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Overcoming Your Weight Loss Plateau (2021)

By: Zack Mathews

You’ve heard about it before and now you are experiencing that dreaded weight loss plateau.

You might feel like you are doing everything right…

The workouts have been on point, your diet has been good, you’ve had some great success up to this point, and now…

NOTHING.  The scale won’t move!

Sound familiar?

The good news is that you aren’t alone, and most people will have some sort of weight loss plateau while on their health and wellness journey.

Want more good news?!

Yes? Good answer.

I’ve worked with many of my online clients in the past with their weight loss plateaus and was able to get the ball rolling again for them.  And now I want to teach you what I taught them.

With some new knowledge, hard work, and consistency, I know you will be able to overcome this.

Let’s get moving! This blog will be broken down into these categories:

Are You Really In A Weight Loss Plateau?

We need to start by defining what a weight loss plateau is because I have reoccurring dreams about this.

Online client: My weight isn’t going down.  I must be at a plateau!

Me: John, I just looked at your progress sheet and it’s been 5 days of having the same weight.  If you look at the past 30 days, you’re down 3 pounds!

Online client: Well when you look at it that way….

If your weight hasn’t moved for a week, that is not a weight loss plateau! Heck, 2 - 3 weeks isn’t a plateau.

Once it’s been 4 weeks of your body weight & measurements staying the same, that would be considered a weight loss plateau.

If you’re reading this and it’s only been a couple weeks, don’t stress it!  That’s totally normally.  Keep doing the right things and the scale should start moving soon!

Let’s move onward and take a long, hard look in the mirror.

It's Time To Be Honest With Yourself

Alright, it’s been at least 4 weeks and you’re not seeing progress.  It’s time to be honest with yourself and answer this tough question.

How consistent and accurate have you been with your nutrition tracking?

weight loss plateau funny meme

This needs to be addressed before you start changing things because for the majority of people, they are not really in a weight loss plateau.  They just haven’t been as good as they should be with their nutrition.

These are the questions you need to ask yourself.

  • Have I skipped days tracking my food intake?
  • What do my weekends look like? Am I relaxing more with my diet on these days?
  • Do I account for those licks and little bites of different foods I have from time to time?
  • Do I weigh my food or guesstimate my serving sizes?
  • Are most of my meals made at home or out?

These are the questions that can easily make it seem like you are in a weight loss plateau, but in reality, you are consuming too many calories and are no longer in a calorie deficit.

I mention tracking calories because that’s what my clients do, but I understand that not everyone follows that form of diet, and that’s totally fine!

If you think you are in a weight loss plateau and you don’t track your calories, try tracking them for 1 - 2 weeks to see where your current intake is to determine if you are in a plateau.

If you want to understand more about weight loss through calorie counting and calorie deficit, check out the picture below for a blog about all that good stuff!

Ok, so it’s been 4 weeks and you have been great with your nutrition, I think it’s safe to say that you are officially in a weight loss plateau.

It’s time to learn why that happens and how to overcome it.

The Reason For Your Weight Loss Plateau - Metabolic Adaptation

Congratulations!  You’ve made it to the portion where we have to bring out the scientific terms.

Luckily for you (and me) metabolic adaptation is easy to understand so you’ll have no problem learning it (and I’ll have no problem explaining it!)

weight loss plateau caused from metabolic adaptation

As you can see, metabolic adaptation is your body’s natural ability to adjust to a certain calorie target.  Your body is meant to survive, that is its number 1 priority, so when it’s getting less calories than it needs, it will start slowing down different things to align with the amount of calories you are eating. 

This is the reason why you’ve hit your weight loss plateau. 

If you’ve been able to lose weight at 1800 calories, that’s freakin awesome! But it won’t last forever.  Eventually you have to change things up to get the ball rolling again.

Which leads us perfectly into the first two ways to overcome your weight loss plateau. I hope you already know what they are based not that info graph above!

Reduce Calories (If You Are In A Safe Spot To Do So)

Yup, you guessed it!

Because of metabolic adaptation causing your body to adjust to the current calories you have been consuming, the first way to overcome your weight loss plateau is to lower your calories.

You don’t have to do it by much though.  A simple 200 - 300 calorie drop will get you back in a calorie deficit and the weight will start dropping again.

An extremely important point to take into account, which I don’t see anyone else talking about when they discuss weight loss plateaus, is that you should only be reducing calories if you are in a safe spot to do so.

If you’ve been dieting for a long time and currently are eating 1200 calories (that are truly accurately tracked) and you aren’t losing weight, dropping your calories another 200 - 300 calories is not a good spot to be at.

It’s already insanely hard to eat only 1200 calories!  Can you imagine having to eat less than 1000! That is no way to live.  If that speaks to you, you’ll want to review the sections at the end.

This is going to be another “look in the mirror” judgement calls on your end.  If you eat 1500 calories and are hungry, irritable, and not enjoying the process, it’s probably not smart for you to drop your calories.  If you struggle to eat 1500 calories and are stuffed from it, you could get away with lowering your calories by 200 - 300.

Increase Movement Expenditure

Another way to overcome your weight loss plateau that doesn’t involve eating less (because let’s be honest, who wants to eat less food?), is to burn more calories through exercise.

This is where cardio can really benefit you.

For most of my clients, we focus on resistance training (lifting weights), for our main form of exercise.  I want them to get stronger, build muscle, and speed up their metabolism.  If a client has hit a weight loss plateau, this would be the perfect time to add cardio to their routine.

Similar to the person who eats so little that they can’t lower their calories any lower, you don’t want to get yourself stuck in a spot where you can’t add any more exercise because you do so much already.

That’s why I like to focus on weights and have the cardio option in my back pocket for a perfect opportunity like this one.  I recommend you do the same.

Here are some ways to get more movement:

energy expenditure to overcome weight loss plateau

There are so many great forms of exercise you can add to burn calories so find things you enjoy doing.  Don’t worry about which burns the most calories, instead focus on which one you love doing and can be consistent with.

Going on a daily walk for 60 minutes will benefit you much more than saying you want to run 3 times a week for 60 minutes but you only end up doing it once a week because you hate running!

Catch my drift there?

Good.  Onward!

The Power Of Managing Your Sleep And Stress

stress affecting your weight loss plateau stock image

An often overlooked component of weight loss is the role that stress and sleep have on it.

They don’t directly affect weight loss, since we know weight loss will only occur when you are in a calorie deficit, but they do affect in indirectly.

When you don’t get good sleep and/or you have a lot of stress in your life, those pesky things called hormones can become out of wack and can affect your body in different ways.

Cortisol is your stress hormone and poor sleep and high stress can lead it to rise, which often times will result in your body holding on to excess water as a means of protection.

This means that you might actually be in a calorie deficit and losing fat, but the scale isn’t changing because of all the water you are holding onto.

Additionally, different hormones can change that will make you hungrier, not satisfied after meals, and cause you to have less energy which results in you moving less, aka burning less calories.

Have good habits in place such as getting 7-9 hours of sleep, turning off your electronics towards bed time, and know what stresses you out and have activities or people you like to do/see when your stress levels are high.

Take A Break

This many sound counterintuitive, but if you have been dieting and in a calorie deficit for a long period of time, your body could really benefit from a diet break.

A diet break consists of you raising your calories up towards maintenance level for 2 - 4 weeks to allow yourself and your body some time off from the stresses of dieting.

Prolonged dieting can take a big toll on your mental and physical health, so don’t be afraid to take a little time off for a reset.

Not only will you come back more motivated and refreshed, but remember when I talked about metabolic adaptation earlier?

By increasing your calories for 2 - 4 weeks, you give your body a chance to raise its base maintenance calories, which will make losing weight easier when you start back up again!

Switch Goals

This last one is actually one of my favorites to do with my clients, and many have had great success with switching up their goals.

Similar to the benefits you can get from a diet break, switching your goal can do wonders for your mental and physical health.

It’s freeing to switch from a “I need to be in a calorie deficit and burn X amount of calories everyday” mindset to a “I want to push myself to become stronger and see what I am capable of” mindset.

Instead of performing your workout or cardio because you think you need to do it to lose weight, switching your goal to a muscle gain/strength building goal will allow you to go into the gym with a performance goal.

That goal is to get stronger.   Not only will you get stronger, but you’ll also reap the benefits of:

  • Building muscle
  • Having fun testing your strength limits
  • Increasing your metabolism
  • Getting to eat more
  • Making weight loss easier in the future (metabolic adaptation again)
  • The mental reset from not worrying about a calorie deficit

These are all great benefits and are the reasons why I will sometimes switch my client’s goals up before a weight loss plateau occurs.  Running a strength routine for 8 - 12 weeks and then coming back to your weight loss goal will not only make the weight loss easier, but also give you a stronger, more defined figure since you’ll have added muscle.

Interested in working together online?  Click the picture below to learn more and apply for my online coaching program.

Weight Loss Plateau Review

There we have it my friends.

Let’s recap how you should work on overcoming your weight loss plateau.

  • Determine if you are actually in a weight loss plateau.  At least 4 weeks of no progress might constitute a plateau.
  • Take into account how accurate you have been with your nutrition.  If you know you have been taking it easy in certain areas, you might actually not be in a plateau.
  • Metabolic adaptation is bound to happen and will slow your weight loss progress.
  • Lowering your calories or increasing your movement will help you overcome your weight loss plateau and get progress moving again.
  • Sleep and stress can indirectly affect weight loss.
  • Diet breaks or switching goals can help with your plateau and give you a mental break from dieting.

I hope this blog was useful to you!  If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me HERE.  If you are interested in online coaching, please click HERE.