How Can I Beat a Weight-Loss Plateau?
You’re working out regularly and watching what you eat. And at first, you’re seeing results — you’re losing weight, and you feel stronger and healthier. Then, for no apparent reason, the number on the scale won’t budge. We’ve all been there. Hitting a weight loss plateau is frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be permanent.
How to Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau
Want to break through your weight loss plateau and lose those last few pounds? Here are 8 simple steps you can take.
1. Don’t Give Up
First things first: When you hit a plateau, you may be tempted to give up and drown your sorrows in a plate of salted caramel brownies, but just think of your weight loss plateau as a reminder to recalibrate.
“Approach it as, ‘Hey, I know there’s going to be this point where I need to step back and reevaluate and make adjustments, and that’s part of the process,'” says Joel Ingersoll, PhD, a licensed psychologist and certified fitness nutrition specialist in New Jersey. “Be really careful of any self-defeating, negative thinking.”
2. Recalculate Your Calories
Cutting back on calories might seem like an obvious way to break through a weight loss plateau — but if your diet is too low in calories, it can actually mess with your stress hormones, slow your metabolism, and sabotage your weight loss.
When you’re undereating on a regular basis, your body goes into fat-storage mode — great if you’re starving in the wilderness, but not so great when you’re trying to lose weight.
There are a few ways you may be able to outsmart this pesky evolutionary response:
- For some people, simply increasing the number of calories you eat will do the trick. (Nope, that’s not a typo.)
- Others swear by calorie shifting, a.k.a. zig zag dieting, where you vary your caloric intake slightly from day to day to keep your metabolism elevated.
- There’s always the possibility that you’re simply eating more calories than you actually need, in which case cutting back would help.
If you’re not sure what your next step should be, a doctor or registered dietitian can help.
3. Pay Attention to Portions
If your scale seems to be stuck, you may be misjudging how much you’re really eating. (Case in point: One study found that adults underestimated the number of calories they consumed at a fast-food restaurant by as much as 20 percent.)
Make sure you’re keeping accurate tabs on portion sizes: Was that a cup of milk or a glassof milk? Did you account for the peanut butter and soy sauce on your chicken satay? Has anyone in the history of the world ever stopped at two tablespoons of hummus?
“Keep yourself honest by writing everything down — every single sip, lick, and nibble you take,” says Ashvini Mashru, RD, a registered dietitian at Wellness Nutrition Concepts, LLC in the Philadelphia area.
4. Track Your Macros
That’s where macros come in. Macronutrients are the three energy sources for your body — protein, fat, and carbohydrates — and it’s important to get the right balance of each.
“You may have been able to get away with poor eating habits in the beginning, when your body wasn’t used to the amount of exercise you were doing,” says Jessica Sanders, an ACE-certified personal trainer and owner of Honest Body Fitness in San Diego. “But now that it is, you need to get your nutrition in order.” That includes eating enough protein to spur muscle growth, along with high-quality carbs such as veggies, fruit, and whole grains to help fuel your workouts.
5. Cut Back on Cheats
There’s nothing wrong with occasional cheat meals. “Part of creating healthy eating habits is learning how to moderate alcohol, dessert, and other high-calorie indulgences,” Mashru says. “A decadent dessert or a glass of wine can be part of a healthy lifestyle.”
But if you let your cheat meal extend into a cheat day — or a cheat weekend — it’s easy to rack up a few thousand extra calories, and that can stall your progress. If you indulge in a cheat meal, eat just enough to satisfy your craving, and then hop back on the healthy-eating wagon.
6. Switch Up Your Workout
Consistent exercise is key for achieving any fitness goal — but if you’ve been doing the exact same workout for a while and you’ve stopped seeing results, you might have hit a workout plateau.
That’s because your body adapts quickly to new challenges. And to keep it adapting, you need to keep challenging it. That means regularly switching up your “routine” with new exercises, or changing how you perform your current ones (e.g., by varying reps, sets, weight, grip, stance, pace, rest periods, etc.)
7. Make Exercise More Fun
If you dread working out, your motivation will wane, your exercise adherence will suffer, and your progress will plateau. Simple solution: Find a workout style or program that excites you. Tired of the treadmill? Try a stuntwoman-inspired workout. Bored with crunches? Strengthen your core with a barre workout. “It needs to be fun and it needs to be something you look forward to doing,” Ingersoll says.
8. Check the Mirror — and Your Measurements
The number on the scale isn’t always the most accurate indicator of progress — especially if your workout program includes strength training. That’s because muscle weighs more than fat by volume — so even if the number on the scale isn’t budging, you might notice other non-scale victories like your jeans feeling looser and your body-fat percentage dropping.