Here’s Exactly How To Break A Weight Loss Plateau

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Trying to lose weight often requires a lot of work and sometimes even sacrifices. 

You may have to adjust your diet in a way that largely eliminates some of your favorite foods and beverages, and you have to be dedicated to your fitness routine even when you are tired and do not necessarily feel like exercising.

However, every little movement of the scale in the downward direction is the payoff for your hard work, and as you begin to lose weight, you not only feel better, but you also know that your health is improving every single day.

People around you may congratulate you on your weight loss but also warn you about a weight loss plateau. What is a weight loss plateau, how do you break a weight loss plateau, and will a weight loss plateau go away on its own? How many weeks is considered a weight loss plateau?

In this article, we will talk about what a weight loss plateau is and how to break a weight loss plateau.

We will cover: 

  • What Is a Weight Loss Plateau?
  • Why Have I Hit a Weight Loss Plateau?
  • How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau

Let’s dive in! 

A woman on a scale bending down and making a face of disbelief.

What Is a Weight Loss Plateau?

There may come a point in your weight loss journey where you are still doing all the right things in terms of your diet and exercise, yet you are not losing weight.

Even when you are adhering to your diet and getting in all of your workouts, the scale suddenly seems to stop reflecting improvement in weight loss.

Here, you have reached a weight loss plateau.

A weight-loss plateau is basically when you stop losing weight when you are dieting, even though the diet had previously been supporting consistent weight loss.

When you reach a weight loss plateau, your weight loss stalls.

As for how many weeks is considered a weight loss plateau, it varies from person to person.

A person blurred out in the background of the photo hugging their knees, and a scale in the foreground.

Why Have I Hit a Weight Loss Plateau?

When you reach a weight loss plateau, it is evidence that your current diet and exercise program has brought you to your current weight, but you will likely not continue to lose weight unless you adjust your diet and/or exercise in some way. 

Your body has now fully adapted to whatever weight loss and diet routine you have been following, so continuing the same diet and exercise plan will no longer lead to weight loss.

The primary reason that people hit a weight loss plateau is that the dieting and exercise program that they have been following is no longer resulting in a caloric deficit.

In most cases, when you begin a weight loss diet, weight loss is pretty rapid initially and then will taper down to a steady rate. You will continue to lose weight until the number of calories that you are eating is approximately equal to the number of calories you are burning in a day.

What often happens in weight loss is that weight is lost too aggressively because of a significant caloric deficit. 

This ends up resulting in losing a moderate amount of lean body mass in addition to body fat. 

Although the goal is to lose body fat, when you cut calories too much and are not doing enough high-intensity resistance training to support your muscle mass, your body will metabolize some amount of muscle tissue to help supply the energy you need.

As you lose muscle mass, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) will decrease, and your body will need fewer calories per day. 

A woman doing battle ropes at the gym.

Additionally, your body employs various protective mechanisms to conserve energy over prolonged or extreme caloric restriction. This is a survival mechanism known as adaptive thermogenesis, and it involves improving the efficiency of your body to make use of a limited number of calories.

You may begin the diet with a BMR of 1800 calories per day. As your body weight decreases, it’s normal that your BMR will result in a decrease, as BMR is largely determined by body size.

For example, one study involving nearly 3,000 individuals found that people burned 15.4 fewer calories per kilogram or roughly 6.8 fewer calories per day for every pound (0.45 kg) of weight they lost.

Even if you use a good BMR calculator to assess what your new BMR should be, there’s a chance that your actual BMR is quite a bit lower than what would be expected of someone who started at your current weight because you have lost so much lean body mass.

For this reason, it is always advisable to avoid extreme dieting and to aim to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds of body weight per week. To help prevent the loss of muscle tissue when you are losing weight, make sure to incorporate resistance training with heavy weights into your routine.

A person lifting weights at home with an online program.

How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau

So, will a weight loss plateau go away on its own? Most likely, no. You will need to make some changes to your daily habits to help move past it.

Although hitting a weight loss plateau can be very frustrating, there are several strategies that can help break a weight loss plateau and get you back to dropping the pounds.

Here are some tips for how to break a weight loss plateau:

#1: Reassess Your Caloric Needs

The first step in breaking a weight loss plateau is to reassess your caloric needs. If you have access to a way to measure your body fat percentage, you can get a more accurate assessment of your BMR. 

Then, use an online calculator that can help you determine your total daily energy expenditure.

Keep in mind that to lose one pound per week, you need to generate a daily caloric deficit of 500 calories.

A person on the pull-down machine at the gym.

#2: Increase Your Activity Level

We often think of just planned or delivered workout sessions as the physical activity that will help us lose weight.

However, being physically active throughout your day, not just when you plan to exercise, is a great way to break a weight loss plateau while improving your health overall.

Intersperse as much activity as you can throughout the day, and try to avoid long periods of time when you are sedentary.

Consider getting a standing desk, treadmill desk, or a small exercise bike pedal machine that can go under your desk if you have a sitting job. 

Try to take a brisk 10 to 20-minute walk after every meal or incorporate little bursts of physical activity throughout the day. For example, perhaps every time you use the bathroom you can do 25 jumping jacks or 20 squats. 

The more active you can be throughout the day, the more you will be able to keep your metabolism elevated and burn more calories.

A woman at her kitchen counter keeping a food diary.

#3: Add Strength Training

If you are not already doing so, strength training is one of the best ways to help break a weight loss plateau. It will help burn calories while you are actually lifting weights, and it will help build or maintain your muscle mass as you lose body fat.

#4: Drink More Water

Drinking water will help boost your metabolic rate and can help you feel full as you continue to cut calories.

#4: Track Everything You Eat

Even if we feel like we have been meticulous with our diet and sticking to the exact plan that we have, we tend to get laxer over time as we follow the same diet. Perhaps initially, we were measuring or weighing all of our food and tracking everything. 

Gradually, over time, the portions might increase slightly, or you might have little snacks here and there that you forget about at the end of the day when you are trying to assess why you haven’t lost weight. 

Keep a food diary and consider measuring or weighing your food to ensure that you are sticking with the portion that you plan to eat. However, if you have a history of eating disorders or you find food tracking triggering, this may not be a safe or healthy strategy.

Forks with vegetables on the ends of the tines.

#5: Eliminate Alcohol

Cutting out alcohol can help break a weight loss plateau.

Not only does alcohol contain empty calories, but it can also contribute to overeating by reducing inhibitions and discipline when you eat.

Studies have found that cutting back on alcohol intake can indeed lead to a greater reduction in overeating and resultant weight loss.

Furthermore, evidence has demonstrated that alcohol consumption inhibits fat burning and may increase the accumulation of belly fat.

If you enjoy drinking, you don’t necessarily have to cut alcohol out entirely, but do your best to pare back as much as possible.

#6: Try a New Diet

Even if the number of calories you are eating per day should be resulting in weight loss, your body might have become too efficient and accustomed to the foods that you are eating, reducing the energy required for digestion.

A variety of foods including fish, fruit, vegetables, and nuts.

Try a new type of diet, particularly a low-carbohydrate diet or intermittent fasting type dietary pattern. 

Low-carbohydrate diets can help stimulate initial weight loss by helping the body burn glycogen. This releases the water that is stored alongside glycogen in the body.

Although this is technically just water weight loss rather than fat loss, you may also feel more full on a high-fat, high-protein diet than on a high-carbohydrate diet. 

Studies have found that weight loss is often greater on a high-fat diet versus a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

Intermittent fasting may also help break a weight loss plateau. 

Studies have found that intermittent fasting diets can result in significant weight loss and fat loss.

Furthermore, alternate-day fasting, which is an intermittent fasting diet schedule in which you have a normal caloric intake every other day and a very low caloric intake on alternate days, may be a more effective weight loss diet plan for maintaining muscle mass than consistent caloric restriction every day.

Workout equipment including dumbbells, a jump rope, and a water bottle.

#7: Focus On the Positive

Although this tip won’t necessarily help you overcome a weight loss plateau, it’s important to focus on the positive.

When you hit a weight loss plateau, it is indicative of the fact that you have already lost some weight.

Congratulate yourself on that and all the improvements you have made in your diet and lifestyle habits.

Try your best not to get too upset or hopeless about your weight loss. Stress increases cortisol levels, and high levels of the hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite, increased weight, and increase fat storage.

Staying positive and working to decrease your stress can actually help you break a weight loss plateau, and you certainly don’t want your stress to contribute to stalling progress and weight loss.

A person doing squats in their bedroom.

#8: Adjust Your Workout Routine

Often, even more so than with diet, the body can adapt to your exercise routine, which will result in you burning fewer calories per workout.

Consider increasing the frequency, intensity, and/or duration of your workouts, and try new types of exercise.

If you are always doing spin class, try running. If you are usually swimming, try rowing. If you like walking, try incline walking or jogging. The more varied and intense your workouts can be, the more you will keep your body challenged and churning through more calories.

#9: Add HIIT

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can help you break through a weight loss plateau. This style of exercise can boost your metabolic rate for up to 14 hours after your workout is over.

Although hitting a weight loss plateau is undeniably frustrating, incorporating these strategies can help you break through a weight loss plateau to start seeing your efforts reflected when you step on the scale.

To try some HIIT on for size, check out our article: 8 Awesome HIIT Workouts At Home.

People working out at home.
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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