Weight Loss Stall

Embarking on a weight loss journey is often met with enthusiasm and determination. However, as progress slows and the scale seems stuck, many individuals find themselves facing a frustrating obstacle known as the weight loss plateau. This phenomenon occurs when the body adjusts to changes in diet and exercise, causing weight loss to stall despite continued efforts. Fortunately, with the right strategies and mindset, it’s possible to break through this plateau and reignite your progress towards your weight loss goals.

Weight Loss Plateau: How to Break Through

While weight tends to come off fairly rapidly at first, at some point, it seems as though your weight won’t budge. However, several strategies may help you begin to lose weight again.

This article is based on reporting that features expert sources.

U.S. News & World Report

Breaking Through a Weight Loss Plateau

The prospect of losing weight seems daunting at first. Dropping those first five pounds, though, leaves you feeling cautiously optimistic. Once you lose weight in the double digits, it makes you believe your weight loss goal is now in sight.

But then, your progress stalls, and the weight stops coming off. You’ve hit the dreaded weight loss plateau.

 

What Is a Weight Loss Plateau?

 

Female runner running at summer park trail . Healthy fitness woman jogging outdoors.

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A weight loss plateau occurs when the steady rate of weight loss seems to come screeching to a halt. This frustrating situation can happen at any time during your weight loss journey, but it’s usually when you’re least expecting it.

“I often have clients that lose weight, then plateau for a couple of weeks, then lose weight again,” says Lise Gloede, a registered dietitian based in Northern Virginia. “You may be counting (calories) correctly, but somehow the weight doesn’t budge for several weeks. This is just how the body works for some people. It’s common and no reason to panic.”

 

What Causes a Weight Loss Plateau?

The issue of weight loss plateaus boils down to changes in your body. Weight loss can affect your hormone levels, energy expenditure and metabolism, explains Amber Core, a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. As a result, your body makes adjustments to maintain homeostasis, or the state of steady physical conditions.

“Regardless of your desire to lose weight, the body prefers to hold on to body weight for energy and protection,” Core says. “Additionally, a body that weighs less requires less energy to maintain. The body decreases energy burn to try and prevent further weight loss, meaning that less energy is used during activity.”

In essence, your body has become more efficient, which means you are likely burning fewer calories than you did at the beginning of your weight loss efforts.

 

Strategies to Break a Weight Loss Plateau

Unfortunately, weight loss plateaus are unavoidable.

“Plateaus aren’t predictable,” says Ashlee Wright, a registered dietitian with Orlando Health in Florida. “You don’t know when they’ll happen or for how long they’ll last.”

However, there are some strategies to jump-start your way back to steady weight loss. Here are nine suggestions for breaking through a weight loss plateau:

If you’re feeling discouraged by a slowdown in your weight loss, appreciate how far you’ve come.

“It means you have improved your eating and exercise habits,” says Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “You are likely a healthier person.”

Even modest weight loss helps shield you from chronic conditions, such as:

As the weeks and months go by, it’s easy to loosen up when counting calories or measuring portion sizes. But this imprecision can contribute to your difficulty in continuing to shed weight.

Consider using an app to help to keep track of your daily caloric intake, says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian based in Philadelphia. For instance, the MyFitnessPal and Calory apps are easy to use and help you measure your caloric intake.

By keeping close tabs on your calories, “you may find out that you’ve been eating more than you thought you were, and the scale will start moving in the right direction again,” Jones adds.

That said, avoid the temptation to drastically cut calories to see movement on the scale again.

“We need adequate nutrition, and depriving ourselves of food never ends up well,” Wright cautions.

 

You can’t out-exercise a poor diet. However, boosting your exercise can make losing weight easier to sustain.

What’s key is encouraging your body to burn excess fat rather than muscle to create weight loss. That’s because muscle burns more calories than fat. Core recommends at least 250 minutes of physical activity every week, incorporating weight-bearing exercises and eating adequate amounts of protein (around 20% to 35% of total calories) to help maintain muscle mass.

This is so important because as you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate – the number of calories your body needs to keep functioning at rest – will adjust downward if you’ve lost muscle mass during the weight loss process. In other words, your metabolism can slow down, and you’ll need to burn even more calories to lose weight. But if you’re working out, that may help keep your BMR more stable.

“When you lose muscle mass, you burn less calories by default,” she explains. “So that’s why strength training is important in your exercise regimen, to help you in that prevention of muscle loss.”

Some research also suggests that high-intensity interval training may be a powerful means of shedding excess weight. When compared with continuous moderate intensity workout, HIIT, which is shorter bursts of higher-intensity exercise, may be just as effective as traditional cardio training in terms of fat and calories burned.

HIIT workouts, however, have the benefit of being shorter and more intense than regular cardio, which means that you may need to spend less time working out to see the same fat and calorie burn. Other research has suggested that adding a few HIIT sessions per week can boost fat metabolism, especially in people with obesity.

As you’re losing weight, you’ll have to adjust your caloric intake.

“For example, if you calculated your calorie needs for weight loss based on your weight and then lost 10 pounds, you would need to recalculate your calorie needs based on your new weight to continue losing weight at a similar rate,” Core says.

Has your health care provider added any new medications since you started your weight loss effort? Steroids and some antidepressants and diabetes medications can contribute to weight gain, Jones says.

Ask your health care provider whether any of your medications may be preventing you from losing pounds.

Stepping on the scale a couple of times a week versus every day can help you reframe your progress.

“This may help you focus on the day-to-day patterns and not just the numbers,” Gloede says.

Daily changes in your weight primarily reflect fluid shifts, and the scale, she adds, “is not your friend or foe, just a number to check in with.”

Wright suggests ditching the scale altogether and considering other indicators of weight loss.

“Honestly, I think it’s a good thing to get away from the scale for a while,” Wright says. “I’ve noticed that the number really messes with everyone’s head.”

Instead, she recommends asking yourself some questions as you go along:

  • Are my clothes fitting better?
  • Do I have more energy?
  • Are certain foods making me feel better?

Are you snacking because you’re bored or stressed? Do you stop eating when you’re full, or do you eat everything on your plate or in your takeout container?

We often eat for reasons other than hunger, Gloede says. In particular, many people consume high-calorie snacks when they aren’t particularly hungry to stave off boredom or to soothe anxiety.

For example, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when gyms were closed and many people found themselves sitting at home, stress eating became a big culprit in weight gain.

“Being closer to the refrigerator because you’re working from home doesn’t help,” Gloede points out.

Instead of reaching for a handful of candy or a bag of chips, take non-food breaks during the day. Try going on a short walk around the block or doing some light stretching to break up the day and alleviate stress.

Getting adequate sleep is important if you’re trying to lose weight.

“When we’re tired, we tend to eat more and move less – exactly what you want to avoid when you are trying to lose weight,” Jones says.

She suggests setting a timer for half an hour before the time that you need to head for the bedroom to get adequate sleep. Use those 30 minutes to put on your pajamas, brush your teeth and organize your thoughts.

Don’t give up or revert to your old eating habits or unhealthy coping skills, like consuming high-calorie fatty or sugary foods.

“(Maintaining) your new weight is equally as important as preventing weight regain,” Zeratsky says.

Staying with your healthy eating and exercise regimen will help you reach your long-term health goals.

Core also recommends staying patient.

“Most individuals will not consistently lose the same amount of weight each week. If there is a week where you aren’t losing as much weight, don’t jump straight to reducing calories. Wait it out for a couple of weeks, and maybe consider increasing exercise or reevaluating what and how much you are eating.”

The Bottom Line

Weight loss plateaus are common, and most dieters will experience a plateau at some point during their weight loss journey. The key is to keep active, feed your body the right amounts of nutritious food, sleep enough and be patient – you’ll eventually break through the plateau to continue losing weight.

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