6 Tips for Pushing Through a Weight-Loss Plateau

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6 Tips for Pushing Through a Weight-Loss Plateau

It’s a familiar story. You made the decision to adopt healthier habits with a goal of losing weight, and — at first — the pounds seemed to fall off. Then suddenly progress slows, and the inevitable weight-loss plateau rears its ugly head. This leads to frustration and confusion as to why what was once working no longer is. For many, the result is a backslide into old habits and, in turn, weight gain. It’s a vicious cycle.

“Interestingly, in the beginning of a weight-loss plan, people often lose more weight making fewer changes, like limiting portions and cutting out certain food and beverages,” explains Samantha Tinsley, an Indianapolis-based clinical dietitian. “But once they’ve lost usually around 10% of body weight, that weight loss slows down.”

Since this is an all-too-common phenomenon, experts have devised strategies to help those committed to healthier habits stay devoted even when weight loss levels off. There’s no doubt that if you can stay the course and make the proper adjustments, you will eventually see progress again. Here are six strategies for pushing past that plateau and sticking to your weight-loss plan through thick and thin:

1. Mind the (energy) gap.

One of the conundrums of weight loss: As you trim down, you actually need to further restrict your calorie intake or increase your energy expenditure. This is a result of the fact that you’re carrying around less mass. If you hope to continue shedding pounds, you have to continually crunch the numbers to figure out your energy needs.

“It’s estimated that for every pound you lose, you need to reduce your food intake by eight calories,” explains Tinsley. “So for someone who has lost 30 pounds, she now needs to eat 240 fewer calories or burn more through exercising — that’s called the energy gap.”

2. Reframe goals.

While weight loss may seem like it’s all about the numbers on the scale, considering the other benefits of adopting a healthier lifestyle can help you push past a plateau.

“Shift your focus to thinking about non-scale victories,” advises Glennis Coursey, coaching lead at MyFitnessPal. “Ask yourself: What are some of the positive things that are happening in my life based on my weight loss — maybe you got a hug from your kid and they could put their arms all the way around you, or you went on the farthest run you’ve ever done.”

There are plenty of benefits to getting healthy that are harder to quantify but are just as important as weight loss. When you take the time to celebrate those achievements during a plateau, you’re more likely to stay motivated even when the scale isn’t moving.


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3. Reassess your diet.

Simply reducing portion sizes is often enough to prompt weight loss for many people. Unfortunately, a more strategic overhaul of your diet is usually necessary as the pounds come off.

“Eating smaller portions is a good start to get that initial weight loss, but after awhile, it’s hard to follow a lower-calorie diet without choosing lower-calorie foods,” says Tinsley.

That means if you are still eating a lot of macaroni and cheese or fatty meats, you’re going to have trouble feeling full on a reduced-calorie diet. When you choose foods rich in fiber and lean protein, you’ll feel fuller for longer, even when you’re cutting calories.

4. Plan ahead.

Setting a course for your week can go a long way in keeping you on track with healthy habits and weight loss. “If you can anticipate challenges you may encounter, they are going to be much easier to get through,” says Coursey. “Maybe you’re planning on going to the gym five times this week — that means you need to look at your calendar beforehand to see when you can go.”

Tinsley adds that the same approach applies to diet: “People who are really successful with weight loss have a plan to go to the grocery store. They know what they will eat for lunch and the healthy snacks they’ll have at work.”

5. Move more.

While changes in diet may be enough in the beginning, if you hope to continue losing weight, you’re going to have to increase the amount of exercise you get each day.

“Studies have shown that people who keep the weight off are active for upwards of an hour each day,” says Tinsley. “By finding activities that increase your energy expenditure, you don’t have to be as strict with your calories.”

Coursey emphasizes that moving more doesn’t mean only getting structured exercise like hopping on a treadmill or going for a bike ride. Everyday activities burn calories, too. This can include everything from mowing the lawn to vacuuming the house. “It’s important to shift your focus and also pay attention to activity throughout the day,” she adds.

6. Stay positive.

For many, it can be demoralizing when weight loss levels off. There’s plenty of evidence out there, however, to suggest that if you can stick with your weight-loss plan, the pounds will come off. This is why remaining positive is so important to keep you on track.

“You need to say to yourself, ‘I’m feeling frustrated, but I’m working hard and I have to find the motivation to keep going,’ ” says Tinsley. “You can feel frustrated without hating yourself. Rather than focusing on the numbers, think about how you’re feeling overall since you started this journey.”


ResolutionResetSquareMORE TO HELP YOUR #RESOLUTIONRESET

What Causes a Weight Loss Plateau
5 Unusual Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight
7 Tips to Conquer a Weight-Loss Plateau with MyFitnessPal


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  • Seidy Albor

    So I’ve lost 86 lbs. According to this article I should eat 688 calories less then my recommended calories to maintain or 688 less then my already reduced calorie intake?

    • ShedTheLbs

      Congrats on the weight loss.

      • Seidy Albor

        Thank you! It was the simplest thing to do using my fitness pal. I’m back to my high school weight at 29 after having 5 kid’s. And my rheumatoid arthritis is almost non existent. I have started strength training and cardio but have a hard time due to my arthritis but I won’t give up.

        • Sheri ImSoVery

          Seidy, wondered if you’ve ever thought of taking turmeric (common spice that comes in capsules, too)…it’s a great anti-inflammatory and has other health benefits, too…may help with the RA

        • Jamie

          Wow! Impressive results. How did you lose all that weight?

    • Casey Walters

      Calories don’t count.
      Go look at the Bulletproof diet or The Wild Diet from Abel James that’s where I get information that works!

      • Seidy Albor

        Thanks I’ll check it out!

      • Jacob

        You must increase your calories upward monthly to adjust for your larger muscles. If not you will plateau and slowly your bodyfat will increase due to dropping below your BMR . Your trainer should be tracking your bodyfat at least monthly to tell you how much to adjust. To loose fat and build muscle you need to be at minus 2 calories per pound of LEAN BODY MASS.from your TDEE or total daily energy expenditure. As you grow your need for fuel increases. Take your LEAN BODY MASS in pounds devide by 2.2. Multiply that by 21.6 then add 370. This will provide you with BMR for both men and women. Without knowing your BMR you will surely be spinning your wheels.

  • I have aides

    Gradually add calories back into your diet, working back up to near maintenence. (GRAD-U-AL-LY) Being in a defecit for an extended period of time causes your body to slow your metabolism to adjust to the lower food intake accordingly which will plateau fat loss.

    The additional food in this case will be burned off, rehabilitating metabolism and re-igniting fat loss.

    • Seidy Albor

      Thanks I’ll try this for sure. I have 15lbs left and it’s been hard trying to get them off. I’ve been doing cardio and strength training and have gained 8lbs so it’s frustrating.

      • Bianca lynn

        Note: That just because we gain doesn’t mean that it’s fat. Muscle is more dense than fat and if you’re doing strength training you’re building more muscle.

        • Tracey Taylor

          IF you are in a caloric surplus you are building muscle. if in a deficit you wont. and it takes time to build decent muscle to where it shows on the scale

        • robinbishop34

          While this is technically true, it is MUCH easier to lose fat than it is to build muscle. To truly gain muscle (and not just be seeing existing muscle that was hidden beneath excess fat that has been lost) you have to religiously follow a progressive overload routine while being in a slight/moderate calorie SURPLUS… particularly made up of protein.

          If you’ve been reducing calories and working out it is not unlikely that you have gained some limited strength, but you will not be adding any significant muscle tissue.

      • robinbishop34

        Do NOT do this! For some reason the nonsensical myth of “increasing calories to kick start metabolism” is quite popular. You instead need to lower caloric intake as you continue to lose fat.

  • Ahh, yes… the dreaded plateau!! It takes a lot of willpower and motivation to push oneself when the results just don’t seem to be visible. You’ve put down some really useful tips. Most people forget how important diet is and the difference it can make. In fact, consulting an expert is a great idea. You need to find a really good dietitian though.

    • Danielle Prawdzik

      Great advice on finding a dietician!

  • Nifty Fifty

    what do you recommend for women over 50 who are in menopause and cant lose belly fat. I am on a 1200 cal. intake an do kettle bell work outs 4 times a week along with HIIT exercises on the other days. I also mix in planks, burpees and crunches. Even with all this I cant lose weight and can not lose that stuburn belly. Help.

    • Bianca lynn

      It could be not how much your eating but what you are eating. Perhaps more green veggies and lean protein. I eat 5 to 6 meals a day. As we get older our metabolism slows down so keeping it active by eating small meals throughout the day can help speed it up. Not an expert but I hope this is helpful.

      • Football Mom

        Our metabolism doesn’t slow as we age, it’s that we start losing muscle mass and you add hormonal changes into the mix…whala, belly fat!

        • Danielle Prawdzik

          Exactly. Women are so fast to blame their “slow metabolism”. Start lifting weights…not 2 lb dumbbells. Research squats lunges deadlifts glute thrusts ect and start with a comfortable weight and work up from there. Muscle is the key to a slim toned healthy body. Muscle is denser than fat too so even if the scale doesnt budge your inches will go down tremendously.

          • Kara T

            Do you have advice for a good mixture of cardio and strength training? I’ve lost 55 pounds and the first 35 came off with purely strength training and no cardio. I feel so much stronger than I really ever have and it’s my favorite thing to do. I hate running and the only cardio I can really stand doing is cardio contact boxing and zumba. However, I am still 200 pounds and would like to lose at least another 30. My goal is definitely to be strong and toned, rather than thin and have a low weight on the scale. I eat about 1700 calories a day. Squats are seriously my favorite though (never thought I’d say that).

      • Nifty Fifty

        Hi Bianca
        Yes I am a clean eater, veggies and lean meat. So my diet isn’t the issue. Funny thing is I live with a personal trainer who said my diet is spot on and so is my exercise and even he cant figure it out.
        Nifty Fifty

        • Bianca lynn

          That is crazy… I’m not sure. But I guess sometimes our bodies don’t respond the way we would like them to. 🙁

        • Danielle Prawdzik

          Any trainer who tells someone they should be eating 1200 calories a day should not be trusted. 1200 calories is far too low for someone who exercises and you can’t live on 1200 calories for the rest of your life. It’s not realistic. 1200 calorie diets are so 1999.

          • Nifty Fifty

            Several times now I have read you stating to stop with the 1200 cal. intake. MYFITNESSPAL was the one that calculated 1200 cal. for my diet. For the weight that I wanted to lose that was what was calculated for my intake. Also something I struggle with is that when I was in my twenties and thirthies I never dreamed I would have the weight problems that I do. I was a competitive athlete on a national level and belly weight never ever entered the picture. This weight came on so quickly and just does not want to budge. So maybe the MYFITNESSPAL software needs updating.

    • Elaine H

      I’m with you Nifty Fifty! I always had the smallest waist, the flattest stomach, however, at 55 it started to thicken and no matter what I can’t seem to slim it down. So frustrating!

      • Danielle Prawdzik

        Are you eating enough protein? You should eat your body weight in grams of protein each day to support your muscles. Is it hard to eat that much protein? Yes, but it has made a huge difference in my body. There are great protein powders out theree that can help you reach your protein. Also make sure you’re consuming adequate carbohydates for energy. Carbs are not the enemy. Also aim for healthy fats at least 50 grams a day in the form of coconut oil nuts and avocados. And start a weight lifting routine instead of just cardio. Youll be amazed how fast you’ll drop inches once you stick to weight lifting plan!

        • nifty fifty

          I believe the difference in what It has done for you and what is happening to us is we are in a different phase of our bodies life cycle. I eat enough protein, eat clean and have been doing everything that you list above for two years and have not lost any weight and that belly just stays right where it is at.

    • Danielle Prawdzik

      You’re eating way too few calories and burning off your muscle with your workouts. Consult a good calorie counter or research IIFYM to get a better idea of what macros of protein fat and carbs you should be eating for your activity level.

  • JK

    I’m with Nifty Fifty, and getting frustrated. I faithfully work out 4-5 times per week, and am quite strong, but my belly won’t budge, and it actually gets in the way of some of my workouts. The rest of my body is toned, and I feel great…but the belly is big!!

    • Danielle Prawdzik

      They say abs are made in the kitchen. What that means is your nutrition plays a huge role in reducing belly fat. Are you eating a healthy diet, eating your bodyweight in grams of protein (I aim for 144 grams per day sometimes more), eating enough fat ie 50 grams per day and are you doing just cardio or weight training? The more weight training you can incorporate the better because muscle burns more caloroes and is more dense than fat so you’ll likely drop inches around the waist with proper weight training and nutrition. Stop thinking 1200 calories is adequate also. You need fuel to add muscle and you need proper fueling to shed the layer of fat to reveal those abs. Every human has abs but for most humans until youre at a body fat percentage of 17% or less your abs will not show. Abs are not always a good indication of healtj either. I workout 6-7 days a week and am at 18% body fat and can only see 2 abs which I’m fine with. 🙂 You can do it! Good luck!

  • Jamie

    I really like these tips, especially the “non scale related” victories. Slow and steady wins the race, in the long run for our health!

    • Danielle Prawdzik

      The scale is useless for measuring progress as far as I’m concerned. I weigh the most I ever had at 144 but I’m the tiniest (in the waist at 26 inches) I’ve ever been. Plus my glutes and hamstrings have grown which is awesome! Plus, when you lose inches from your waist it’s nore than likely telling you you’re dropping all over body fat while retaining muscle which is great for metabolism. Also the bigger you build your leg and glute muscles as well as shoulder muscles, the smaller your waist will appear.

  • Marie

    So here is the thing. I’ve been doing all of that since the January but the scale still won’t move and I’m actually gaining. It should be noted that I have already lost over 100lbs from 2013 to 2014. I stalled a little in 2015 and gained a few lbs back but now I’m trying to get to my goal weight before my next birthday in a month and I’m not seeing any changes. I’ve been killing myself in the gym working out 6 days a week. I have changed my routine to challenge myself more and do mostly HIIT cardio for 1h30 followed by an 1h weight lifting session. I even went back to counting calories. I’m following a low carb diet and eat 3/4 times a day for a total of 1200 calories but nothing. Nada. I can’t really tell if my body is changing because I have body dysmorphia and I don’t really have anyone close to me to tell me if they see any changes or not so I just feel lost right now. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that I did it once so I can do it again but so far it hasn’t seemed like it and my patience is wearing thin. I literally have researched everywhere what could be the cause of this but nothing. Yes I lift weights and last year I did lift very heavy but I changed that. Lowered the weights and incorporated more reps and sets to make sure I was losing and not bulking so I don’t think the weight gain is because of muscles. I try to tell myself that I am fine with losing inches instead of lbs but truth is I’ve always have a goal weight in mind and I really want to be able to say that I did all by myself.

    • Natasha

      Well, I think one of the problems–that stands out to me–is that you are doing HIIT cardio for 90 minutes. HIIT cardio is designed to take no more than 25-30 minutes per day, 3 times a weeks. I don’t know how much you weigh, but if you are really working out that much, 1200 calories is not enough to fuel your body with those grueling workouts. Also, lifting heavy is not a bad thing at all. That is how I have lost 90 pounds without having much loose skin. So, I would personally recommend lifting heavy again because you will not bulk in a calorie deficit and lifting heavier weights will burn more calories.

      Lastly, what is your definition of low carb? Ketosis? Where you are under 20g? I consider myself doing lower-ish carb at 80-100g. I would incorporate complex carbs like oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes back into your diet because those will help fuel your workouts and give you more energy. Carbs get a bad rep, but I think of carbs as fuel.

      I am not a professional at diet and nutrition, but I am a personal trainer, NPC figure competitor, and a marathoner.

      • Danielle Prawdzik

        This was perfect advice!

        • Danielle Prawdzik

          Extra carbs on leg/glute days always help me power through a tough workout! I eat a donut every day I hit lower body weights. Trust me…if you time carbs around your workout your body will use them to build muscles. I’m living proof that you can turn donuts into glutes!:)

      • Marie

        Thanks for the advice Natasha. I really love lifting heavy but I realized that’s when my weight loss stalled a little so that’s why I switched things up. I knew I was building muscles but I just wasn’t comfortable with the numbers going up. I’m able to do as much cardio because I take some pre workout and also honestly I don’t feel good when I do less than 90 min. As far as my diet. I sometimes get into Ketosis for about one week a month usually after doing an egg fast but for most of the time I try to stay under 50-60g. I lost about 100lbs eating complex carbs, oatmeal, sweet potatoes etc and again I decided to switch my diet to low carb because I had hit a plateau and I lost 20lbs eating that way. I think I weigh about 200lbs right now after gaining during the holidays and I’m a size 10/12. I know that I look way smaller than what I weigh but psychologically I just want to hit my target weight at least once.

    • Mandi Graf

      Have you had thyroid checked? I’m hyper thyroid a lot but hypo keeps weight ON

      • Danielle Prawdzik

        So does under eating and over exercising which is likely the answer to her problem. We can’t keep relying on pharmaceuticals to “fix thyroids”…we need to focus on feeding our bodies properly.

    • Danielle Prawdzik

      Hiit cardio should not be performed for longer than 30 minutes tops. If youre able to do “hiit ” for 90 minutes you’re not doing it right, you’re likely doing moderate intense interval training. You shouldn’t have any emergy after 30 min of hiit which you should be doing 2 days a week to ensure proper rest and recovery. You’re way overdoing the cardio…try cutting back and you’ll see more muscle gain and progress instead of spinning your wheels.

    • Danielle Prawdzik

      You are eating WAY too few calories! You need to reach out to a nutritionist or registered dietician asap because eating that low of a calorie diet and killing yourself with cardio are signs of disordered eating patterns which can lead to muscle loss and a crashing metabolism. As someone who’s been there (over exercising and undereating) you want to get this under control asap before your hormones go out of wack and your hair starts falling out.

      • Marie

        Hi Danielle thanks for the advice. I have spoken to nutritionists and dieticians for years as well as done some extensive research before deciding to embark on this journey 3 years ago. As I have said I have been able to lose 120lbs already but I would like to lose about 40lbs more which my body doesn’t seem to want to do anymore. As far as your other comments regarding my work out. I have to admit that I recently started taking a pre workout to help me push myself more during those 90 min of cardio and trust me I am pretty beat afterwards. But I still have enough energy for my weight lifting session and I do have plenty of muscle gain and definition. So much that I stopped lifting so heavy because I wanting to see the numbers on the scale go down more than anything else (it’s a psychological thing).
        As far as my hair, it’s actually the healthiest it’s ever been but thank you for your concern though 🙂 I just think that my body is too tired (I have been work out this way non stop for 3 years now) and fighting against the weight loss so I’m just trying to shock it into losing again and honestly slowing down is not really an option. Psychologically, I need to know that I have burned a certain amount of calories per day or I can’t do anything. I’m obsessed with it and it’s all I can think about.

        • Been there

          Might try a psychologist…?

      • Marie

        Also another reason I’m able to do 90 minutes of HIIT is because I don’t spend more than 30mins on the same machine.

  • Mandi Graf

    Thank you for this article. I’ve lost 90 pounds and gained back 45. This second time around I’m down 15 and stuck. I will employ your ideas and not give up! Warmer weather will help get me out more too!

  • robinbishop34

    Plateaus only occur because as you lose weight, the amount of calories needed to stay in a weight loss deficit continually decrease. For example, the caloric intake to maintain a measurable deficit at 200 lbs is significantly higher than it is at 150 lbs. If you’re still eating the same amount of calories at the lower weight you will either no longer be in a deficit, or the deficit won’t be large enough to notice continual weekly losses.

  • Shelley

    Actually, sometimes you need to INCREASE your calories to lose weight when you hit a plateau. I I was eating 1300 calories and my weight hit 129 and stopped. Increased to 1500 and 6 more lbs have come off.

    Keep in mind that you need to eat AT LEAST 10 times your CURRENT body weight in calories for your body to even function. Less than that you won’t see fat loss, you’ll see muscle loss and your body will be stressed.