When you are working on losing weight, it’s very common to hit a plateau periodically, or a period of time in which you stop losing weight. This can be very frustrating and in my experience with clients, it is often the point at which people give up or stop trying so hard. The thing is, hitting a plateau can actually be a positive thing. Many times, when you stall out at a new lower weight for a week or more, you’re body is actually resetting its set point weight. This is the weight your body will gravitate towards if you pig out for a couple days or if you starve for a couple days. A long time ago, this was helpful because people didn’t necessarily always have access to adequate food or a variety of food. The body adapted to abundance and lack by helping the body stay around the same weight over time. Nowadays, we don’t necessarily need that assistance in the same way (when was the last famine you survived?), but our bodies still work that way.
Over the years, I’ve worked with all types of people on their weight loss endeavors. First, I worked with active duty military to help them meet their weight and fitness standards, and after that, I worked with individuals and in all types of corporate settings (truck drivers, shop workers, office workers, etc.). What I found over time is that no matter what a person’s goals, job, or lifestyle, there are certain things you can do to try and bust yourself off a plateau to keep losing weight.
How to Get Off a Weight Loss Plateau:
Step 1. Keep a log for 3 full days–everything you eat, drink, and do for exercise/activity. Be honest. Have you been cheating or compromising on your healthy eating and workout plan? Use an online tracking program or app like Sparkpeople to help you be honest. Each handful of pretzels or skosh or wine counts! Often, people find they are mindlessly noshing or not counting everything they’re doing. That’s ok, but don’t blame a faulty metabolism!
Step 2. Ask yourself, “How long have I been at this plateau?” If it’s one week or less, you probably need to be patient for a bit longer before you freak out and get impatient. Stay the course! Documenting, photographing, and even graphing your weight, measurements, and body composition changes over time can be really helpful for this.
Step 3. If it has been more than two weeks, and you have not strayed from your plan at all, assess your stress and sleep levels. If you are not getting adequate sleep or if you are experiencing stress, your body could be sabotaging itself. Both of these things lead to a release of cortisol, which inhibits fat loss. The moral? Don’t stay up late stressing out about your weight! Sleep more and practice relaxation techniques.
Step 4. If you’re sleeping well, not stressed out, sticking to your plan, and have not lost weight for more than two weeks, adjust your eating plan first. You may need help with this, but the first thing I usually have people do is increase their protein intake by a little bit, and decrease their carb and fat intake to compensate (assuming we’ve already calculated a good caloric intake). I don’t like low fat diets or super low carb diets, but you can get as low as 15% of your diet from carbs without me being too upset in general. Of course, this is generic advice–I don’t know you, so I can’t tell you exactly what YOU should do, even though dipping carbs and increasing protein is a common first effort for ditching the plateau. To keep it simple, you can just try to get your nutrients from different foods (add variety), and also make sure you haven’t been on a low-carb or low-calorie meal plan for too long. Again, you may need help determining this (for some people, the best way to kick a plateau is by adding a cheat day!). You can try all kinds of fun things in this category: intermittent fasting, short-term ketogenic diet, changing the ratios of carbs/fat/protein, and more.
Step 5. At this point, you can also adjust your workouts. I recommend adding in some interval training and to also adjust weight training in general. If you do straight sets, switch it up to do a bit more circuit training, and if you’re used to circuit training, do a couple days a week of straight sets of heavier weights. If you usually take a spinning class, switch it up and do body pump or a barre class. If you’re a yoga nut, take a pilates class. You get the idea!
Step 6. If you still have not stepped off your plateau after completing Steps 1 through 5 over the course of at least 7 days, you can have your doctor check your hormone levels. Many people jump to this step way too early, probably hoping there’s a culprit to blame for the plateau that is not their “fault.” It’s not all that common for a person’s thyroid to be messed up or for other hormonal issues to be blocking weight loss, but it definitely can happen. If you’ve kept a log, have a good sound nutrition plan and activity plan, and you’re not stressed, you sleep well, and this has been going on for several weeks, your doctor may want to test your hormones. Find a good doctor if you do this! There is a lot to explore in this department!
Conclusion: I like to tell my clients and students that we are all our own little research projects. If you’ve started a new plan, no matter how great the contents of that plan are, you will need to stay very aware of how you feel and what happens over time. Adjustments will inevitably be necessary for long-term results, and even a plan that’s perfect for you today may not be perfect a week or month or year from now. I know that frustrates many people, but it definitely keeps us on our toes and keeps the professionals in business! It can be difficult to figure out what works best for you. Also, I would like to urge you to do more than just weigh yourself. Measure your waist, hips, arms, and thighs to determine changes over time. If you can, measure body fat and hydration. Pounds are not the only way to measure success!
Tell me, what do you do to get off a weight plateau?