusiasm to start to drag. But skipping workouts may be what’s preventing you from reaching your goal. To stay on track, find a friend or family member who can hold you accountable when it comes to your workout schedule, recommends Sara Haas, RDN. You may also want to consider meeting with a registered dietician to see if your diet plan could be what’s holding you back. “It might be that you’re not actually eating enough, or that you’re not eating at the right times, or that your new favorite snack isn’t as nutritious as you think it is,” she says.
Holding onto extra water can cause the scale to stay put—or even nudge upwards. But taking a few simple steps can help ward off water retention, and the bloating that can come with it, says Sarah Pflugradt, R.D. “Don’t sip through straws, eat slowly, and cut back on salty foods. And of course, drink plenty of water throughout the day,” she suggests.
Having complex carbs with breakfast and lunch can give you the energy you need to get through your day. But by dinnertime, you no longer need that extra boost. So swap out the carbs for a serving of non-starchy veggies—like leafy greens, broccoli, mushrooms, or peppers, suggests Isabel Smith, R.D. “This has helped a lot of my clients have better weight loss results. The veggies deliver the same filling volume, but for fewer calories.”
Obesogenic chemicals like BPA, phthalates, parabens, and PCBs (a known carcinogen) could be making it harder to reach your goal weight. “They disrupt the endocrine system and increase estrogen production,” explains Jennifer Cassetta, CCN. “That can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity, disrupt satiety-regulating hormones, and inhibit thyroid function, which can all lead to weight gain.” It can be tough to avoid these chemicals completely, but you can take steps to reduce your exposure by using glass instead of plastic, choosing seafood with lower levels of contaminants, and opting for paraben-free personal care products.
It seems counterintuitive, but upping your portions could actually help you lose more weight. Over time, restricting your food intake can cause your metabolism to slow down. But your body burns energy digesting food—so eating a bit more can actually boost your metabolic rate overall, explains Angel Planells, R.D. and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. Of course, that doesn’t mean devouring a cupcake or a slice of pizza. Adding back 100 extra calories should do the trick, Planells says. And they should be from clean foods. Add an extra ounce or two of chicken on your salad, or another tablespoon of nut butter with your apple.
Getting enough sleep is an underappreciated—but highly effective—tool for weight loss. “Heading to bed an hour earlier can reduce the window of time when people are most prone to snacking on high-calorie foods,” says Georgie Fear, R.D. Plus, when you get enough rest at night, you have more energy to make healthy food choices and hit the gym the next day.
Yes, we all have a number that we want to see when we step on, but sometimes, our bodies have another plan, says Marisa Moore, RDN. “You might consider focusing instead on inches lost, the way your new clothes fit, or your increased energy or endurance as a new measure of success.”