Understanding and Moving Beyond a Weight-loss Plateau

Reviewed Apr 4, 2019

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Summary

Weight-loss plateau:

  • Weight loss stops regardless of diet and exercise
  • May require more changes

After working for decades as a personal trainer, I’ve found that most of my clients have weight loss as their primary goal. Many of them, after losing several pounds, experience a weight-loss plateau. This means that weight loss, steady at first, tapers down and stops, even though they are still exercising and eating right. Their common question is: What’s going on, and what do I do now?

What’s going on

First, make sure you’re in a weight-loss plateau. You’re not really in a plateau if:

  • Your diet has crept up in calories without you realizing it.
  • You’ve cut back on exercise duration or intensity.
  • The inches are still coming off but the pounds measure the same because of increased muscle mass. Start measuring your thighs, hips, waist, chest, and upper arms once a week. If you’re dropping inches, it’s not a plateau.

Check your diet and exercise activity for two or three weeks. Are you still doing all the things you did to lose weight up to now? Then the cause of a plateau is usually this:

  • Your metabolic rate is lower because you weigh less.
  • Your body now runs efficiently on the calories you eat and burn, keeping you at your current weight.

The same principle that caused the initial weight loss still applies. You have to eat less and exercise more to lose more weight. Now, you may be maintaining your weight.

What to do now

Are you discouraged by the thought of cutting out even more of your favorite foods or making more trips to the gym? Perhaps you won’t have to. See if these tips encourage you and help you start losing weight (or inches) again:

  • See whether trimming off tiny amounts of food gives you results. A pat of butter here and a bite of bread there can make a difference.
  • Consult a dietician for advice. She can help you make reasonable changes to your diet. Keep in mind that eating fewer than 1,200 calories a day is not the right choice for your best health.
  • Already getting 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week? Try 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week instead. That just may rev up your metabolism. Make sure your doctor approves.
  • Add strength training exercises to your current workout twice a week. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be.
  • If you’ve been doing strength exercises all along, try using heavier weights.

Other causes

Most of my clients who stop losing weight before they reach their goal find they aren’t doing all of the things they first did to lose weight. The solution is to get back on track. A fair number of my clients, however, really have hit a plateau. Small, persistent changes in caloric intake, exercise intensity, or strength training typically do help them lose more weight.

A smaller portion of my clientele has less typical reasons for their weight loss “freeze.” Consider whether these might be causing your plateau:

  • Thyroid or adrenal gland problems that slow down the metabolism
  • Other health problems that are causing water retention
  • Eating too few calories: Putting your body in “starvation mode” slows down your metabolism. Consider eating 200 more calories a day for two or three weeks and see what happens. Add calories with foods high in protein. Lean meats, a serving of natural peanut butter, or a handful of nuts may give you the best metabolic boost.
  • Overtraining: Exercising too much can cause your body to keep certain functions on “low.” Consider taking a week off from exercise and cutting back on your routine if you’ve been working out excessively.
  • Starting certain medications that slow down metabolism
  • Aging into a slower metabolic rate

If you have health concerns, consult with your health care provider.

Check your goals

Once you’ve determined the cause of your plateau, revisit your goals before making any changes. If you think you will have to eat less and exercise more to lose more weight, is that realistic or the best choice for you right now?  Give the following questions some thought:

  • Why do you want to weigh less?
  • Can you adjust your original goal and be content?
  • Is being physically fit at your current weight sufficient for now?
  • Are you willing to continue making healthy choices if the pounds never change from here?

With patience, common sense, and consistence, you may get past your plateau. For now, celebrate the weight you’ve already lost. Focus on being as healthy as you can, regardless of what the scale says. This will help you avoid backsliding into unhealthy choices that may put the pounds back on.

Resources

411fit— a free, online wellness management tool that helps you track nutrition and exercise
www.411fit.com

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association)
www.eatright.org

Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon. BenBella Books, 2010. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Reviewed by Maria F. Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Weight-loss plateau:

  • Weight loss stops regardless of diet and exercise
  • May require more changes

After working for decades as a personal trainer, I’ve found that most of my clients have weight loss as their primary goal. Many of them, after losing several pounds, experience a weight-loss plateau. This means that weight loss, steady at first, tapers down and stops, even though they are still exercising and eating right. Their common question is: What’s going on, and what do I do now?

What’s going on

First, make sure you’re in a weight-loss plateau. You’re not really in a plateau if:

  • Your diet has crept up in calories without you realizing it.
  • You’ve cut back on exercise duration or intensity.
  • The inches are still coming off but the pounds measure the same because of increased muscle mass. Start measuring your thighs, hips, waist, chest, and upper arms once a week. If you’re dropping inches, it’s not a plateau.

Check your diet and exercise activity for two or three weeks. Are you still doing all the things you did to lose weight up to now? Then the cause of a plateau is usually this:

  • Your metabolic rate is lower because you weigh less.
  • Your body now runs efficiently on the calories you eat and burn, keeping you at your current weight.

The same principle that caused the initial weight loss still applies. You have to eat less and exercise more to lose more weight. Now, you may be maintaining your weight.

What to do now

Are you discouraged by the thought of cutting out even more of your favorite foods or making more trips to the gym? Perhaps you won’t have to. See if these tips encourage you and help you start losing weight (or inches) again:

  • See whether trimming off tiny amounts of food gives you results. A pat of butter here and a bite of bread there can make a difference.
  • Consult a dietician for advice. She can help you make reasonable changes to your diet. Keep in mind that eating fewer than 1,200 calories a day is not the right choice for your best health.
  • Already getting 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week? Try 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week instead. That just may rev up your metabolism. Make sure your doctor approves.
  • Add strength training exercises to your current workout twice a week. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be.
  • If you’ve been doing strength exercises all along, try using heavier weights.

Other causes

Most of my clients who stop losing weight before they reach their goal find they aren’t doing all of the things they first did to lose weight. The solution is to get back on track. A fair number of my clients, however, really have hit a plateau. Small, persistent changes in caloric intake, exercise intensity, or strength training typically do help them lose more weight.

A smaller portion of my clientele has less typical reasons for their weight loss “freeze.” Consider whether these might be causing your plateau:

  • Thyroid or adrenal gland problems that slow down the metabolism
  • Other health problems that are causing water retention
  • Eating too few calories: Putting your body in “starvation mode” slows down your metabolism. Consider eating 200 more calories a day for two or three weeks and see what happens. Add calories with foods high in protein. Lean meats, a serving of natural peanut butter, or a handful of nuts may give you the best metabolic boost.
  • Overtraining: Exercising too much can cause your body to keep certain functions on “low.” Consider taking a week off from exercise and cutting back on your routine if you’ve been working out excessively.
  • Starting certain medications that slow down metabolism
  • Aging into a slower metabolic rate

If you have health concerns, consult with your health care provider.

Check your goals

Once you’ve determined the cause of your plateau, revisit your goals before making any changes. If you think you will have to eat less and exercise more to lose more weight, is that realistic or the best choice for you right now?  Give the following questions some thought:

  • Why do you want to weigh less?
  • Can you adjust your original goal and be content?
  • Is being physically fit at your current weight sufficient for now?
  • Are you willing to continue making healthy choices if the pounds never change from here?

With patience, common sense, and consistence, you may get past your plateau. For now, celebrate the weight you’ve already lost. Focus on being as healthy as you can, regardless of what the scale says. This will help you avoid backsliding into unhealthy choices that may put the pounds back on.

Resources

411fit— a free, online wellness management tool that helps you track nutrition and exercise
www.411fit.com

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association)
www.eatright.org

Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon. BenBella Books, 2010. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Reviewed by Maria F. Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Weight-loss plateau:

  • Weight loss stops regardless of diet and exercise
  • May require more changes

After working for decades as a personal trainer, I’ve found that most of my clients have weight loss as their primary goal. Many of them, after losing several pounds, experience a weight-loss plateau. This means that weight loss, steady at first, tapers down and stops, even though they are still exercising and eating right. Their common question is: What’s going on, and what do I do now?

What’s going on

First, make sure you’re in a weight-loss plateau. You’re not really in a plateau if:

  • Your diet has crept up in calories without you realizing it.
  • You’ve cut back on exercise duration or intensity.
  • The inches are still coming off but the pounds measure the same because of increased muscle mass. Start measuring your thighs, hips, waist, chest, and upper arms once a week. If you’re dropping inches, it’s not a plateau.

Check your diet and exercise activity for two or three weeks. Are you still doing all the things you did to lose weight up to now? Then the cause of a plateau is usually this:

  • Your metabolic rate is lower because you weigh less.
  • Your body now runs efficiently on the calories you eat and burn, keeping you at your current weight.

The same principle that caused the initial weight loss still applies. You have to eat less and exercise more to lose more weight. Now, you may be maintaining your weight.

What to do now

Are you discouraged by the thought of cutting out even more of your favorite foods or making more trips to the gym? Perhaps you won’t have to. See if these tips encourage you and help you start losing weight (or inches) again:

  • See whether trimming off tiny amounts of food gives you results. A pat of butter here and a bite of bread there can make a difference.
  • Consult a dietician for advice. She can help you make reasonable changes to your diet. Keep in mind that eating fewer than 1,200 calories a day is not the right choice for your best health.
  • Already getting 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week? Try 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week instead. That just may rev up your metabolism. Make sure your doctor approves.
  • Add strength training exercises to your current workout twice a week. The more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate will be.
  • If you’ve been doing strength exercises all along, try using heavier weights.

Other causes

Most of my clients who stop losing weight before they reach their goal find they aren’t doing all of the things they first did to lose weight. The solution is to get back on track. A fair number of my clients, however, really have hit a plateau. Small, persistent changes in caloric intake, exercise intensity, or strength training typically do help them lose more weight.

A smaller portion of my clientele has less typical reasons for their weight loss “freeze.” Consider whether these might be causing your plateau:

  • Thyroid or adrenal gland problems that slow down the metabolism
  • Other health problems that are causing water retention
  • Eating too few calories: Putting your body in “starvation mode” slows down your metabolism. Consider eating 200 more calories a day for two or three weeks and see what happens. Add calories with foods high in protein. Lean meats, a serving of natural peanut butter, or a handful of nuts may give you the best metabolic boost.
  • Overtraining: Exercising too much can cause your body to keep certain functions on “low.” Consider taking a week off from exercise and cutting back on your routine if you’ve been working out excessively.
  • Starting certain medications that slow down metabolism
  • Aging into a slower metabolic rate

If you have health concerns, consult with your health care provider.

Check your goals

Once you’ve determined the cause of your plateau, revisit your goals before making any changes. If you think you will have to eat less and exercise more to lose more weight, is that realistic or the best choice for you right now?  Give the following questions some thought:

  • Why do you want to weigh less?
  • Can you adjust your original goal and be content?
  • Is being physically fit at your current weight sufficient for now?
  • Are you willing to continue making healthy choices if the pounds never change from here?

With patience, common sense, and consistence, you may get past your plateau. For now, celebrate the weight you’ve already lost. Focus on being as healthy as you can, regardless of what the scale says. This will help you avoid backsliding into unhealthy choices that may put the pounds back on.

Resources

411fit— a free, online wellness management tool that helps you track nutrition and exercise
www.411fit.com

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association)
www.eatright.org

Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon. BenBella Books, 2010. 

By Laurie M. Stewart
Reviewed by Maria F. Rodowski-Stanco, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical or health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2019 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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