Losing weight is frustrating, especially when you hit a plateau. It’s like going through an entire week of exercising, eating right, and watching calories, only to see the scale not budge. About anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows the exasperation of having a good week where the weight seems to fall off without effort. But then the next week, you lose nothing or even gain weight.
Such inconsistencies can make you feel like you’re on a roller coaster. Why does this happen, and what can you do about it? Let’s look at some reasons for those frustrating weight loss stalls and plateaus.
You’ve reduced your calorie intake too much
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you shouldn’t strive for a major calorie deficit. When you don’t eat enough calories, your body assumes it is starving and slows down its metabolism to conserve energy instead of burning it off as heat.
This decrease in metabolic rate (or “metabolism”) can cause your weight-loss efforts to stall for weeks at a time. When you restrict calories too much, your body starts slowing its metabolism so that it doesn’t burn through all its fat stores too quickly – and that impedes fat loss.
If you’re eating too little, your body thinks it’s starving and holds on to the energy it can get its hands on. That means even if you burn off those extra calories with exercise, your metabolism will slow to compensate, and weight loss will stall.
The solution? Never drop your calorie intake by more than 500 calories per day. It may also be helpful to zigzag your calories. Consume your typical number of calories one day and cut it by 500 calories the next. Add more protein to your diet for added fullness, too.
So how do you know if your diet is causing weight-loss stalls? Here are some signs:
- You’ve been losing weight steadily for a few weeks and then suddenly stop losing weight or even gain some back.
- You feel hungry all the time, even though you’re sticking with a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
- You’re feeling sluggish or tired all the time and have trouble getting through your day without a nap.
You’re staying up too late
Studies show that sleep deprivation can cause weight gain, increase the amount of food you eat, reduce your motivation to exercise and make you more stressed and tired. One reason is lack of sleep increases levels of the appetite hormone ghrelin, causing you to crave sugary and fatty fats.
If you don’t get enough sleep (seven hours or more per night), these changes will likely lead to weight gain. Studies link sleep deprivation to an increase in appetite and weight gain. Keep that in mind before staying up half the night watching television and snacking.
You’re doing the same workouts every time you exercise
If you’re working out at the same intensity and doing the same movements every day, your body will adapt to your workouts and stop burning as many calories. This is called the “repeated bout effect” and can make it harder to lose weight.
Plus, if you do the same workouts without any variation, there’s less stimulus for change or growth, and your body will burn fewer calories when you perform these movements. Not good news if you’re trying to lose weight.
The solution? Vary your workouts. Add some high-intensity sweat sessions and increase the amount of weight you use or increase the number of repetitions to make your workouts more challenging.
You’re eating too many carbs
It’s easy to assume that carbs are the enemy, but if you’re eating them in moderation and choosing whole grains over refined ones, they’re not all bad.
Carbohydrates aren’t all the same. There’s a significant difference between refined and ultra-processed carbs, like white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and complex carbs like those in vegetables and whole grains. Refined carbs usually come packaged with lots of added sugar and are stripped of their fiber content, making them easier for your body to digest than whole fruits and vegetables. This leads to blood sugar and insulin spikes that favor fat storage rather than fat loss.
Whole grains and whole fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which slows digestion and is better for your waistline and metabolic health. So, you want less of the former and more of the latter. Also, substitute high-quality protein for some of the carbohydrates you’re currently eating.
You’re not eating as healthily as you think
Are you eating for health or convenience? If you aren’t preparing food at home, the quality of your diet will suffer. Even seemingly healthy items at restaurants may be prepared with unhealthy oils. Plus, restaurants are famous for “portion distortion,” oversized plates of food. When you prepare meals at home, you know what you’re getting.
Pressed for time? You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen preparing elaborate meals every night to eat healthily. Prep healthy entrees on Sunday and freeze portions you can use the rest of the week. Planning will help you make smarter decisions and avoid unnecessary trips to fast-food restaurants.
Your stress levels are out of control
Stress is one of the most common reasons for weight gain, and it’s not just because it makes you reach for a bag of potato chips instead of an apple. Stress can affect your food choices and sleep patterns, which in turn will lead to weight-loss stalls. Stress also leads to poor decisions about exercise and eating habits, which in turn will lead to weight-loss stalls.
When you’re stressed or anxious, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps regulate blood sugar levels, but it can also lead to gains in tummy fat and muscle loss. Plus, when you’re stressed out or anxious, it’s more likely you’ll turn to food for comfort rather than looking for other ways to calm down.
Learn what triggers your stress (and what doesn’t), so you can avoid those things. If stress comes from working too much at the office or dealing with family drama, come up with ways to avoid those situations. Also, have a way to manage stress such as meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing exercises. Everyone needs strategies for stress management, whether they’re trying to lose weight or not.
You aren’t eating enough protein
Proteins play a crucial role in the body, helping with everything from muscle growth and repair to weight loss. Protein is more filling than carbs, so you will feel fuller longer when you eat it. If you don’t get enough protein, your body will start to burn its own muscle tissue for energy.
This means you’re losing not only fat but also muscle mass — and that’s unwelcome news for your metabolism. Your metabolism determines how fast you burn calories at rest, so you want more muscle on your frame. Research shows that consuming sufficient protein helps reduce muscle loss when you’re trying to lose weight.
Not enough strength training
When you lift weights, you’re creating micro-tears in your muscle fibers. Your body then repairs those tears by adding more tissue and growing stronger, which helps you burn more calories even at rest. That means every time you lift weights, your body burns more calories than if you were just sitting around. And when you combine strength training with a healthy diet and cardiovascular exercise, you’ll lose fat, build muscle mass, and get leaner faster than if you were just doing cardio alone. So, balance out your cardio with working your muscles against resistance.
You’re not being patient enough
When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easy to get frustrated with the results you see. You eat a healthy meal and do some exercise, but when you step on the scale the next day, it hasn’t budged an inch.
But here’s the thing: Weight loss doesn’t occur in a straight line. It happens in little spurts and slowdowns that you don’t notice — but they all add up over time. So, if you’re looking for immediate results, you may be disappointed by your progress. But if you can adopt a long-term mindset, patience will pay off.
Hopefully, this information will help you get back on track. When it comes to weight loss, patience is a virtue. You won’t lose pounds overnight. Instead, you’ll see progress over time. There’s no shortcut to weight loss; be consistent and give it time. Then you’ll reap the rewards.
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- “14 Simple Ways to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau.” 27 Feb. 2017, healthline.com/nutrition/weight-loss-plateau.