Hitting a Weight Loss Plateau: Why It Happens And How To Stop It

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Weight loss, in general, can be a very difficult process. Then, when you feel like you’ve finally got it figured out – you find yourself hitting a weight loss plateau.

The beginning of a weight loss journey is often seen with results! Your body then adapts to this new lifestyle, and your metabolism changes – suddenly, the number on the scale isn’t moving anymore. 

Understanding why a weight loss plateau occurs and what you can do about it can help to ensure you continue to make progress. Instead of giving up, considering different strategies to overcome hitting a weight loss plateau will lead to greater success long-term.

Recognizing You’re Hitting a Weight Loss Plateau

First of all, how are you measuring your weight loss? The scale can be helpful in measuring chronic, long-term weight loss goals, but weighing yourself more than once a week can be counterproductive. 

There are so many factors which can affect our weight on a daily basis. If you notice the scale hasn’t moved in the last 2-4 weeks, you might be experiencing a weight loss plateau. 

Why Weight Loss Plateaus Occur

infographic detailing why a weight loss plateau occurs; hitting a weight loss plateau

Weight loss is not linear- a common misconception during the beginning stage of losing weight. 

Weight loss plateaus are not only normal, but they’re inevitable. Usually it’s a sign that you’ve already made a lot of progress – and it might be time to make adjustments. 

There are many theories on why weight loss plateaus occur. For example, many clinical studies have shown that once you lost 10% of your weight, your body starts to fight back. Read the factors below to better understand why!

Decreased Basal Metabolic Rate/Total Daily Energy Expenditure

Weight loss is achieved when your body is in a calorie deficit. Studies have shown that one can expect to experience rapid weight loss initially, then start to steady out after a few weeks despite maintaining a restricted caloric intake (1). 

One must consider their basal metabolic rate (BMR) – which is the number of calories our body uses at rest. BMR is usually “estimated” based on age, sex, and weight.

Then there’s the non-resting energy expenditure – which basically includes the calories burned throughout the day through physical activity and activities of daily living.

One of the leading theories that has been researched is that our BMR decreases when we lose weight, which lowers our total daily energy expenditure. Thus, our calorie deficit gets smaller and smaller the more we lose weight – causing the rate of weight loss to slow.

Set Point/Settling Point Theory

The set point theory claims that our body weight is the product of genetics (changes in DNA), epigenetic effects (inherited traits that do not involve DNA), and the environment (2). The settling point theory takes into account more social and environmental factors (3). 

Therefore, our bodies have a “set point” that is based on these three factors – making it much more difficult to lose weight.

The good news is that the set point can often be changed. However, experts propose that slow, gradual weight loss works best when trying to reset it. 

Hormone Changes

Research studies have shown that people who lose weight experience changes in their hormones. For example, higher levels of the hormone ghrelin is secreted, which is known to increase hunger, fatigue and promote the conservation of fat stores (4). 

This can be very frustrating- but it is very important to be mindful of these increases in hormones. Many people often give up at this point and regain the weight they lost due to the increased hunger. 

What’s a Healthy Weight Loss Goal Per Week?

An “ideal” number to target for weekly weight loss is about 0.7% of body weight in pounds per week to maximize fat loss while minimizing metabolic adaptations and muscle loss (5).  

Losing weight too quickly can result in loss of muscle mass, large drops in metabolism, and decreased long-term success of keeping the weight off.

Strategies to Overcome hitting a Weight Loss Plateau

infographic of strategies to try when hitting a weight loss plateau

After that discussion of why weight loss plateaus occur, you might be able to understand that overcoming them can be complicated. Here’s a list of 6 strategies to try to overcome hitting a weight loss plateau.

1. Evaluate What You’re Eating

One of the first steps to overcome hitting a weight loss plateau is to really take a look at what you’re eating. It can be difficult to balance trying to lose weight while also living your life – but even small changes in how you’re eating can make a big difference.

Ask yourself: are you eating too much or not enough? Sometimes, when we restrict our calories too much (for example, a 1200 calorie diet) it may actually prevent your body from losing further weight.

Here are some small changes you could make in regards to your diet:

1. Eat more fiber.
2. Increase your protein intake.
3. Start a food and activity journal.
4. Download a fitness and meal tracking app. 
5. Practice mindful nutrition
6. Start meal prepping and planning. 
7. Moderate your liquid calorie intake (alcohol, coffee drinks).

2. Add Variety to Your Workout

When you perform the same workout routine for an extended period of time, your muscles and metabolism may become accustomed to it. The amount of calories you’re burning might be less than when you first started out.

Small changes like increasing your weights, adding more variety to your workouts, trying new workouts, or increasing them by 10 minutes could make all the difference. Can you add more steps to your day? Buy a fitness watch for motivation?

For at-home workout inspiration, check out my comprehensive YouTube fitness channel review for women.

3. Take a Rest Day

It has been said that in some cases taking a rest day or week can be one of the best ways to overcome a plateau. Give your mind and body a break, and you might feel more motivated when you start again. This can also prevent overtraining, and be beneficial to your metabolism.

4. Try To Get More Sleep

Many studies have examined the relationship between sleep and weight loss. Inadequate sleep has been shown to cause hormone fluctuations, decreased metabolism, increased appetite and fat storage (5,6). Aim for 7-8 hours a night if you can!

5. Manage Stress

Very similar to sleep, stress can also wreak havoc on your hormone levels. Increased cortisol levels can make weight loss very difficult.

Are there coping mechanisms you can include in your daily life to reduce stress? What activities help decrease your stress levels, and can you make more room for them in your schedule?

6. Cut Yourself Some Slack

Lastly, cut yourself some slack! If you’re reading this, you’ve likely already lost quite a bit of weight. Give yourself a huge pat on the back. 

Often times, you don’t have to do anything during a weight loss plateau – just continue what you were doing. You just might need to be a little more patient, and understand that the rate of weight loss will start to slow down

Keeping the Momentum Going

In conclusion, when you hit a plateau – it’s actually just your body adjusting to a new normal. It could mean that you’re still losing weight, it just might be slower than that initial period of loss.

Remember that the scale isn’t always the best indicator of success, especially if you’re weighing yourself more than once a week. Are your clothes fitting better? Do you have more confidence? Increased energy levels? 

Try not to get discouraged when hitting a weight loss plateau, as this can cause you to give up or start emotional eating. Be aware of the hormone changes that happen when you lose weight, and try to counteract them!

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