3 Tips for Dealing with Weight Loss Plateaus

by Andie Mitchell on October 10, 2012

You’re plodding along, you’re eating well, you’re moving like you’ve never moved before, you are- in all respects- doing your best.  And by best I mean, if weight loss were a game, you’d be killing it.

And then, the very minute you feel you’ve finally found your footing on the tightly winding road of losing weight, just as soon as you’re consistent in losing week after week after week…

you’re not anymore.

Stepping on the scale and seeing the same number staring defiantly back at you from three weeks ago- it’s frustrating; it’s painful.

The weight loss plateau is every dieter’s nightmare. A lack of progress even when there is no lack of effort.

Unfortunately, for most people plateaus are inevitable. As someone whose 135lb weight loss had quite a few roadblocks of its own, I get it. The truth is-

weight loss isn’t linear even if your calorie consumption is. And this, understandably, can be difficult for people to understand, or at least to accept. It can cause us to take out our frustrations by dismembering an entire safari’s worth of animal crackers, thereby exacerbating our problem.

When dealing with plateaus, what’s important to keep in mind is the idea that there might not be anything wrong. Sometimes the scale doesn’t budge even if you are losing fat, because body weight comprises many things other than fat. Sometimes patience is all that you need. Sometimes you don’t lose an ounce one week and then you lose four the next, all the while eating and moving just the same. But, if you feel an urge to be proactive in trying to get the scale moving for your own sanity, there are a few things you could try.

1. Be honest and diligent in recording everything you are putting into your body.

Measure and weigh your food for a little while. Carefully add up the calories daily and weekly. Be conscious of any oil or sauce you’re adding to food. Often times we may consume more calories than we think, especially while dining out, where chefs are more liberal with oils and butter.

2. Limit sodium and simple carbohydrates.

A diet heavy in sodium and simple carbs (sugar, white bread…) causes water retention which inflates your weight. This won’t affect fat loss but if you just want to see the scale move to help you mentally, this should do the trick.

3. Decrease your calories*

*First, please promise me you’ll never go below 1200 calories per day, and even then, please promise you’ll find a healthy number for you.

As we lose weight, our bodies burn less calories. Your calorie goal at the beginning of your weight loss journey may no longer be sufficient for weight loss. Decrease your calories by 200 a day and see if that works. Again, be very careful not to decrease them too significantly because that could lead to malnourishment, mental/emotional distress, and tremendous hunger.

Above all, try your very best not to stress too much about a plateau. Weight loss is a long process and the number on the scale is a flawed way of keeping score. If you’re sticking to your goals, be confident that things will work out in your favor in the long run.

Have you ever experienced a plateau while losing weight? What’s your advice on breaking through it?

 

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Tori K October 10, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Try increasing your calories before you try decreasing them. As we’re adding more activity into our day and increasing the intensity of that activity, we actually need more calories than when we were fat and leading a more sedentary lifestyle. Try increasing your calories 200-300/day for an entire week and then check out the scale. In the event that increasing your calorie intake is NOT what you needed, there’s really no harm done. If you eat 300 more calories per day than you did the week before, that’s only 2100 extra calories… which isn’t even enough of an excess to gain a single pound.

I think we get into trouble when our first instinct is to restrict, restrict, restrict.

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neha October 10, 2012 at 9:40 pm

I agree. Jillian Michaels has this really good podcast about how the best thing to do is to during a plateau is to temporarily increase calorie intake for 3 days, decrease sodium, and drink lots of water.

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Anna October 23, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I actually just recently tried this and found it worked! After 3 weeks of diligent dieting, my weight hadn’t budged a bit. Then I just increased my intake over the weekend but made sure not to go crazy on sugar and carbs and this morning when I stepped on the scale, voila! I was down a pound. Felt great.

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Julie October 11, 2012 at 9:20 am

I agree with this as well. I was seeing good results earlier this year from a 1200-1300 calorie diet (no exercise). Then, in July, I hit a month long plateau. I couldn’t understand it because I wasn’t doing anything differently. I joined sparkpeople and posted about it, and a few folks suggested increasing my calories. I did, to 1500, and within 2 weeks I started dropping weight again, and kept at a 1300-1500 calorie diet for the most part until I hit my goal weight a couple months later.

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Hannah@AllThingsLovely October 11, 2012 at 11:15 am

I totally agree, glad to see many others do, too! So many times people jst restrict more, when their bodies are really begging for more nourishment! I think it’s just a common misconception, so few people think about it, but it really does work! :)

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Amy October 10, 2012 at 9:02 pm

I’ve found that switching up my exercise routine — in particular, adding long, slow, distance running and/or long, slow sessions on the elliptical — really helps. I also get rid of dairy, sugar, etc. and focus on greens and protein. Sometimes? I eat a TON of calories in one day, too. It seems to shock my system or something. Whatever it does, it works!

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Mitch October 10, 2012 at 10:55 pm

Oftentimes we get frustrated when the weighing scale does not nudge, there’s a possibility that our fats were converted to lean muscles.

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Tecrin October 10, 2012 at 11:58 pm

I’m at a plateau right now and it’s the most frustrating thing I’ve encountered in a long time. Any time I step on those scales and see the number move in the right direction my heart skips a beat, only to see that number move right back up to the plateau again. I was doing so well, weight dropping with 1 kg a week like clockwork, and then hit that plateau, and I’ve been at it for almost a month now… And even though I also take measurements, and see those numbers move, it still made me want to throw in the towel a few times already. Haven’t, but I wanted to.

So your post came at a good time! I’ll try your tips, see if they can help me break through this marble slab of a plateau!

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ness October 11, 2012 at 3:37 am

I use to be really frustrated by hitting plateaus until i read something that completely re-framed them for me. so the theory goes, even though it takes a long time to get OVER a plateau and drop your weight, the same happens in reverse…. i had such a hard time cracking the 128 barrier, but, when it did happen, suddenly my body re-adjusted itself and it became harder to gain OVER 128!! I suddenly could eat that little bit more (and then some) and not gain weight like i was use to… so the reverse happens, which is lovely and something to look forward to. I got to test this again when i hit another plateau at 119, and sure enough the same thing happened. So, now, i actually look forward to plateaus because i know, just around the corner, if i can just hold on long enough without feeling jaded, there is a benefit there. Plus, lets not forgot the old tape measure and clothing fit, we might not be losing on the scales, but we are losing inches, and i don’t know about you all, but a person very rarely physically picks me up in the air and say, “my,i think i feel you’ve lost weight!” no, they are more likely to SEE the inch drop in those jeans that suddenly aren’t cuddling your butt like they did a month ago…. ;)

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Jen October 11, 2012 at 8:13 am

What a great way to look at it. Since plateaus usually affect me more mentally (and somtimes cause me to rebound) reframing them this way will definitely make them easier to get through – thanks for this!

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Stephanie October 11, 2012 at 4:51 pm

I wonder if this has a connection with the video Andie posted a few days back about our bodies having a natural “reset” weight which it will naturally try to revert to. When we first hit a plateau, our bodies are telling us they don’t want to get too far from that point…but if we are persistent, our bodies will eventually reset their “reset” to the new weight. It seems to make sense, and is certainly an interesting thought to consider.

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Laura Brooke Allen October 11, 2012 at 5:24 am

SO ENCOURAGING!!!!!! Thank you, Andie.

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Heather@SugarDish(Me) October 11, 2012 at 5:53 am

Soft drinks are often the culprit when I plateau. I don’t keep soda in the house but I will share with my boyfriend when we go out to eat or snag a can of Diet Coke at the gas station when I am afternoon crashing. The days that I drink even a diet soda (even though they are few and far-between) are always the days that the scale won’t move. Sodium is right!!

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Maxine October 11, 2012 at 6:36 am

There is another possibility; your goals might be unrealistic. I did this reading with a personal trainer that measured my body fat and other things. The personal trainer said that for me to lose more weight and further decrease by body fat, I would have to train for a figure competition, and the results would not be permanent, as my body would go back to 20% fat after. SO I live with my plateau and try not to equate happiness and success with 6 pack abs.

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Jessica October 11, 2012 at 6:47 am

I went through a 10-month plateau towards the beginning of my weight loss journey. I could not break out of the 240s, even after seeing a dietitian, tracking my diet scrupulously, and exercising like a mad woman. The culprit turned out to be a “weight-neutral” psych medicine I was on; after talking with my doctor and finding an alternative for it, my weight loss got back on track. I’m not going to name which one it was, because it ultimately doesn’t matter: everybody’s body reacts differently to medications. I’m sure that medicine was really weight-neutral for a lot of folks, just not me. I also found out during this plateau that my thyroid wasn’t working properly, so my doctor prescribed me a different medicine to compensate. It isn’t a magic, effortless weight-loss pill, but it did make weight loss possible for me. I guess the take-away message I’m trying to give is to get a check-up if you can’t get your plateau to go away; there might be a medical reason for it. Once I got my metabolism squared away, the weight loss has happened slowly but pretty steadily. 102 pounds down so far! :)

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Monica October 11, 2012 at 7:34 am

You mentioned you had your own roadblocks to deal with on your 135lb path to weight loss. What struggles did you encounter? How do you deal with it? I imagine you had a different kind of struggle being an emotional eater (I too am cursed with this emotional affliction! Damn you cake for being my friend when I am down!)I am curious to know, how you managed setbacks?

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Alice October 11, 2012 at 7:38 am

This is actually one of the reasons why I don’t weigh myself. I am consistent with my calorie-counting, although it’s a range rather than an exact target, and consistent with my scheduled exercise and open to impromptu exercise. I know I am doing the right things to lose the weight, so it will come off, however long that takes and however many times my body stalls.

I have also experienced what ness explained above about the reverse plateau.

I do try to avoid artificial sweeteners. They make me retain water and bloat and, uhm, not digest as regularly. But as I don’t know my weight, it’s all about the waistband and the cheekbones to monitor how well I’m doing (my face bloats if I’m eating too much)

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Ginna October 11, 2012 at 8:23 am

I hit a plateau earlier this year. I had lost 80 pounds, but still had about 60 to go when all of the sudden, the scale just stopped moving — even though I was still keeping a food diary, still counting calories and exercising faithfully. I think I lost about 4 pounds in 4 months and was about to lose my mind!
But in June, I did two things: I gave up Diet Coke (one of my very favorite guilty pleasures)* and I switched up my exercising routine to shorter sessions of burst training. I noticed a change pretty soon after that and have lost 20 more pounds since then!
*Full Disclosure: I still allow myself a Diet Coke every once in a while. I find it physically impossible to go to the movies without a giant soda in the cup holder next to me!

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Cinnamon Vogue October 11, 2012 at 9:09 am

Andie I know exactly how you feel. You just described this problem so perfectly. I have been going through this for a long time, although I am by no means overweight. 150lb, 5’7. The thing is there is a slight stomach hump, which is hard to lose.

So lately I have identified the following to a better approach. I hope.

1. Moderation – I am taking a page from the Buddhist Monks from my native Sri Lanka who are without exception slim. The key to their success seems to be moderation in everything they do. Americans are trained to be extreme in everything they do. This is not sustainable.

2. Ultra Moderate Exercise – Decide on an exercise program that you can commit for life – For me that means I go to the gym every 2-3 for weight lifting so that my bone density remains good, do some pushups and stretching twice a week (no more than 15 minutes) and a swim maybe once a week. But never on set days. This way it’s not a burden and I actually enjoy it. In England they have these Clubs where you can play a game and socialize with your friends afterwards. What a great way to exercise and socialize. And you can take your kids too.

3. Spice up your life – Yes know I am pushing my Ceylon Cinnamon, but this really helps to lose weight by thinning your blood which increases blood circulation and then boosting metabolism. It also seems to curb my urge to snack all the time. Sri Lankans use Ceylon Cinnamon in virtually everything they eat (just a pinch). Which is why I think they also have one of the lowest cancer rates in the world. The data is available as a pdf on my site. Also use Turmeric for weight loss. And a glass of Apple Cider Vinegar once a week and of course a bottle or two lemon water every week.

4. Make good food choices – I do this by keeping very little food at home and shopping every day like the French do. Boy is it a pain but it works for me. I buy small quantities of high quality items. A small piece of steak, fresh chicken or fresh vegetables. That means fresh food everyday. Nothing processed. No Red 40, Sodium, HFC and other preservatives. Well a few items like those Crave brand Pies from Whole foods and Trader Joe’s Chicken Shu Mai.

Anyway that’s my two cents. Moderation that is sustainable. High quality ingredients. Keep us inspired Andie.

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Lauren C October 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Cinnamon, ACV, and tumeric don’t do squat for weight loss. It’s effort, determination and one’s focus that does. Don’t pollute the blog with such nonsense.

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Priya October 12, 2012 at 5:54 am

Actually, cinnamon helps stabilize blood sugar levels and may temporarily boost your metabolism, two factors that can help with weight loss.

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frannie March 3, 2013 at 1:22 am

And studies have shown, “The Functional Food Centre at Oxford Brookes University conducted a study into the effects of Chilli and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) on Diet Induced Thermogenesis (DIT). They concluded that “adding chilli and MCT to meals increases DIT by over 50 % which over time may cumulate to help induce weight loss and prevent weight gain or regain”.”

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Meg October 11, 2012 at 11:24 am

Last summer, I lost 25 lbs. And then I plateaued for over a year, no matter what I did. Changed up my exercise routine several times. Added calories, subtracted them. Nothing was helping, and I was at my wits end. This past summer, I started working with a nutritionist. The culprit in my plateau, it seems, is wheat. I don’t have Celiac’s but apparently I am extremely wheat (and dairy, to a lesser extent) sensitive. Removing these from my diet has caused the scale to start moving in the right direction, again.

Basically, you never know what might be the sticking point. Mine has been a total eye-opener!

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Michelle October 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm

It’s as if you’ve read my mind. This post came at a never more than perfect time. I have hit the mother of all plateaus. 10 months. And you know what happened? Oh yeah, frustration gave way to stress which gave way to (you guessed it) stress eating. So know, I’m no longer at a 76lb loss. I am at a 42lb loss. But I won’t go any further than that. No way. NOT going back to where I used to be. Thank you for the suggestions, Andie. You and everyone that posted a reply.

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Erika October 12, 2012 at 1:44 am

This post, as with so many of your posts, reflects exactly what I am experiencing. I just overcame a plateau. I increased my calories fairly sharply over a few days (not hard to do: Canadian Thanksgiving!) and then began a cleanse. My weight loss is back on track now!

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Alexandra October 12, 2012 at 9:23 am

I know you were a little reluctant to start posting about weight loss, but I so enjoy these types of posts and this one came at exactly the right time. I used to be 200 pounds, and got down to 140 at my lowest, but did so by vastly restricting my calories to a point that was unhealthy, unrealistic, and unsustainable. Surprise! I gained a ton back, and got back up to 170.

Now I’m working my way back down again, but this time trying to do it gradually and more like a lifestyle change instead of a crash diet. This has always been hard for me, because my habits with calorie restriction tend very much towards the unhealthy, and I’m impatient – I want to look the way I want to look NOW, not six months from now. This, obviously, is not the best perspective to have, but it’s something I’m working on.

In any case – I have been stuck at a plateau for a while now and it is taking everything I have to not respond by resuming my old habits. So, thank you, for a timely reminder to take a deep breath, don’t get discouraged, and just keep at it and things will happen at their own pace.

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Amanda October 13, 2012 at 1:31 am

On my 70-lb weight loss adventure I hit some horrible plateaus and I can say honestly they were crushing. 2 or three times my trainer kicked me out of the gym for a week and that worked like a charm. In fact, counter to logic, I usually lost during the week off!

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Elizabeth October 15, 2012 at 8:15 am

It sounds crazy, but I’ve found that eating a cheeseburger does the trick for me — something about giving into my body’s cravings and giving it that extra fat and calories seems to give my metabolism a boost. I’m sure the sodium is no good, but I drink lots of water to flush it out. This has been singlehandedly one of the few things I’ve found to work.

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JaNelle October 15, 2012 at 10:29 am

Hey love! So glad to read your posts again. Anytime I’ve reached a plateau, I change everything in my routine. While losing weight, I usually follow the same daily routine of eats and exercise. Once I hit a plateau, I change my meals and what type of exercise I engage in. Usually snaps my body out of it.

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Erika October 15, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Hey Andie! Love this blog, I’m so happy you’re updating more frequently! I love the idea of using weekly calorie totals. I wondered if you could do a post on starvation mode. I’m currently counting calories and its been brought to my attention that I’m not consuming enough (less than 1000 per day) – yes yes I know it sounds low and i realize that if I do that forever my body will start digesting itself to get nutrients (like stealing protein from eyeballs) but I just dont understand how that can be bad for weight loss. How quickly does the body enter starvation mode? What does it take to skirt the line of too few vs enough calories? I know that every body is different but any information you could put out there would be extremely helpful! Thanks again for your honesty and for letting us into your life!

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Andrea Devonport October 16, 2012 at 6:35 am

Andi – I love this post… I almost always feel like I am more active than I actually am… So I just have to kick it up a notch. Thanks for this post!

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alison October 27, 2012 at 11:13 am

I am glad I read this. I have lost 15Ibs but still have 25 more to go. I have been loosing every week but then this past week the scale hasn’t moved I started to get frustrated but this post and the comments have made me realize that I need to be patient

thank you

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Gina November 11, 2012 at 10:07 am

Plateaus are the worst but if you keep the faith and get through them it’s so satisfying to see the scale move!!!

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Graziele November 18, 2012 at 7:38 am

Post carb-up is a good time to lift weights in the gym beuasce your muscles will be primed for growth. Not saying you’ll get all huge but it’s a good use of the carbs and I do agree with the strategy of cycling your diet to get maximum benefits beuasce your body will adapt to anything. Another thought is if you’re not a huge fan of the sugary carbs you can carb up using complex carbs (think non-refined) which are less likely to turn into fat when you binge. Most people binge on sweets beuasce they like sweets and it allows them to stay off the the sweets for the rest of the week.

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Robinson May 1, 2013 at 4:33 am

Hello.

How long a time period is a plateau? 4 days? 4 weeks? 4 months?

Thanks.

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Andie Mitchell May 1, 2013 at 9:24 am

Hey Robinson,

I’d say a plateau is 3 weeks to a month or longer.

Andie

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Robinson May 1, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Thanks Andie. So I shouldn’t be getting anxious about my 4 day plateau then :).

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FlatEric May 29, 2013 at 6:27 am

I find if I hit a plateau in my weight loss I take a week off and then restart again, it seems to fool my body into thinking I’m on a new diet and I lose more weight than I had put on during he week off pretty much in the week straight after.

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Duke June 17, 2013 at 7:58 am

Hey guys I am glad that I found this post, I have been on a serious plateau now for about a two months after losing 50 lbs, I am still eating the correct calories and exercising, just not sure why the scale isn’t moving! Help! I have read alot of good advice on here, just wondering if anyone else had anymore good advice. Thanks!

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Leigh Ann Dickey October 22, 2013 at 10:39 am

Hello! Glad I found your blog! I lost 25lbs in 90 days, then put some back on over the winter last year, and then hit a major plateau when trying to take it off again. What I found after reading and reading and reading (haha) is that it’s important to calorie cycle or intermittently fast to make sure that our bodies don’t go into starvation mode. This mainly is due to the fact that the hormone leptin in our bodies. We can trick our bodies into burning fat instead of storing it by cycling our calories and making sure leptin levels stay in full swing when “dieting.” I agree with the never go below 1200 calories a day thing! I cycle between 1200 and 1600 personally and then I make sure to have a CHEAT DAY! :O) Glad to meet you! –LA in GA

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Cheryl May 17, 2014 at 8:37 pm

I have been seriously watching my diet due to dietary restrictions, and have lost only 10 lbs in a year. It has been so frustrating to say the least. I exercise and eat right and the weight just is not coming off.

Last week I through all caution to the wind and eat whatever I wanted. They had donut Sunday at church and I went for it, along with cookies. I just did not care that day at all. I hopped on the scale Monday morning and I had lost a lb.

Does anybody know why this happens? Obviously I cannot continue to do that, but I still want to lose 10 more lbs. Any suggestions out there? Please help me figure this one out.

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Cheryl July 16, 2014 at 11:24 pm

People complain about hitting a plateau for a month, how about hitting a plateau for a year?
I just did not give up, kept eating for my health, and just a few days ago, I started losing again.
The body can be an amazing machine, if you do the right things.

I do have a thyroid condition, and I guess my supplementation is starting to kick in. What a great feeling to see the rewards of sticking to a healthy lifestyle for a year. Now I know I will not gain it back again. You must see weight loss as a side effect of a healthy lifestyle. Most people diet, and then go back to their original weight or more, after eating the foods that got them into trouble. You must eat healthy foods to maintain weight and good health.

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thermo slim tea lemon October 22, 2014 at 6:38 pm

There’s certainly a great deal to learn about this topic.
I like all of the points you have made.

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