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Are You on a Weight Loss Plateau? Here’s How to Break It

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You’ve been cutting down on sweets, filling up on veggies and walking on the treadmill five days a week. At first, your hard work paid off, and it felt incredible watching the number on the scale go down. But now, the scale won’t budge, and you feel stuck with 10 or 15 extra pounds. You’re standing on a weight loss plateau and wondering if you’ll ever reach your goals.

Weight loss plateaus can be frustrating, especially if you’re struggling to identify the cause. Still, try not to get discouraged. It’s normal to reach a plateau during a weight loss journey. The good news is, you don’t have to stay stuck, and you can continue to burn fat, no matter how challenging it seems.

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What Is a Weight Loss Plateau?

There is no official definition of a weight loss plateau, but in general, it’s when you stop losing weight despite following a diet and exercise plan. Weight loss plateaus are common, and they eventually happen to most people who try to lose weight.

When do most people reach a plateau? According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, weight loss plateaus occur after about six months of dieting, likely due to a lack of diet adherence.

What Causes Plateauing Weight Loss?

Doctors aren’t entirely sure why weight loss plateaus happen to even the most disciplined individuals, but they have ideas of possible causes. Here are some reasons weight loss might stall.

1. You Shed Water Weight First

When you begin a weight loss plan, your body releases its store of glycogen for energy. Glycogen is a type of carbohydrate that’s partially made of water. As a result of this process, you lose “water weight” at first. Your body will then turn to fat and muscle for energy.

The water weight effect is only temporary. Eventually, you’ll renew your glycogen stores, and the water weight will return, which can look like a plateau. You’ll need to continue increasing your activity levels and decreasing your caloric intake to keep burning fat.

2. Your Metabolic Rate Decreases

Your metabolism naturally slows down as you lose weight because your muscle mass decreases. Muscle increases your metabolic rate and helps your body burn calories faster. When you no longer burn more calories than you eat, weight loss stalls.

Your metabolism may also adapt to a lower caloric intake and slow down to conserve energy.

3. Your Body Becomes More Efficient

As you lose weight, your body doesn’t have to work as hard to exercise and perform daily tasks, so it won’t burn as many calories. It’ll also efficiently perform your workout routine if you stick to the same movements and intensity levels over time. Overall, if you don’t continue to challenge your body, you could reach a weight loss plateau.

4. Your Body Needs Time to Reset

plateau may mean your body is adapting to a new set point. According to the set point theory, your body has a weight range at which it’s most comfortable. If you try to go below your set point, your body will fight to stay within its normal range by slowing your metabolism.

This doesn’t mean you can’t change your set point weight. If you think you’ve reached your set point, give yourself a month or two to maintain your weight and allow your metabolism to adapt before cutting calories and increasing your activity levels.

What to Remind Yourself About If Your Weight Loss Stalls

If you stop losing weight despite sticking to a diet and workout plan, first, don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, take a moment to celebrate what you’ve accomplished so far. Losing weight is hard work, and if you’ve reached a plateau, you’re closer to your goal than you were when you started.

Also, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be patient: Hitting a plateau can feel discouraging, but it’s important to be patient. Weight loss is a lifestyle change, and it takes time to reach your goals. If you’re feeling stressed out, allow yourself a few weeks to maintain your current weight and adjust to a new plan. Once you’re ready, you can focus on reaching your ideal weight again.
  • Don’t overdo it: If you feel tempted to fast, over-exercise or take other extreme measures to break through your plateau, resist the urge. Cutting your calories too much will only make your metabolism slow down, and you could miss out on critical nutrients. Over-exerting yourself can also be harmful and lead to an injury.
  • Don’t give up: A weight loss plateau is a sign that you were doing something right, and now you need to switch things up. With a new plan, realistic expectations and a positive mindset, you can overcome the plateau.

8 Tips for Overcoming Your Weight Loss Plateau

Often, reaching a plateau means you need to make some changes to your diet and exercise plan. If you regularly challenge your body and practice patience, you can drop more pounds and reach your ideal weight. Here are some tips to help you break through the plateau and see results.

1. Change Your Fitness Routine

If you do the same workout for months, your body will get used to your routine and become more efficient at completing the activity. If your body doesn’t have to work as hard to move a certain way, you won’t burn as many calories.

To help you break through a plateau, you need to move your body in new, challenging ways. This may involve increasing your workout’s intensity or trying something completely different.

For example, if you enjoy walking, try to include intervals at a faster pace. Each interval might only last a couple of minutes, but if you continue to push yourself, you’ll burn more calories. You might also increase the intensity by walking at a higher incline.

Changing your exercise routine can also keep you from feeling bored and inspire you to reach your goals. It’s best to incorporate activities you think you’ll enjoy or have always wanted to try. For instance, instead of hopping on the treadmill again, you might take a walk around town. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to take a Zumba class. If you can add fun to your workouts, you’ll likely feel more motivated to stick to them.

No matter how you decide to challenge yourself, be sure to set realistic expectations and give yourself time to rest. As a general rule, try to exercise for 30 minutes on most days of the week. As you get better at a new workout routine, gradually increase duration and intensity or try something completely new — whatever it takes to keep your body guessing.

2. Build Muscle With Strength Training

Another way to help you overcome your weight loss plateau is to incorporate strength training into your routine and build muscle. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, even when you’re resting.

Try to include strength training in at least two workouts a week. You might do push-ups, lift weights or use resistance bands, for example. Do each exercise until it’s difficult to do another repetition. Make sure you don’t exercise the same muscles two days in a row, though, to give them a chance to recover.

3. Track Your Caloric Intake

If your weight loss has stalled, you may need to reassess your eating habits. It’s easy for calories to sneak into your diet and add up fast. Many people underestimate how much they’re eating, but there’s a solution. You can better understand your portion sizes and caloric intake by keeping a food journal or using a calorie tracking application.

You’ll want to record everything you eat and drink throughout the day. If you keep a food journal, consider also noting the time of day and how you feel when you eat. This may be especially helpful if you tend to snack when you’re stressed, bored or experiencing other emotions that lead to overeating.

Use your journal or tracking app to help you identify unhealthy eating habits or triggers, and then find healthier alternatives to satiate cravings or cope with emotions. You’ll want to cut your caloric intake to lose weight, but it’s recommended not to go below 1,200 calories a day.

4. Eat More Protein

Protein can help you jumpstart weight loss for several reasons. First, your body burns more calories digesting protein than it does breaking down carbohydrates or fats.

Secondly, protein stimulates the secretion of appetite-curbing hormones. For example, according to a review published in Nutrition and Metabolism, subjects experienced significantly greater satiety after consuming meals containing about 40% more protein than other meals.

Lastly, protein can help guard against muscle loss, which can keep your metabolism revving.

Even though protein can aid weight loss, it doesn’t mean you need to eat excessive amounts of meat or other high-protein foods. Consider how much protein you eat daily and increase your intake if needed. It’s recommended that adults who get minimal physical activity consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight a day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds or 68 kilograms, you need a minimum of 54 grams of protein a day. However, if you get moderate or intense physical activity, you’ll need to increase your protein intake even more.

5. Consult With a Registered Dietician

If you’re struggling to stick with a weight-loss routine, consider speaking with a registered dietician. Your dietician can help you devise a diet plan made especially for your body, nutritional needs and goals. They’ll also help you identify and address issues with eating habits that you may not be aware of, so you can make positive long-lasting lifestyle changes.

Sometimes, medical conditions can make it difficult to lose weight. If you cannot overcome your weight loss plateau after making diet and exercise changes, consider talking to a primary care physician. A doctor can rule out conditions such as hypothyroidism or polycystic ovarian syndrome, which may make it more challenging to lose weight.

6. Get Plenty of Sleep

Getting adequate sleep can support your weight loss efforts, whether you’ve hit a plateau or are just getting started. People who do not get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night may eat more calories during the day to cope with tiredness. Lack of sleep can also lead to increased stress and unhealthy food choices.

If you’re struggling to get the sleep you need, consider taking a break from your workouts and giving your body time to recover. Try different techniques to help you sleep better and longer, such as limiting screen time before bed. Make sleeping a priority, and when you’re ready, you can get back on track.

7. Reduce Stress

For many people, stress triggers the desire to reach for high-calorie comfort foods like cookies, chips and chocolate. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. According to a survey reported by the American Psychological Association, nearly 40% of American adults claimed to eat unhealthy foods due to stress over a month-long period, and about half of them said they engaged in stress-related eating on a weekly basis or more.

It’s important to reduce your stress levels if you want to spark weight loss. For instance, stress increases cortisol levels, which can stimulate your appetite. Sugary, high-fat foods also seem to counteract the effects of stress, which may be why people often crave comfort foods when they feel tense.

To help you manage stress and resist junk food, consider creating a list of relaxing activities you can do instead of eating, such as meditating or practicing deep breathing techniques. You may also find it helpful to talk to a therapist.

8. Measure Success Beyond the Scale

Don’t rely on your scale as the only tool to measure your success as you overcome a weight loss plateau. Other factors, such as body measurements, increased energy and improved fitness levels also demonstrate success. You may be building muscle but losing fat while keeping a stable weight. So, if the number on the scale still hasn’t budged, but your jeans fit more comfortably, pat yourself on the back and know that you’re on the right path.

What to Do If You Still Can’t Lose Weight

If you continue to feel stuck on a weight loss plateau and could use a motivation boost, we’re here for you at Synergy Wellness. We understand that losing weight can be challenging and that everyone has different needs and goals. At our weight loss clinics in Fresno and Bakersfield, California, we’ll consider your goals, body composition and budget to create a safe and effective individualized weight loss plan.

If you’re ready to break through your weight loss plateau and make lifestyle changes that count, contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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