You set a fitness goal. You made changes to your diet. You’ve been sticking to your workout plan. And it’s working — the pounds have been peeling off, and you feel healthier and stronger than before. You’ve almost reached your goal! Only five more pounds to go, and then… it stops. The scale won’t budge. You’re still following the same plan, but suddenly, it’s not giving you the same results. What gives?
When this happens, you’re likely to hear this weight-loss adage from someone: “The last five pounds are the hardest to lose!” But why does weight loss seem to get harder as you get closer to your goal weight? Here’s what you need to know — and how you can push through a weight-loss plateau.
Why the Last Few Pounds Are So Hard to Lose
It’s not your imagination — as your weight-loss finish line gets closer, it can actually become harder to lose the weight.
“By the time most people get close to their goal weight, their bodies have become used to their new diet and exercise regime,” explains Franklin Antoian, an ACE-certified trainer and founder of iBodyFit.
So if you’re following the same workout and eating plan, it may not yield the same results as it did when you first started out — and that means you might find yourself hitting a weight-loss plateau, where you can’t seem to lose those last few pounds.
How Do I Know If I’ve Hit Weight-Loss Plateau?
“You can notice you’ve hit a plateau when you are doing the same things that worked for you in the past, but you are not seeing the same results,” says Allison Tibbs, an NASM-certified personal trainer and creator of The Clean Eating Guide.
If you’ve been maintaining your workout and diet plan, but haven’t seen the scale move in two weeks, you may be in a plateau. The good news: Once you understand why plateaus happen, you’ll be able to figure out the key to jump-starting your weight loss again.
What Causes a Weight-Loss Plateau?
There are several reasons why it may seem harder to lose those stubborn last few pounds:
- Workout adaptation. Our bodies are designed to adapt to stress. This is awesome for our survival, but not so much for seeing continued results when we do the same workout over and over again at the gym.
- A large calorie deficit. When we consume drastically fewer calories, our bodies adjust by reducing our metabolic rate — aka the number of calories we require for basic functioning. If the scale is stuck, it may actually mean you’re not eating enough.
- Water weight. If you hit a plateau pretty early in the weight-loss game, water weight could play a role. “Initial weight loss can be mostly water weight,” Antoian explains. “As your body normalizes, your weight loss can slow down or stop temporarily.”
- Inconsistency. Here’s the reason no one likes to talk about: Research shows that a lack of adherence to diet and exercise plans accounted for more weight-loss plateaus than adaptation. If you’re shaving reps off your workout, or winging it with your diet, that can keep you from reaching your goals.
How to Break Through a Weight-Loss Plateau
Luckily, weight-loss plateaus can be overcome. Try one of these tricks for busting out of a rut and dropping those last 5 pounds.
Vary Your Workouts
Mix it up and get creative with your workouts, recommends Tibbs. Try a new sport, stream a new workout, or run the hills rather than the jogging path — you’ll use your muscles in new ways, which will make them work harder. Even doing your usual workout, but in reverse order, can help switch things up.
Increase Your Intensity
You can also challenge your muscles and break through a plateau by upping your intensity. Add high-intensity intervals to your run; do supersets or trisets instead of straight sets when strength training; or simply decrease the amount of rest you take between sets, for example.
Add Strength Training
If you’ve been focusing on cardio, add strength training into your routine. “Many people think the key to weight loss is adding more cardio,” explains Tibbs. But that doesn’t usually help — especially if you’re just layering on more steady-state runs. “One of the best ways to break through a plateau is through strength training with weights,” she adds.
Reassess Your Diet
As you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate (BMR) will decrease. To see continued progress, you may need to adjust your caloric intake accordingly, Antoian says. But you also don’t want to dip below your BMR — so use an online calculator to find your BMR based on your current height, weight, age, and activity level.
“Don’t let plateaus throw you offtrack!” encourages Antoian. “We all hit them, including professional athletes. Stick to your program, and if you are at a true plateau, use it as a challenge to try something new.”