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leslie beck's food for thought

With summer just around the corner, losing a few pounds is top of mind for many people. And if you've been working hard since the New Year to shed excess weight, you're probably anxious to drop those last 10 before swimsuits and shorts become regular weekend attire.

Ah, those last 10 pounds. Why are they so hard to get rid of? It's a question I'm often asked by clients in my private practice. After successfully losing 15, 20 or more pounds, why do they find it so tough to tackle the last few?

Sometimes it's because they've hit a wall or reached a plateau despite determined effort. But more often than not, human nature is to blame. After achieving most of a weight-loss goal, it's only natural to feel great. After all, your clothes fit better, you have more energy and you're proud of your new healthy eating habits.

But that new-found comfort comes at a cost. As you lose sight of your original target, old habits lie in wait ready to take hold and prevent you from reaching your goal.

There are many reasons why weight loss can come to a screeching halt. If you're struggling with the last portion of your weight-loss goal - and yes, it is the most challenging - take a moment to identify what's getting in your way. Once you've determined the culprit, use the tips below to push you to your goal.

You got off track and didn't get back on

You're human. That means you're bound to go off your plan occasionally. The most important thing to do is move forward. Don't berate yourself. Don't tell yourself "the rest of the day is a write-off." Instead, get back on track and the sooner the better.

One lapse won't make any difference to the scale. But if you let those slips accumulate, they will inevitably show up. Remind yourself of all the positive changes you've made so far. One or two dietary blunders aren't going to undo all your hard work.

Your portion sizes are creeping up

It happens so gradually you don't even notice. Instead of one cup of rice, you're serving yourself 1.5 cups and an extra 100 calories. The chicken breast that not long ago was a precise four ounces now weighs in at six ounces. You're even more liberal with how much orange juice you pour into your glass at breakfast.

A few extra calories here andthere might seem benign. But they add up.

If this sounds familiar, refresh your memory about portion sizes. For two weeks, measure and weigh your foods again. That might be all it takes to get your weight loss back on track.

You let too many "extras" sneak in

An extra dessert, a few tastes while making dinner, a bite or two off your kid's plate. Those extra calories can - and will - stall your weight-loss progress.

Twenty pounds ago, you could get away with eating something extra here and there and still lose weight each week. But not any more. As you lose weight, your metabolism naturally tends to slow down a bit. When your body has less weight to carry around, it burns - and requires - fewer calories. That means you have less calorie leeway than you did a clothing size ago.

To follow your meal plan more closely, resume keeping a food diary. Write down every bite and track your portion sizes too. You might be surprised to see how often extra calories sneak into your diet.

You're not consistent on the weekend

I've written about this common phenomenon before. I call it chasing the same two pounds. Straying from your plan on the weekend - larger meals, drinking wine, a few extra snacks - can cause the needle on the scale to jump Monday morning.

But those few extra pounds will be mostly from water. Extra carbohydrate and sodium consumed over the weekend causes your body to retain fluid - a situation that returns to normal in a couple of days. Then, the following weekend, you regain those two pounds. The end result: no progress.

To achieve steady progress toward your goal, be consistent with your eating habits on the weekend. Don't view Saturday and Sunday as vacation days from your diet.

If weekends are your trouble spot, keep a food diary Friday through Sunday. Better yet, make a meal plan in advance for the weekend.

Yo u're less focused on your goal

It's understandable. You haven't felt this good in years. You've steadily lost a few pounds each week and now fit into a smaller-sized wardrobe. It's not unusual to get lax about the last 10 pounds. But a laidback attitude can backfire in all the ways described above.

Keep your eye on the prize by breaking down those last 10 pounds into smaller short-term goals, such as 3 to 5 pounds a month, that motivate you to stay focused.

You've hit a plateau

When you stop losing weight without changing your diet or exercise level, you've hit a weight-loss plateau. As frustrating as they are, plateaus are a natural part of weight loss. They often occur when you reach a weight that you haven't been below for quite some time.

Eating less food usually isn't the way to break through a plateau. It's far more effective to ramp up the intensity of your exercise to burn more calories. If you've been doing the same workout for months, challenge your body by making your cardio workout harder or adding strength training to your program.

All that said, pat yourself on the back for your success so far. As you're probably learning, it takes the same hard work to maintain your loss as it did to lose those pounds.

So don't get too comfortable. Whether you plan to see it to the finish or hold steady where you are, stay focused along the way.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is