The Hidden Benefits of a Weight-Loss Plateau

by Coach Stevo
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The Hidden Benefits of a Weight-Loss Plateau

What if I told you that the average American gains 1 pound every year? And that by not gaining a pound in the year, you’re actually doing well above average?

Most people lose a little bit of weight, hit a plateau, then immediately give up when things aren’t going as quickly as they were before. Most people gain that weight back and then some. This whole phenomenon of quitting when things are going more slowly is a bit like hitting traffic on your way home from work and abandoning your car on the side of the road because you’re not driving as fast as you wanted. Or getting a flat tire and slashing the other three.

There’s a mantra in Zen: “The obstacles are the path.”

Plateaus happen. We know they’re going to happen. In fact, when we plateau, it means we’ve made progress. It’s the perfect time to look back and see how far you’ve come because no human endeavor is linear. Learning a language, a musical instrument or how to write well all takes time, with improvements coming in waves of easy progress, then stagnation, followed by bursts of more progress.


WATCH > ASK A TRAINER: ON LOSING WEIGHT


Diane Fu is a weightlifting coach in San Francisco who tells her athletes, “When you hit that first plateau and you’re not improving as fast as you were before, congratulations — you’re no longer a beginner!”

The same is true with fat loss. Weight loss can be fast in the beginning because the more weight you have to lose, the faster it comes off. The closer you get to your goal weight, the slower things get. So it’s not a sign you’re doing something wrong; it’s a sign you’ve done things right. It’s a sign that you’re completely normal and have hit a point that everyone hits on their weight-loss journey. A plateau is a mark on the road, letting you know you’re heading in the right direction, and that you’ve made a lot of progress.


READ MORE > WHAT CAUSES A WEIGHT-LOSS PLATEAU? | ASK THE DIETITIAN


So now it’s up to you. When most people hit a plateau, all they can think about is that things aren’t going as quickly as they were before, so they quit. The weight comes back on and they’re further away from their goal than they ever were. But plateaus are just part of the journey — a slight bend in the road that is still going to take you where you want to be. Do you turn around to go back? Or do you keep walking?

When you focus on the journey instead of the destination, the plateaus come and go. If you keep tracking, keep making little improvements to your diet, keep walking every day and getting some exercise, then the weeks when things aren’t going as quickly as you want them to will give way to the weeks when everything seems to fall into place.

And before you know it, another year will go by. The average American gains 1 pound a year. The average dieter gains back more weight than he or she loses. So all it takes to be better than average is to keep moving forward.

Related

  • Weight loss

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  • Joe Park

    And, before you started dieting and working out and becoming more fit, weren’t you on a plateau — perhaps for years? You were on one and didn’t realize it. So, isn’t THIS plateau a lot better than THAT one? Keep going… you are on the right track!

  • Gedrick Lee

    > And that by not gaining a pound in the year, you’re actually doing well above average!

    Average does not mean normal! The average american has a huge gut, eats terribly, and gets no exercise. I agree on the ‘celebrate that it’s working’ bit, though. Celebrate by getting your ass to your next workout!

  • Allen Kim

    I recently hit a plateau, even though I was religiously entering my calories and my exercises into MyFitnessPal everyday. Turns out that wasn’t enough, so my trainer went over what I was entering, then set tighter goals.

    At first, the new goals seemed daunting, since they meant having to eat a lot less than what I was used to. Given my active training schedule, I was afraid that I might conk out during workouts, or that I would be too hungry afterwards. But after a while, I found out that I didn’t really miss the extra calories, and now I feel confident that I got back on track.

    Hence I would say that, although hitting a plateau might be a good sign, it might also be a sign to ratchet up the effort. Even if you follow everything the way you’re supposed to, your body will eventually adapt to any given regimen, and then you won’t be getting the same results you might have gotten when you first started on that regimen. Hence you gotta change it up every now and then.

    • Danielle V.

      Other options include calorie cycling and switching up your exercise routine.

  • Danielle V.

    I try to see it as getting healthy. Might not lose the weight very quickly, but I feel better and know I’m healthier when I exercise and eat well. After going through this a few times due to gaining weight in 4 pregnancies and losing much of it before the next one, I know how this goes. It’s not easy, but as long as you think of it as a lifestyle and realize that you won’t lose weight every week, it’ll be fine. Just keep chugging along. 🙂

  • Laura Fear

    Hitting a plateau is definitely the norm but if your stuck in a rut and can’t seem to shift those last few pounds a detox is the best thing you can do. Cleansing the body of unwanted toxins can really kickstart your weight loss again. I recently completed the Clean 9 detox plan and lost 10lbs after a long plateau if you you’d like to do the same email me @ love.foreverliving@hotmail.com
    Xoxox

  • Beth Young

    I’m retired and was very overweight, not technically obese but right next to it. In the first 2.5 months on My Fitness Pal and working out I did a great job dispelling the common belief that when you are older it is harder to lose weight. Once I got into normal weight range, the rapid loss stopped: a plateau. Been there, done that and been discouraged before. However, this time there are other measurements than just weight to track improvement. While my weight loss had slowed down to a fraction of what it had been, muscle mass, visceral fat, and body fat numbers were moving around in very encouraging ways. I know I just need to keep with it. My imaging may not be based on science, but I think my body needs time to catchup with all the rapid weight loss before moving on to the next plateau. It’s kind of like climbing the Cathedral Trail on Mt. Katahdin, when reaching a plateau, catch your breath, look around and enjoy the view as you cross the plateau, before tackling the next steep part.

  • Cronniss

    There is no way I’m gaining my weight back. I’ve lost a whole person! (218 lbs so far.) I have no intention of ever finding them again!

    • Wendy Howard

      Congratulations on your weight loss.

      • Cronniss

        Hello! Sorry for taking so long in replying. I don’t normally check Disqus.

        Thank you for your comment! 🙂

    • You lost two people from Los Angeles. Double congratulations!

    • Theresa l

      Wow…..That’s awesome!!!!! And you are confident that we are not gaining it back which suggests you will NOT. You should be very proud of yourself.

    • MzDisney

      That’s fantastic!! I need to lose at least 80 but I can’t help but look at the big picture and, although I’ve cut out all the “crap” in my life and have lost 7 pounds of it, it just seems like so much. It’s achievements like yours that make me feel that it IS possible to do. Did you set certain goals for yourself along the way?

      • Cronniss

        Hello! Sorry for taking so long in replying. I don’t normally check Disqus.

        And yes, I did set goals. I didn’t set actual weight goals until late in my weight loss, as I was more set on changing HOW and WHAT I ate…which would lead to me not only eating better but to also lose weight. That alone had me lose almost 100 lbs within a year with no change in exercise.

        I did that by first cutting out margarine, and using real butter instead. And then instead of cooking with butter I would use olive oil (usually extra virgin). I also stopped using pre-packaged (boxed) foods like Rice-A-Roni & Hamburger Helper. These types of foods have lots of salt & other preservatives, as well as artificial ingredients that only help to pack on the weight. If I wanted Spanish/Mexican Rice or Beef Stroganoff I made it from scratch. Not only did it taste better, it was healthier too.

        Then I worked on portion control. I started working on eating less & less. I used to not only have seconds…I would have thirds. Then I eventually got down to seconds. Then to just a full plate. And so on.

        Because of a neurological condition that I have I can’t exercise like most people, so I’ve had to be a little more inventive in the kitchen & the dining table to help lose weight. It’s taken a while because of the lack of activity, but it works. It’s basically just eating healthier and making better choices in what you’re eating.

        • MzDisney

          Wow! That’s so awesome that you stuck with it. I’m actually following a SuperFoods diet that my daughter did well on. So far so good. Of course I want to lose a lot each week, but I know I should only be losing a couple of pounds a week. I guess as long as I’m headed in the right direction, that’s a good thing, right? Lol

          Thanks so much for sharing. It’s certainly an inspiration! Here’s to your continued success!

  • Christian Mock

    I really needed this today! Thanks!

  • Katherine Long

    Thank you so much for this article! I was in a plateau for about a month. I didn’t give up. I worked hard to stick to my goals in both food and excercise. I was shocked to see my weight start dropping again this week. I was 165-166 the entire month of May. I’m down to 161 this first full week of June! Down a total of 36 pounds since January! Like others have posted: I’m not going back! I feel great. I have more energy, more stamina, more flexibility! My doctors are very pleased. Thank you MyFitnessPal for making an app so easy to use, and for posting such wonderful blogs. They have all helped me tremendously!

    • Beth Perry

      I can totally relate to your story. It’s mine exactly, and almost the same weight too! I figured I changed one small thing to make this happen, but I wish I knew what it was so I could do it again!! Sounds like you are on the right track! Great going!!

    • moyer566

      good to know. I’ve been stuck at 163 for a month. fingers crossed that august will be better

    • Ryan

      Interesting. After losing 20-25% of starting weight is exactly where I hit a plateau. I honestly think the body is all the math. There’s something in the genetic code of humans that says you’ve hit x % of weight loss, let’s stop things for a while before you starve to death. I guess our caveman ancestors were survivors and not dieters.

  • Joyce

    This has helped me in more ways than you can imagine, just this week I was thinking: Well, I might just throw it all out the window since I feel like I’m stuck, but this article makes a lot of sense. Than you!

  • Melissa Woods

    You could also be at your set point… If you plateau after reaching a healthy weight continuing to cut calories is just going to slow your metabolism. Instead, be content with being HEALTHY, and work on fitness etc, but “vanity pounds” mean nothing when it comes to your health- in fact it could compromise it because it often leads to yo-yo dieting.

  • JJ

    I will be very disappointed if I weigh at the end of the year what I weighed at the beginning. I’m just starting the fourth month of my fitness and weight loss journey. 19 pounds and counting–I’ve almost lost all the weight I’d gained in the past 3 years (unfortunately, I was well above the national average in that respect).

    I knew about plateauing, and my parents reminded me of it, so I was prepared for that. I’ve experienced a couple of plateaus, but my trainer has helped me through them. I’ve found that taking a few days off from my new healthy eating lifestyle helps me to “reset” and leads to a resumption of the weight loss. Continuing to increase my amount, intensity, and resistance of workouts is also helping me achieve my goals.

  • Krissalee85

    I thought you hit a plateau due to the metabolism slowing down thinking that it’s in starvation mode and needs to conserve calories.

    • Christen

      “Starvation mode” is a myth, based on “starvation response”, which is what your body does when it has no fat stores left. Extreme hunger may distract you and seem to hamper your productivity but it wont drop your metabolism significantly, so its not a reason for plateauing.

      Plateau’s mainly happen because of the body wanting to retain water when you’re at a calorie deficit. It’s not super understood, but its thought that the harder you cut, the more water you retain. People self report that eating a larger meal (“cheat” meal) during a plateau will cause water shedding and rapid weight loss, but this is only true if you have been plateauing for some time and therefore losing body fat the whole time. In the end, at some point you will shed the water, and regardless of when you shed it, as long as you are sticking to your plan and adjusting your calorie needs as you lose weight, you will lose fat.

      Some people theorize the reason this happens is because fat cells don’t want to shrink rapidly so they replace fat with water. Who knows. Just know that plateau doesn’t mean “not losing body fat”.

  • DetroitSinkhole

    I stopped eating sugar and most grains and have lost nearly 40 pounds in the last year……without ever feeling hungry or deprived. It was slow and steady for awhile and then the plateau hit. I started the “couch to 5k” running program and the flab is melting off faster than ever. This 50+ year old ran her 1st 5K a few weeks ago and completed it without walking!!! Yay me!! I have about 15 pounds to go and cannot wait to get there!!!!

  • c

    Thank you I really needed this encouragement!

  • DetroitSinkhole

    I stopped eating sugar and most grains and have lost nearly 40 pounds in the last year……without ever feeling hungry or deprived. It was slow and steady for awhile and then the plateau hit. I started the “couch to 5k” running program and the flab is melting off faster than ever. This 50+ year old ran her 1st 5K a few weeks ago and completed it without walking!!! Yay me!! I have about 15 pounds to go and cannot wait to get there!!!!

    • LaDonna Davenport Smith

      I am currently at a plateau for about 2 weeks now. I hope it is not intrusive to ask what “C25K” is? I am not at all familiar with the term. Thank You for responding.

      • Marnie

        couch to 5K.

      • DetroitSinkhole

        Hello LaDonna……C25K stands for “couch to 5K”. The app I downloaded from the itunes store was an 8 week program. I think there are several different apps that are similar. It starts you off really slow with walk, run, walk, and progressively increases the running time vs. the walking time. When I started out I could barely run for 60-90 seconds without getting winded but if you stick to it you gradually increase your stamina. I also watched a lot of youtube videos to get tips on breathing because my legs did not get tired but I would get really winded. I concentrated on breathing properly then after awhile it comes naturally.
        I think the biggest advantage to the app is that it keeps you from getting discouraged. Also, if I struggled with a certain week in the program, I would repeat that week and then go on to the next. Signing up for a 5K when I started the program also really helped motivate me…..my niece and I did the Komen race for the cure in Detroit.
        Good luck to you!

  • Bob Stanley

    It is really bad that people don’t have a print icon on this site.

  • Laurie

    I’ve lost 43 in 2015 so far, so I figure I’m way ahead of the game. 😀

  • Iowa Weight Loss

    The plateau…an awful word. Your spin was good in that if you just focus on the long term goal, the plateaus come and go and you get through them. Sometimes it’s focusing on the end result that gets you those results!

  • Aditya Kathuria

    i had to lose 47.8 pounds … i have lost around 22.4 of it and now i have hit Plateau but have to keep going.wish me luck .

  • Medical Weight Loss

    I never knew that people, on average, gained one pound per year, interesting information.

  • jon

    I’ve been going at it for 3 years. I was 330 and just fine when my doctor warned that diabetes was a sure thing if I didn’t change things up immediately. 3 years later I’m down to 168 as of the 1st. I’m in better shape at 32 than I was at 18. Once I figured out it was just a matter of self control it was easy.

  • Jenny

    I’ve also found that plateaus are good because the longer you stay a particular weight, the more likely it becomes your new “norm”. So as you’re going up and down with weight loss, it becomes centered around the new lower plateau, instead of the higher beginning.

    And if you have a phase where you’ve lost some and then gained a little back it tends to stop at the new “norm”, the plateau. Then when you get things together again, you can start working fine from that lower point.

    I think if you’re losing weight very quickly and things get tough, you could very quickly gain it all back just as fast. So plateaus are like a braking point for when weight is in fluctuation, your new “norm”, from which you can begin again! And each plateau is a little lower, and over time, you make progress!

    And like the author said, any time even just not gaining weight is huge progress! If I stopped watching what I ate at age 45, I would gain very quickly. So all my hard work, even if it’s just to maintain at times, is 100% better than the alternative! Great article. Thank you!

  • Agreed, setting goals can make half your work done and reaming sticking to the goals. Likes the blog!

  • Sonal Divekar

    Hi keep counting portions jot down calories was even doing Zumba!! Now into
    Power yoga ! I Indian so really not a big packaged food junkie we eat mostly vegetables n roti ( bread) for all meals. I’m 59kgs for 4’10” which is pretty overweight tho not obese! But I seriously am frustrated n feel the app doesn’t measure calories correctly!

  • robinbishop34

    Stupid. A plateau is NOT progress. A plateau is caused by people not re-adjusting their new calorie requirements as they lose weight. A person will lose weight at a specific deficit for only so long. As they drop weight, the calories needed to maintain the new weight drop. As a person gets lighter, they need less and less calories.

    • chexwarrior

      Where in the article do they say a plateau IS progress (present tense)? They seem to be saying a plateau means you MADE progress (past tense). They even say “the more weight you have to lose, the faster it comes off”. The point of the article is to not give up and reverse course just because you seem to be stuck.

      • robinbishop34

        Rarely do you ever read about the cause of a plateau… which I explained in my post. Instead we often read as if it is some sort of inevitable phenomenon that one must struggle with at some point during their fat loss.

        I’m trying to cut through all the overblown physical/physiological minutiae (that people seem to love obsessing over) that may be causing a person to not see verifiable results on the scale every week, and explain that if caloric intake is regularly re-adjusted as one gets lighter, there will continue to lose at a steady rate rather than hit a wall.

  • Naomi B.

    So happy this hit my in box! As someone who hit a plateau and has been extremely frustrated thinking “Is this as good as it gets?”, I really needed this. I was focused on the failure of it vs. the success of my changing body! Sometimes you never know how much you made a person’s day and you made my day.

  • Christopher Burke

    I think one of the big problems is the thought that weight loss is simply about calorie deficits. While there is a great deal of truth to the concept the actual process of a true deficit can be quite complicated. The heavier you are the more calories your body burns just living. The less fat, and excess you have the more likely your body is to slow down and burn less calories. All formulas and calculations of the calories burned are approximations. I love your thought that at this point celebrate the plateau and resolve to not gain the weight back.

  • Felecia Watkins

    Much needed today!!!

  • Faye Flatt

    Glad this came across my FB feed today it was just what I needed to hear 🙂 “It’s not how far I have yet to go ~ it’s how far I have come”

  • Greg Dahlen

    in my case i’ve been living for nine years now more than 90% on fluid milk products, cow milk and cow cream. so every day my diet is some mix of milk–skim, 1%, 2%, whole–plus I occasionally buy pints of half-and-half or fluid whipping cream and drink them straight. I am six feet one inch, my weight maintains on this diet around 165 pounds.

    i actually started out on this diet around 255 pounds, but very quickly dropped to my current weight and have maintained ever since.

    I might mention that this diet has not been approved as safe or healthy by any medical authority. It does work gangbusters for me not only in terms of weight loss but also feeling good, and my body probably works similarly to a lot of people’s.