On A Weight Loss Plateau? Why It Happens And How To Overcome It
Tiffany Joy Yamut, RN
I remember starting a low-carb diet for the first time. I was overweight, had acne, and had high levels of fasting blood sugar. During the first six months, I lost weight successfully. My hard work paid off… until the scale no longer moved.
That got me worried. Despite eating healthy meals, tracking my macros, and exercising consistently, I no longer progressed. Thankfully, I got past this challenge with a few strategies which I’m going to share with you below.
What I just experienced was a weight loss plateau. It happens to everyone. No matter your diet or workout, there will come a time when you’ll stop seeing results. But don’t be surprised or discouraged. That’s only temporary (if you let it be).
The first thing you need to do is identify the possible causes behind that plateau. Once you’ve done that, create a realistic action plan to get past it.
Why Do Weight Loss Plateaus Happen?
Many factors cause a plateau. Here are the most common reasons:
- Your body adapted
Our bodies respond to anything by adapting to it. What used to be a new lifestyle change now becomes the norm. So, if you notice that you’ve stopped losing weight, it means that your body needs a new stimulus.
- Weight loss and metabolic rate
Previous literature shows that weight loss leads to a decrease in total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). TDEE includes your basal metabolic rate (BMR), non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), and the thermic effect of food (TEF). It is for this reason that physique athletes are asked to “refeed” themselves once or twice a week. In this case, athletes are going to slightly increase their calorie intake by eating more carbs to stimulate their metabolic rate.
- Added sugar in your diet
If your case is not #1 or #2, then you’re probably making mistakes you’re not aware of. Eating foods that contain added sugars is one example. Doing this more often can stall your weight loss efforts. Common sources of hidden sugar are pre-packaged food and drinks such as instant oatmeal, granola bars, low-fat yogurt, energy drinks, fruit juices, soda, and pasta sauces.
- Sedentary lifestyle
You might be lacking in physical activity to lower your glycogen stores and burn fat. Try to do a self-inventory of your day. Does your work involve sitting for hours? Feeling tired or fatigued most of the time can also result from a sedentary lifestyle.
- Lack of quality sleep
Research shows that not getting a good night’s sleep increases your hunger and appetite. Poor sleep also decreases your glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, putting you at risk of obesity. According to the National Sleep Foundation, healthy adults should aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
Related article: In a Nutshell: Sleep Disorders
Medical Conditions That Make It Difficult to Lose Weight
Underlying health conditions can also prevent weight loss from happening or cause weight gain. If you cannot find a clear explanation for your plateau, then a medical condition might be responsible. That is why you should also consult your doctor to rule out any medical causes.
Among these conditions are the following:
- Hypothyroidism – This condition is common in middle-aged and older women. However, it can also happen in children and teenagers.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – This hormonal disorder affects women of reproductive age. Factors that may play a role in PCOS include heredity, inflammation, and excess insulin.
- Cushing’s syndrome – Also called hypercortisolism, this condition happens because your body makes too much cortisol.
- Other – If you are treating diabetes, some medications, including insulin can make it harder to lose weight.
10 Ways to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau
In a previous article, Dr. Cirino emphasized the importance of losing weight for your blood glucose levels, cardiovascular health, and sleep quality. The good news is that several strategies can help you burn fat and get fit again. I invite you to explore them below and do what works for you.
1. Consider an intermittent fast.
Intermittent fasting gives your body a well-deserved break from eating and digesting food. Since you’re not consuming any calories, your body can tap into its stored glycogen and fat for energy. This causes you to lose weight.
Doing an intermittent fast intuitively (based on your hunger and satiety cues) is easy, flexible, and realistic for most people. If you don’t feel hungry at all, you can skip a meal for as long as you can tolerate it. As you get used to it, try to explore longer fasts.
2. Cut back on unhealthy carbohydrates or carbs in general.
Unless you’re following a low-carb diet like me, I advise choosing your carb sources wisely because not all of them are good for you. Cookies, cakes, soft drinks, and other processed foods contain simple carbs that quickly raise your blood sugar and promote fat storage.
If you’re already doing a low-carb diet, let’s say 100-150 grams per day, you might want to consider going as low as 20-50 grams. At the same time, increase your consumption of healthy fats for energy and satiety.
3. Incorporate refeed days into your lifestyle.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned how physique athletes practice refeeding one or two days a week to stimulate their metabolism. Refeed days must be done correctly for it to work! And take note: A refeed day is not a cheat day. Cheat days are random while refeed days are planned.
There are no specific guidelines on how high your calorie intake should be on refeed days. But a general rule would be 20 to 30% higher than your usual intake. Also, you should be getting your calories from whole foods. This can include complex carbs like whole grains, vegetables, and sweet potatoes.
4. Get quality sleep at night.
Have trouble sleeping better? Reduce your exposure to blue light during the evening. Do this by turning off the TV or putting your phone away after dinner. Alternatively, you can use blue light glasses.
5. Explore different ways to move more.
Just because you work behind a desk, doesn’t mean you can’t be more active. Here’s a simple tip: Make and answer phone calls while standing up. Not only will it encourage you to walk around, but it also makes you feel and sound more confident.
Also, try to park as far away as possible from the office building. Take the stairs too!
6. Don’t rely too much on the scale.
Yes, the scale can be really helpful. In fact, it has been one of the tools that helped me realize that I plateaued. At the same time, my clothes didn’t fit right and I wasn’t seeing progress with my “progress photos.”
Keep this in mind: The scale tells you how much you weigh. That’s important. However, you should also check your body composition — that’s something that the scale can’t show you. Measure body fat percentage via a DXA scan or by using skinfold calipers, take progress photos or step into your old jeans.
7. Eat whole foods.
If there’s one best nutrition tip I can offer, this is it. No matter the diet you’re following (Keto, Mediterranean, Paleo, etc.) you should always prioritize whole foods. Whole foods contain the essential nutrients that your body needs and free of preservatives and added sugars.
Try this clean eating recipe: Potato, Chicken Sausage, and Kale Skillet Meal
8. Cut down on alcohol.
You can’t keep your old drinking habits and expect yourself to lose weight. Alcohol can slow down the process of burning fat. Too much of it can lower your inhibitions and cause you to crave and overeat unhealthy foods. Not to mention, alcohol contains lots of calories — about 7 calories per gram.
Harvard Health suggests setting a limit on how much you will drink. Women should have no more than 1 standard drink per day, while men should have no more than 2 standard drinks per day. Additionally, don’t keep alcohol in your house!
9. Switch up your workout routine.
Keep your body challenged by changing your workout routine every 3 to 4 weeks. You’ll know that it’s time for a change when your workouts already feel comfortable. Try increasing the number of reps per movement and intensity.
You can also explore other workout types you haven’t tried yet. For example, HIIT, yoga, pilates, or strength training.
10. Learn to manage your stress healthily.
A lot of things that are out of our control can get us stressed. And as you may already know, prolonged stress can cause weight gain through an increase in cortisol.
Learn to deal with stress the right way to break the cycle of weight gain. Do relaxation techniques like yoga and mindfulness meditation. Instead of unhealthy “comfort” foods, go for a healthier option. Listen to uplifting music to stir up positive emotions.
A weight loss plateau may be a frustrating experience, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living the kind of healthy life you dream of.
Know that you’re not alone. It happens to anyone (as it did to me) but thankfully, you can easily get past it using the tips above. What worked for me was incorporating fasting into my routine and lowering my carb intake further by recalculating my macros based on my current activity level.
These may or may not work for you, so please feel free to experiment, do one thing at a time while being consistent with your efforts. Most importantly — if you suspect an underlying medical condition, see a doctor.
(Featured Image source: Unsplash)