If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you will have experienced this: the first few weeks, the pounds come off reliably each week until… they don’t. Suddenly, even though you’ve not changed a thing, you see the same number on the scale, day after day, week after week.
This kind of plateau can quickly kill your motivation.
But is this normal? Are you doing something wrong? Today, I’m going to share with you what’s happening, why it’s happening, and how you can put your weight loss on a downward trajectory once more.
Is a plateau normal? Why is my weight loss plateauing?
Yes, what you’re experiencing is normal - most of us will experience it at some point during our weight loss journey, if not multiple times, depending on how much weight you have to lose.
So… why is this happening?
A plateau occurs because your body now is not the same body you had when you started. Sounds obvious, right? While you may be able to see the differences in the mirror, there are also differences on the inside.
Your body does not continue to have the same metabolism. Remember, your body’s goal is not to keep you at a healthy weight. The body is designed to do what it can to survive, and it is most concerned with starvation. It wants to hold on to as many calories as possible.
To conserve its stores, the metabolism slows, which is what causes you to plateau. You may also find that added stress, a change in dietary choices, sleep quality, and your emotional health can also impact your progress.
If you have reached a weight loss plateau, it simply means that you need to make a few changes to your routine that will allow you to progress and see further improvement.
How can I break through the plateau?
The good news is that there are many changes you can make to break the plateau and start losing weight again. Here are a few things to make sure you’re doing:
1. Increase protein intake
Protein requires more energy and takes longer to digest than fats or carbohydrates, so consuming more protein works to increase your metabolism. It also helps you to feel fuller for longer which will reduce the need for snacking and helps to maintain muscle mass.
Some easy ways to add more protein to your diet are:
Replace a snack with a protein shake
If you often leave protein on your plate, focus on eating the protein first before you eat carb sources
If you don’t eat meat, make sure you still make an effort to add a protein source (tofu, pea protein, etc) to your meals
2. Include plenty of fiber in your diet
Soluble fiber, in particular, moves slowly through the digestive system which, like protein, will help you feel fuller for longer and help you avoid insulin spikes. Here are a few easy ways to eat more fiber:
When you want something sweet, snack on high fiber fruits like pears, berries, and apples
Add chia seeds or flax seeds to shakes, desserts, and any other meals it makes sense to do so
Add avocados to your salads, or snack on guacamole (just make sure it’s not high in added sugar or salt if it’s store-bought)
3. Monitor hunger cues
Make the effort to recognize when you are feeling hungry outside of mealtimes. For instance, if you are always hungry around 3 pm it may mean that you need to eat a more substantial breakfast or lunch. Understanding when and why you are hungry can help to optimize protein intake and prevent hunger in between meals.
4. Aim for quality sleep
Getting good quality sleep is very important throughout a weight-loss journey as it allows your body to rest and recover. The growth hormones that are released during REM sleep provide your muscles with what they need to effectively recover and grow and increase the body’s rate of fat burning. You’re also much more likely to eat more carbs and snack more if you feel tired.
5. Practice stress management
It is also important to reduce stress levels as much as possible as stress increases cortisol production, which keeps our body in a state of readiness for fight or flight (with plenty of energy ready for our muscles to use).
However, since daily stressors are rarely something we can actually act on physically, that excess energy is not used and so our body stores it for later, ensuring we keep weight on.
Working toward a relaxed and replenished mind and body will help to break through that plateau and continue on your weight loss journey.
6. Add more strength training to your workout routine
As mentioned above, as you lose weight, your metabolism slows, making it harder to lose weight. Including more resistance or strength training in your workouts will help you build more lean muscle. Muscle requires more calories to maintain, so your body will naturally start to burn more calories, even when at rest.
If you’ve recently changed up your workouts, remember that muscle weighs more than fat - if you’re seeing positive progress in the mirror, but not on the scale, there’s a good chance that you’re gaining lean muscle.
7. Move around throughout the day
Spending too much time sitting can reduce your metabolism, making it more difficult to lose weight. Make sure you get up regularly throughout the workday to move around. (This will not only help boost your metabolism but often improves your mood and alertness, too.)
If your job requires you to be at your desk for hours a day, think about trying a standing desk so you naturally shift weight from one food to another, and burn more calories.
Seeing that number on the scale stay the same when you’re working so hard to stick to your diet plan can be demoralizing, but just a few tweaks will prompt your body to start shedding those extra pounds once more. Try implementing some of these tips over the next week and you’ll see your weight loss journey get back on track.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.