If you are struggling on your weight loss journey, you may become frustrated by a weight-loss plateau. The good news is there are things you can do to get closer to your goal weight! Here are our tips on how to overcome a weight loss plateau. Read on to find the best way that works for you.
A weight loss plateau has to be one of the most frustrating, discouraging things in the world. While a stall or plateau can make you want to throw in the towel and say “WHY EVEN TRY ANYMOOOOREEE?!!!”… let’s try to keep a few things in mind:
- Why did you start your weight loss efforts? Is it enough to keep you from quitting? Don’t be a quitter and throw all your hard work away.
- What was your ultimate goal? Are you trying to reach a specific weight because someone held a gun to your head and told you to? Or do you want to be healthy and improve your body composition?
- Exercise and eating well should be a lifestyle change, not a short term fix so you fit in those jeans.
- A successful weight-loss journey rarely travels in a straight line. There are bound to be curves, detours, hills and valleys. Don’t sit down in the middle of the road just because the path you’re on isn’t a direct one with the most scenic route and Ryan Gosling cheering you on all the way.
Although…that would make it oh so satisfying.
Ok, back to reality. Ryan Gosling may not “Hey Girl” to you as you sweat away those calories, but you can look at some different reasons for why you may not be progressing to try to get things moving again.
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How to Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau
1. Look at what you’re eating.
And I don’t mean watch the cupcake as it enters your mouth. Really – WHAT are you eating? Are the foods unhealthy foods? Are you drinking more soda or juice or coffee than water? Are you snacking on food that your kids leave behind? (We all do it, trust me.)
At the most basic level, the only way to reach your weight-loss goal is to consume fewer calories than your body burns each day, known as a caloric deficit.
The most common reason for weight gain or a weight plateau is when the number of calories you take in is more than the number of calories burned by your exercise routine or your daily activity level.
Now, that’s not always super black and white, as there are other factors that can come into play (more on that below). But it’s a good idea to start by looking at your food intake (and drinks too) and see what your daily calorie intake looks like. If you aren’t in a calorie deficit, you probably aren’t going to see the scale go down.
Did you have one, two, five, or ten cheats last week? If you aren’t consistently fueling your body with proper nutrition and the right amount of calories, you probably won’t reach your goals.
2. How MUCH are you eating?
We all know that eating too many daily calories will cause you to gain weight, but also eating too LITTLE can make you gain weight. Seriously!
If you have severely restricted your caloric intake to the point that you have less energy to keep up with your physical activity, you may see weight loss stalls. This would be due to your basal metabolic rate slowing down and your body going into starvation mode.
It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes increasing your calories will actually let your body know it isn’t starving and it will go back to burning fat again instead of holding onto it like a 2 year old with a death grip on his new toy.
Related: Get Meal Planning Tips Here!
3. Your macros may be out of balance.
When people talk about counting macros, they are talking about macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Your body works best when it has a proper balance of macronutrients.
Without going into it too much, you want to ensure you have a balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, enough protein, and fats. There are diets that limit certain macros – such as the keto diet with its high protein/high fat/low carb diet plan – but I personally don’t recommend eating habits that restrict any one macro.
I’ll also remind you I’m not a doctor or registered dietician, and I’m purely speaking from personal experience, my knowledge as a personal trainer, and giving general recommendations that applies to most people.
There are 50 bajillion diets out there, and I honestly don’t recommend ANY of them except portion control. Again – that doesn’t mean limit what you eat to the point that you are starving, but it does mean you should eat the proper foods in proportion to each other.
Pair complex carbs with proper protein intake. You need protein to maintain or grow muscle tissue. Carbs are important because they provide energy so you can follow your fitness routine. Don’t avoid healthy fats. Fats are needed for our bodies to function and to maintain proper hormone levels.
4. Drink more water.
Dehydration can really dry out your weight loss plan – pun intended.
When you keep that water bottle by your side and stay hydrated, you can actually increase your metabolism, which means you increase your daily calorie burn.
In general, you should aim for half your body weight in ounces of water per day. If you weigh 140 pounds, drink 70 oz of water. If you’re 200 pounds, drink 100 oz.
Get it? Simple math.
When you’re dehydrated, your kidneys can’t function properly, so the body turns to the liver for help. Because the liver is working so hard, what you consume is stored rather than burned off.
Also, if you don’t drink enough water, your poop isn’t going to exit quite as much as it should. Not only will you feel bad, but you will hold onto that weight. Not fun. Drink water and poop it out.
5. You don’t have the right vitamins and minerals to make your body work properly.
Did you know vitamin deficiencies will cause you to not lose weight?
Yeah, the girl who had super low levels of B12 and D3 can tell you firsthand. At the very least, make sure you take a good multivitamin daily.
If you can, ask your doctor to check your labs to make sure you aren’t deficient in one area or another.
6. Moving beyond nutrition…you may need to alter your workouts.
If you’ve been doing the same types of exercise for a while, your body may have gotten used to it. Try a different exercise regimen and see how your body responds to a new challenge.
If you’re a runner, try adding some hill sprints once or twice a week. If you’re a quick in-and-out 30 minute workout a day person, add an easy 15 minute walk to the end of your day. If you lift weights, change up your routine or finish off with 5 minutes of high intensity movement after your workout.
Sometimes small changes can get things moving in the right direction.
7. Lift weights.
Many people think that cardio is what they need to burn fat and “get skinny.” And it’s true that cardiovascular exercise (walking, running, movements that get your heart rate up) does burn calories and is great for heart and lung health. But it’s not the only answer.
While you rarely see many overweight Kenyan marathoners, cardio isn’t the most efficient way to lose weight and reshape your body.
Strength training will build lean body mass which will actually skyrocket your metabolism and help you to burn body fat even AFTER your workout is over.
Doing only cardio while reducing your calorie intake make help you lose a few extra pounds, but that initial weight loss will be losing water weight and loss of muscle mass. Resistance training (or lifting weights) is going to help your body reach your weight loss goals without burning off your lean muscle mass.
And YES, even women need resistance training. NO, women won’t get bulky without actually TRYING to get bulky. Get over that fear.
8. Sleep. Relax. Take a day off.
Everyone needs a rest day. Do NOT work out every single day. Lack of sleep has been proven to be associated with obesity and metabolic dysregulation.
Too little sleep is also is linked to the body producing too much cortisol, which is the body’s primary stress hormone. High stress levels – and high cortisol levels – can cause a lot of weight gain, high blood pressure, muscle weakness and mood swings (plus other undesirable effects).
In general, about 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night is enough sleep to keep your body working properly.
Your body builds muscle and repairs when you sleep. End your daily routine with healthy habits to restore your energy balance, and aim for at least one day per week with no workout.
9. Be patient.
Your thighs weren’t built in a day, and they aren’t going to look like Giselle’s in a day either. Sometimes your body stalls just as it is preparing to start dropping weight again.
It takes time and consistency.
Don’t quit, don’t give up, and don’t let your mind get in the way.
Even the 21 Day Fix isn’t a 21 day FIX. It’s 21 days to build a habit so that you end up living a healthier lifestyle. No quick fixes here, people. Hold your horses, change is gonna happen.
Final Thoughts on the Dreaded Weight Loss Plateau
One final note…I often have clients and challengers who are in my private support groups who worry that they’ve been exercising for a week or two or five and they haven’t lost any weight. I know it concerns them, but that in itself doesn’t immediately raise red flags for me.
Here’s why: Weight by itself does NOT tell your story. A better indicator of progress would be inches, pictures, how your clothes fit, how you feel, how much energy you have, and your medical records (cholesterol, blood sugar, etc).
It’s possible to drop more than one dress size but actually GAIN weight because muscle is more dense than fat! It takes up less room, so your body is getting smaller and tighter, but your weight is increasing.
The scale can be beneficial in some ways, but in some ways it can derail your progress by making you stress unnecessarily.
Also, if you are working hard and exercising to the point that your muscles are getting sore (DOMS), your body is most likely holding on to water while it repairs your muscles! Again – water retention can appear to be weight gain but it isn’t like you just packed on 5 pounds of fat overnight.
Keep pushing forward with healthy lifestyle changes and it will work itself out in the long run. It’s all part of the process. I promise.
***Disclaimer – I am not a nutritionist/registered dietitian/doctor, and I am not in any way trained to diagnose or treat medical problems. I am a personal trainer and coach who is only sharing knowledge and experiences that I have gained from research, my own fitness journey, and that of my clients/challengers. If you have serious difficulties with weight loss that isn’t receptive to proper nutrition or exercise, please seek the advice of a medical professional. You may have a hormonal imbalance or other health condition that is interfering with your metabolism and ability to reach a healthy weight.***
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Amanda is a mom of 4 living a mostly crunchy lifestyle outside of Atlanta, GA with her husband, 2 dogs, and a cat. As a former special education teacher who also has her personal training certification — Amanda really enjoys teaching others how to do things!
When she’s not working, Amanda enjoys DIY projects, exercising, photography, hiking, and long walks through Target.