How do you break a weight loss plateau?
In the business of weight loss, working through plateaus is something we do daily. But what’s the solution for breaking a weight loss plateau? And how can we get the numbers on the scale falling again?
The key to beating a plateau is with consistency. 95% of the time, when the scale stops moving, it’s because we have drifted from our eating plan. And to get the numbers moving in the right direction, just give it two solid weeks of consistent, on-plan meals. If you do, you will see results.
Is there anything more frustrating than being stuck at the same weight day after day?
You step on the scale, and the numbers are the exact same as they were yesterday…and the day before…and maybe even the day before that too!
You feel stuck – like all this hard work isn’t worth it.
You want to throw your hands up and quit.
But don’t lose hope, we’re going to fix that!
You’re going to learn how to break loose and get this weight loss train back on its tracks.
There’s one thing we need to understand about losing weight.
It’s not always a downhill slope. There are lots of ups, downs, and plateaus along the way. And it’s essential to know: this is a normal part of weight loss.
So don’t stress out. Just take a step back, catch your breath, and let’s come up with a game plan!
What a weight loss plateau looks like.
Normally, when we say we’re on a plateau what we really mean is we haven’t dropped any weight for a couple days.
But, we need to look at a longer timeframe. At a minimum, we need to look at two weeks.
Let’s look at these weigh-ins for the last three days.
From the picture alone, it look like we’ve hit a stall, right?
Let’s zoom out and take another look.
Here’s what we see when we look at a month of weigh-ins.
Now, we see that the trend line (the red line) is moving in the right direction. So we are losing weight.
When the overall trend looks like this, then we’re doing okay. Let’s stay the course and ride that line all the way down.
But, if we see a flat line for more than two weeks, we can dig in and start troubleshooting.
A simple fact about plateaus is: you are guaranteed to find yourself on one.
It’s not a matter of “if” you’ll hit a stall, but “when.” The only thing that matters is how you respond when you get there.
A plateau is only a problem when you:
- Get frustrated and give up, or
- Don’t take any action to fix it.
So the mindset to embrace is – we’ll work through this until we’ve got it beat.
Why we hit stopping points.
We’ve helped hundreds of clients push through plateaus, and found that the Top 3 causes are:
Number 3. Eating past satisfied.
We can choose amazing foods: protein, veggies, and healthy fats. But if we’re eating too much, we’re simply overeating.
- At best, we’ll maintain our weight.
- At worst, the numbers will slowly creep up.
Imagine a scale from one to five, where:
- 1 = We are starving, and
- 5 = We are uncomfortably full
On this scale, what we’re shooting for with every meal is a 3.
And a 3 is the point where we’re satisfied. That means we’ve eaten less than we prefer, but we’re not hungry.
Number 2. Not logging ALL of our food.
If you’re not keeping a food log, you should! And if you are—but not tracking everything you eat—then we’re likely overlooking the foods causing the problem.
Typically, the foods that fall into “didn’t log” category are:
- The cookie we grabbed off the baking sheet as we walked through the kitchen,
- The leftovers from our kid’s plates when we put them away, or
- A handful or two of nuts as we pass by the pantry.
Over the course of several days, all these missed foods really add up. And as a result, we’ll find our weight leveling out.
The Number 1. culprit behind a weight loss plateau is…
A lack of consistency. The far majority of the time we find ourselves battling over-indulging more than numbers on the scale.
It’s the fries at lunch, the beer at dinner, and the desserts on Fridays causing our stand still.
(Now, let’s hit pause for a second.)
I’m not saying indulgences are off the table. That’s not a sustainable approach.
What I’m saying is: we need to focus on the 95%, so we can really enjoy the 5%.
The problem is when 5% starts looking more like 20%.
When to call it a plateau.
Before we “officially” call it a plateau, we need to…
Make sure we follow these two steps:
Step 1. For two weeks, eat consistently and according to plan.
The very first thing we need to focus on is consistent eating.
If we’re doing great Monday through Friday but slacking on the weekends, then we know exactly what we need to work on.
Our goal is to give the eating plan two sound weeks *without indulging or excessive snacking.*
Step 2. Start tracking more than just weight.
Troubleshooting a weight loss plateau with the scale alone is like trying to fix a car with only a wrench.
Sure, you can fix a lot, but you’ll soon hit a limit.
In addition to the scale:
1.) Start tracking your body measurements.
If the scale isn’t moving, but we’re losing inches (or adding muscle), we’re still happy!
Pro tip: just buy a simple body tape measure, they’re only about $5 on Amazon.
2.) Take progress photos.
We might not see any significant change during the first few weeks, but the sooner you start taking weekly or bi-weekly progress photos, the sooner we can start “seeing” the difference.
Okay, I’m seriously on a plateau, what do I do now?
Alright, so you’ve been on-point the last two weeks and ate 100% on plan. But we’re still at the same weight.
Now, we’ll look into 5 advanced plateau busting tips.
1.) Create a list of potential problem foods to remove or replace.
Over the last two weeks, we’ve kept detailed logs of everything we’ve had to eat.
So what we’re going to do is comb through our log and highlight foods we feel might be causing the problem.
In the end, we want a list that will look something like this.
Potential Problem Foods:
- Vanilla yogurt
- Protein bars
- Salad dressing
We’re going to pick the top three we feel are most likely causing the stall an add a short description why.
Here’s an example.
Most Likely Suspects:
- Salad dressing – we have a couple salads a day, and the dressing has 13g of sugar per serving.
- Bananas – we have a banana once (or sometimes twice) a day. Not bad, but we feel this is contributing to the problem.
- Vanilla yogurt – we use a cup a day in our protein drinks, but each cup has 35g of added sugar.
Now, let’s take one or two of these foods and either 1.) cut them from our day or 2.) find a substitute.
- For the salad dressing, we can try a low sugar option.
- Instead of eating a banana, we’ll switch to a low sugar fruit like blueberries.
- And we can replace vanilla yogurt with plain yogurt and drop the added sugar.
By starting at the top and working our way down, we’ll be able to pinpoint what’s causing our stall. It’s helpful to think of this like you’re a scientist – removing one variable at a time.
2.) Amp up your exercise.
A (somewhat unfortunate) fact about weight loss is: as we lose weight, our metabolic rate slows.
We can compensate for this by either:
- Adding more exercise, or
- Working in resistance training.
So if you’re exercising two days a week, let’s simply add another day and see how it goes. Or dedicate a day or two to resistance training, like with high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
3.) Optimize your sleep.
We all know how important sleep is to recovery, and that we should be shooting for 7 to 8 hours per night.
But, here in the real world, we know that’s not always realistic. We have to stay late at work, there’s homework, maybe you have a new baby, we need family time, or we’re working on our passion project.
I get it! We have to make trade-offs and sometimes sleep is the first to go.
But all our body knows is: less sleep = a lower metabolic rate.
So, even if 7 hours isn’t realistic, we need to focus on what is.
- If we find ourselves tied up in our phones late at night, and turning it off early means 30 minutes of extra sleep, then it’s worth it.
- Or if we can optimize our sleep with a wind down routine, let’s do it!
The key is finding realistic actions to take. Every minute counts!
4.) Reduce the stress.
Long periods of stress can bring weight loss to a screeching halt.
When we’re stressed, our body increases cortisol production, which can have a number of affects. One of those being more intense cravings for comfort foods.
So if stress triggers cortisol, which leads to cravings. Then, the better we manage stress the better chance we have of shaking this plateau we’re on.
But how do we manage stress, especially when we have zero control over the situations causing it?
To that I say, “Exactly! That’s why we need to focus on what we can control.”
And here are the things we can control:
- What we choose to eat,
- How often (or how intense) we exercise,
- The effort we put into getting quality sleep,
- Adding stress-reducing activities like meditation into our day.
5.) It could be time to take a look under the hood.
We can only work on our car for so long before it’s time to call a mechanic.
So if you haven’t been to the doctor in a while, perhaps it’s time to schedule an appointment.
Maybe we’ve had a recent medical change that’s causing things to slow down.
If there is something happening that we need to be concerned with, then the time to find out is now. We’ll make progress much faster once we know and can address the root cause.
If you’re stuck on a plateau and need help breaking through, this is what we do!
We are real-life coaches that have been in the same spot you are. We know how life gets in the way, AND how to find realistic solutions that will work for you.
Get the daily accountability and support you need to break through your weight loss plateau.