Tips for breaking through plateaus.

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You’ve read the books, followed the rules, and made the oh-so painful food sacrifices. But when you step up on that scale, you still aren’t seeing results. What gives?

The basis of a healthy weight loss plan is that you should take in fewer calories than you expend, says Vandana Sheth, RD, CDE, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

“Identify an appropriate daily calorie level for yourself and make practical expectations so your plan is effective and long-lasting,” she says. While it sounds simple, this formula can quickly backfire if you miscalculate the calories you consume, overestimate the calories you burn, or commit one of these other dieting blunders. Find out what’s stalling your weight loss and what you can do fix it.

You Overestimate the Calories You’re Burning

People often think that because they’re exercising they can eat more. “Maybe you’re getting hungry now that you’re exercising, but it does not give you an excuse to eat what you want,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. To lose a pound a week, you should maintain a deficit of about 500 calories per day, which you can achieve with a combination of burning and cutting calories — just make sure you monitor how many you’re really consuming and expending.

Solution: Keep tabs on your actual burn by paying attention to the exercise machine or using a weight calculator. “If you’re exercising, you should refuel before and after workouts with mini meals, not actual meals,” Gans says. Before exercising, eat some cottage cheese with fruit and whole-grain crackers or peanut butter and honey on toast. Afterward, try a smoothie made with frozen berries and yogurt or graham crackers with peanut butter served with low-fat chocolate milk and a banana.

You Walk 30 Minutes a Day for Exercise

“I never discourage working out, but if people are really trying to lose weight, they need to realize that on an hourlong walk, you’re burning only 200 to 300 calories,” says Jim White, RD, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition in Virginia Beach, Va. While shedding a couple hundred calories a day could add up if you’re also cutting calories, doing the same low-intensity workout every day can inhibit results.

Solution: To jump-start the burn, intensify your workout. Strength training can be a big metabolism booster. You’ll burn an extra 30 to 50 calories a day for each pound of muscle you build, according to White. “When you’re doing cardio workouts, you burn calories during the session, but if you lift weights you burn during the session and also throughout the evening and next day while your body repairs.” If you’re unsure about picking up the weights, you can enhance your walking workout by integrating interval training. To burn an extra 100 to 200 calories, White suggests integrating short bursts of jogging into your stroll. You can add intervals instinctively, as you feel ready, or take a watch with you and set up timed intervals. For example, walk 4 minutes and jog for 2.

You Skimp on Breakfast

You know it’s important to eat a morning meal to jump-start metabolism, but if you’re not eating enough you won’t reap this benefit. Women should aim for 300 to 400 calories at breakfast, and men should try to eat around 400 to 500. A breakfast that’s too small could leave you feeling sluggish for the rest of the day and can also make you overeat at the next meal. To stay satisfied, include a mix of whole grains and lean protein in your morning meal — in other words, a packet of oatmeal or a breakfast bar, each coming in at under 200 calories, won’t do the trick.

Solution: “Offset the carbohydrates you eat at breakfast with a protein. Try oatmeal with a side of egg whites, or an English muffin with some almond butter.” White says. Protein rounds out your meal nutritionally, and a study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that high-protein breakfasts helped control appetite throughout the day. Also, choose whole-grain carbohydrates. Research in the journal Public Health Nutrition indicates that eating whole grains may lower the risk of obesity and weight gain.

You Eat Salad for Lunch

Just because you’ve selected a salad for your lunch doesn’t mean you’ve made the best choice, warns Gans. “Not all salads are created equal. The dressing alone could add an extra 200 calories, if you choose the wrong one.” By the end of the week, that could really add up.

Solution: To avoid consuming hundreds of additional dressing calories, stick with no more than 2 tablespoons of the stuff, says Gans. If you need something else to moisten your salad, add either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, she advises. Or add chopped tomatoes — once their juice is distributed throughout the salad, you won’t need to use as much dressing.

You Overdo It on Healthy Foods

Turns out you can get too much of a good thing. Eating any food in excess — even nutrient-rich foods like avocados, nuts or fish — will lead to weight gain. Research shows that over time, Americans have gotten increasingly bad at determining appropriate portions. A 2006 study from the University of Rutgers showed that what college students perceived to be a portion was significantly larger than what participants selected in a similar study conducted 20 years prior.

Solution: For any weight loss plan, portion control is key. If you’re unsure about how much you should eat, do a little research; you might be surprised at what you learn. For example, you might be tempted to wolf down an entire avocado, but a single serving is about only one-fifth of the fruit. A serving of almonds is around 22 (about as many as would fit in a shot glass). Likewise, you’re on the right track if you’re sticking with lean meats, but a portion of chicken or fish should be closer to the size of a deck of cards than the size of a novel, Gans says.

To stay on track, Sheth suggests starting a food diary. “Research has shown that people who monitor food intake are more successful at maintaining their diet long term,” she says. And with smartphone technology, you have a lot of options in terms of apps for tracking what you eat.

You Eliminate a Food Group

“People are still eliminating carbs from their diet because they think carbs will make them gain weight, but the truth is it’s not the carbs, it’s how much you’re eating of them,” Gans says. People who consume too few carbs might be consuming more calories than they should from protein — even lean varieties. For example, an 8-ounce serving of chicken with veggies actually has more calories than a 4-ounce piece of chicken served with a half a cup of rice.

Solution: Incorporate appropriate portions of high-fiber carbohydrates. Not only will they prevent you from eating too many calories in your protein, but fiber will help you stay full so you won’t overeat later, Gans says. Try adding high-fiber whole grains like brown rice, wheat couscous, barley or quinoa to your diet.

Your Diet Is Too Strict

“If you’re eliminating foods you love, it’s totally going to backfire,” Gans says. “Eating too little during the day will cause you to overeat at night.” People who are on restricted diets tend to not lose weight after a plateau when their starvation instinct kicks in, explains Sheth. “Your body isn’t sure when that next bite is coming, so it converts everything into fat.”

Solution: Make sure you eat every few hours. “Plan several small meals instead of skipping meals, and snack every 3 to 5 hours,” Sheth says. Just make sure you keep portion size in mind so your snack doesn’t turn into a complete meal. Gans also recommends finding healthy ways to continue to eat the food you love. If you love pizza, choose vegetable toppings instead of pepperoni and sausage, she suggests. “Then make sure you have one slice instead of three, add a side salad, and now you’re able to enjoy pizza!”

You Drink Your Calories

“I tell people to think before they drink,” Gans says. “Is what you’re having another disguise for sugar?” Even if you’re watching your portions and working out regularly, you’ll rapidly add calories to your daily regimen by indulging in a large sugary coffee beverage, nondiet soda, or fruit juice. Data from the National Cancer Institute indicate that adults consume about 287 liquid calories daily. “Anything greater than an 8-ounce serving is probably over-drinking,” Gans says.

Solution: An 8-ounce glass is much smaller than what you’ll be served in many coffee shops, or even in your own home. If you’re a latte or mocha addict, Gans recommends limiting yourself to no more than one small coffee once a day. Can’t get enough juice? Mix it with seltzer so you get more to drink while consuming fewer calories.