How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau, Dietitian Answers

A typical weight loss journey may have rapid weight loss results at the start, which can taper off and sometimes even stop entirely — this is called the plateau phase. Although it’s completely normal, it can feel frustrating to hit this wall. Keep reading to learn more about weight loss plateaus and try some strategies to overcome them.

What is a weight loss plateau?

A weight loss plateau occurs when your weight loss progress slows or stops. For example, in the first two months, you may lose one to two pounds per week, and by three or six months, you stop experiencing any changes despite sticking to your weight loss plan.

Plateaus are extremely common, and research suggests they can last few weeks or even longer, like a couple of months or sometimes even years. There are a few theories as to why this could happen.

  • Weight loss always impacts your metabolism, which your organism may interpret as 'stress.' To preserve your mass and avoid 'starvation,' your metabolic rate will slow down.
  • You are undereating and losing precious muscle mass instead of fat mass, which can also slow your metabolism.

Most people experience a plateau after three months, but there’s no official timeline of when you might experience a plateau. To prepare for it, modify your weight loss plan and accept early on that it’s a normal part of the weight loss journey.

Getting through a weight loss plateau

It’s beneficial to reevaluate your weight loss plan while experiencing a plateau. Here are some prompts to help you assess your plan:

  • Are you doing a variety of exercises that influence your metabolic rate? For example, you could add (or increase) high-intensity exercises to your workout routine.
  • Has your eating and drinking changed in the last month?
  • Do you feel hungry all the time? If yes, your weight loss calorie goals may be too low, which can be challenging to follow long-term.
  • Are you sleeping enough? High-quality rest is linked to metabolic health and may help with weight loss.

A plateau doesn’t have to be the end of your weight loss journey, and it’s exciting to learn about all the strategies you can try. Remember, positive health changes can take time, but with the proper support, you may move into the next stage of your weight loss journey. Below, we review several ways you could modify your weight loss plan to try and move past a plateau.

Review your caloric intake

A plateau can occur when your caloric intake exceeds your weight loss target. This can happen when you stop tracking, or perhaps you already experience some weight loss, and you start to be less diligent with your food choices.

It can be helpful to track your intake for a few days to see if your caloric intake has changed. If you’re eating above your target, make changes to follow your weight loss plan closer. You shouldn’t reduce your dietary intake beyond what’s outlined in your plan. Cutting back more calories may impact metabolic adaptation, making it harder to lose weight (and keep it off).

Try a new exercise routine

Muscle tissue burns more energy than fat. You don’t necessarily need to bulk up to lose weight, but strengthening what you already have is a great place to focus on. Completing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can stimulate your basal metabolic rate more than other forms of exercise, which means your body continues to burn a higher rate of calories after you stop exercising.

Most HIITs are done in circuits and include several different workouts, like squats, plant, kettlebell swings, jumping jacks, etc. A HIIT session may consist of 30 seconds of each exercise, with 15–30 seconds of rest in between. You’ll repeat the circuit a few times to finish the workout.

The objective is to work very hard (quickly) to maximize your energy output. These workouts may positively impact you and help you move past a plateau, but they’re hard. Focus on building your endurance by doing HIIT consistently. Over a few weeks of regular workouts, you’ll be amazed by how much stronger you feel.

Get more sleep

Getting good, restful sleep can support your weight loss efforts. Sleep helps your metabolic health, helps to balance hunger and fullness hormones (ghrelin and leptin), and energizes you to keep up with your lifestyle goals (like exercising). Although there’s no science to show how much sleep will move you past a weight loss plateau, most adults benefit from approximately eight hours of sleep each night.

To get consistent sleep, it can be helpful to maintain a stable schedule and go to bed at the same time every night. Additionally, avoid consuming stimulants too close to bedtime, like an energy drink or caffeinated tea. If you’re consistently struggling to get good rest, ask your doctor if they have suggestions on what to do or if a light sleep aid would be beneficial.

Get personalized advice

It can’t be said enough: everyone’s weight loss journey is unique, and navigating each stage will require individualized health advice. Several factors that influence weight are out of your control, such as underlying medical conditions like hypothyroidism, fluctuating hormone levels, age, gender, and genetic factors.

Generic weight loss advice, like burning more energy than eating, may only get you so far in your weight loss journey. Contact your healthcare team for personalized recommendations if you’ve been stuck and need help.

What not to do when you face a plateau

So far in your weight loss journey, you’ve likely followed the plan closely and experienced positive results. Understandably, it can be confusing when your weight is no longer changing even though you’re doing the same things.

As mentioned, don’t over-restrict your food intake to try and eliminate more calories. This approach isn’t sustainable. Instead, follow up with a dietitian to complete a thorough food review to ensure you’re not unintentionally overeating.

As well as food, try to avoid excessively exercising to 'burn more calories.' This behavior can increase your risk of injury and burnout, which isn’t safe or productive. Instead, you might benefit from changing your fitness routine to add variety which may help impact your basal metabolic rate.

Additionally, it’s important to stay grounded and remember that weight loss isn’t a linear journey. Although some people can initially lose weight through lifestyle changes, they may need extra support to achieve more results. Some additional interventions that might be appropriate are starting a weight loss medication or undergoing bariatric surgery if eligible and approved by a medical professional.

Running into a wall while pursuing your weight loss goals is frustrating. Know that these feelings are normal and valid. Ask your healthcare provider for personalized strategies to efficiently move past a plateau.

Don’t sweat a plateau — you got this

A weight loss plateau can make it feel like your progress is standing still, but remember, healthy and sustainable weight loss takes time.

To move past a plateau, review your diet under the guidance of a dietitian. They can help you determine if you’re satisfying your calorie goals or if your dietary intake would benefit from a few adjustments. After you’ve reviewed your nutrition, you can try other strategies, like including HIIT in your workout routine to boost your metabolic rate.

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