How to get past a weight loss plateau

You started your weight loss program and the first weeks were going great, but then your weight loss stalled. You hit a weight loss plateau.

Weight loss limbo is hard because it’s the place where motivation most often fails—and that can put an end to all your progress faster than you might think.[i]

But, it doesn’t have to be that way: You can get past your weight loss plateau by following a few simple steps.

The first thing to understand is that plateaus can occur on the way to almost any goal: Athletes looking to run faster, kids learning to play a musical instrument, people mastering any new skill…all experience plateaus.

The second thing to understand is that the plateau might be a false alarm.

If you are using a scale to measure your progress, you might not notice that you have lost fat and gained muscle (which is good!). You need to be able to measure fat loss to see what is really going on, but a simple bathroom scale won’t help you.

Here is how to troubleshoot your plateau:

  • Are you sticking to the plan? Make sure you are still working the plan. You may have dropped parts of your weight loss plan along the way, paying less attention to calories or exercising less. Maybe you are using a meal replacement once a day instead of twice as you intended. Find what you dropped and add it back in.
  • How about your exercise? Are you consistent with how much exercise you have been doing?
  • Are you losing fat? Don’t use a scale as the only way to measure progress. You can buy scales that measure body fat. But you can also use how well your clothes are fitting as a gauge. Measuring your waist is a great tool as well.
  • How do you feel? Forget about measuring and remember how you feel. Are you sleeping better? Do you have more energy? All these clues can tell you if you are headed in the right direction.

Once you have made any necessary adjustments, reevaluate. If you still aren’t losing weight, then it might be time to step up your program:

  • Exercise. You can increase the length or intensity of your exercise. Try extending your exercise by 10 minutes (or more) or increasing how hard you exercise. Try a different exercise: If you are walking, try running for short distances. How about biking or a spinning class?[ii]
  • Track your food intake. A key reason behind a weight loss plateau can be that you are eating more than you think. It’s easy for portion sizes to creep up. If necessary, try cutting your daily calorie intake by 100 to 200 calories a day.[iii]
  • Keep your motivation up. Find ways to keep working your weight loss program. Add variety or work out with a friend.

Over time, you will learn to love plateaus because they are a gift. Plateaus are a good time to stop and look at what you are doing, recommit yourself to your plan, and find ways to improve.

Most importantly, don’t lose faith. After all, you are in this for a lifetime—a lifetime of benefits that come with maintaining a healthy weight. Soon you will break through the weight loss plateau and be on the way to your ideal weight.

[i] Chaput JP, Drapeau V, Hetherington M, Lemieux S, Provencher V, Tremblay A. Psychobiological effects observed in obese men experiencing body weight loss plateau. Depression and anxiety. 2007 Jan 1;24(7):518-21.
[ii] Franz MJ, VanWormer JJ, Crain AL, Boucher JL, Histon T, Caplan W, Bowman JD, Pronk NP. Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2007 Oct 31;107(10):1755-67.
[iii] Burke LE, Wang J, Sevick MA. Self-monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011 Jan 31;111(1):92-102.

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