Ask the Health Coach: I’ve Plateaued. Help!

Reader Heidi has done a tremendous job of shedding over 50 pounds—but now she's hit a plateau. Our health coach calls in reinforcements to tackle this terrific question.

Dear Maura,

I’m a 34-year-old mom with two wonderful girls, an (almost) five-year-old and a two-year-old. I was never really athletic but after my second pregnancy (and topping 200 pounds!) I was inspired to start running. I started slowly and built up to about three miles. three times per week. I ran a few 5Ks and a five-mile race, and I’m currently training for the Broad Street Run.

At first, the benefits of running were very apparent and motivated me to continue. My legs toned and my weight dropped. I dropped 40 pounds in three months. Then, I continued running to maintain my weight, but I was never really happy with the way my body looked.

I am currently five-foot-seven-inches and 149 pounds. I am a healthy weight but I have some lose skin and fat near my lower belly, thick legs, and lower-back fat. I basically look great in clothes, but naked, ummm … that’s another story. After running 40 miles per month for over two years and watching my diet, I expected to be toned and tight. Out of frustration, I consulted with a plastic surgeon to ask about smart lipo. He told me I have some fat “pockets” in my lower abdomen, inner thighs, and lower back that will never disappear with diet and exercise. Is he correct? Will working out never get me the results I’m looking for? Is it impossible to lose fat from certain areas and not others?

I recently added an hour of yoga and an hour of Pilates per week to my workouts, and I’m watching my calorie intake. I am running three times per week for 30 to 50 minutes and cross training one to two times per week. Will I ever see results, or is plastic surgery really the only option?

I get frustrated seeing workouts in magazines suggesting that doing certain exercises three times a week for a certain amount of time will tone an area. Is it true that you can’t tone unless you get rid of the fat over the muscle?

~ Heidi


Hi Heidi!

This question is marvelous, and one I’m sure many readers can relate to. The first thing I have to say is give yourself a high five for all the work you’re already doing. Secondly, thanks for asking hard, honest questions. I don’t imagine it was easy to articulate everything, but I really appreciate you taking the time to share with us.

To get you the best possible answers, I brought out the big guns and “phoned a friend” on this one. (Side note: Is Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on TV anymore?) I reached out to my fabulous colleague, Betty Levengood, a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor at both Healthplex Sports Club in Springfield and RYAH Yoga and Health in Conshohocken. Here’s what she had to say:

What seems to be missing from your program, Heidi, is strength training, which would result in building muscle and toning up. You’ve done a great job losing the weight by adhering to a sound eating plan and incorporating great cardiovascular training to burn calories; however, strength training is every bit as important, if not more, in achieving your goal.

(Hi, it’s Maura again. Don’t worry, strength training doesn’t mean bulking up. Remember, building muscle burns more fat and helps raise your metabolism. Carry on …)

Genetics, age, and body composition are huge factors in how your weight is distributed. They also affect where it goes on your body when you gain, and where it comes off when you lose. Unfortunately, we have very little say in that process. We can’t spot reduce—when you burn calories, you can’t decide from where they will come! But before you get too discouraged, there’s hope.

I would incorporate—with the help of a knowledgeable personal trainer and taking any medical/orthopedic concerns into consideration—a multi-joint total body workout that is effective and efficient. (Multi-joint exercises are defined as movements in which your body must change the angles of more than one joint while performing the motion. For example, not just lifting dumbbells, but lifting dumbbells while moving from standing to sitting simultaneously). There are various formats you can follow, and many that can be done at home with little or no equipment. The key is to work hard and smart!

Believe it or not, I would also suggest cutting back on the cardio. Too much cardio can fall into the ‘law of diminishing returns’ effect. (You know, the whole “plateau” thing.) Give this new formula some time to do its thing—perhaps eight to 12 weeks—and you will see results. It may not be the exact picture you have in mind but you will definitely be more toned. In addition to being stronger and looking better, you will also have better posture, more energy, and be able to run around and keep up with those two girls of yours. Good luck!

One last note that I would like to add. It’s a big call to action for women everywhere: we need to put down the celebrity magazines and stop comparing ourselves to unrealistic ideals. Let’s start loving each other (and ourselves) for having bodies that come in all shapes and sizes. Get off the scale. Try connecting with how you feel over the course of those eight weeks instead of tying it to a number. I promise it will make a difference! And remember, Marilyn Monroe was a size 10. Beauty comes from within—so keep taking care of yourself, keep eating well, keep spending time with your family. Try Betty’s suggestions and let us know how it goes.

Best of luck! We’re rooting for you, girl!


Have a question for Maura? Email us, and your question could be answered in a future column! Find more of Maura’s advice here.


Maura Manzo is a yoga teacher and health coach specializing in integrating diet, health and wellness. She supports others in becoming their best possible selves. Maura is available for private instruction and coaching, as well as on-site corporate classes and speaking engagements. She is co-creator of the Beyond Asana 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training and the Art of Letting Go: Maya Tulum Mexican Yoga Vacation. Learn more about her teaching schedule, coaching practice and yoga trainings at