Weight Loss Plateau: What to Do When You Stop Losing Weight

istock_000006170167xsmallYou’re watching what you eat and working out at home or at the gym. You’re even keeping a food diary to make sure you’re getting the calories you need to lose 2 pounds a week – and it’s working. You’ve lost 15 pounds and are already looking better in a swimsuit. But suddenly your weight loss grinds to a halt. You’re watching everything you eat, and you haven’t missed a day at the gym. What gives?

The Dreaded Weight Loss Plateau

This scenario happens to almost everyone who tries to lose weight. The pounds melt away at first, and suddenly they stop. This is referred to as a weight loss plateau. There are two reasons why people reach a plateau.

As you lose weight you need fewer calories since you have less weight to carry around. The other factor at play is your body’s attempt to adapt to your weight loss. Each person has a genetically determined set-point, a weight which your body wants to maintain. When you go to far from that set-point, your body makes adjustments to try to bring you back to it. One way it does this is by slowing down your metabolism to conserve energy.

It’s tempting when you reach a weight loss plateau to cut back your food intake even more. If you’ve been eating the appropriate number of calories you need to lose weight, and you haven’t been cheating, this isn’t the best move. Your metabolism has slowed, and you need to jumpstart it. Restricting calories further will only slow it down more.

The solution? Cycle your calories. If you’ve been eating 1,800 calories a day, continue to eat that many calories for 3 days in a row. On the fourth day, increase the number of calories you consume by 300. Then go back to 1,800 calories a day for 3 days. Continue cycling in this manner. The higher calorie days will give your metabolism a boost and help restart the fat loss process. Never go below 1,200 calories a day even when you’re trying to lose weight.

Other Ways to Break Through a Plateau

Look closely at your exercise routine. If you’re doing only steady-state cardio and aren’t hitting the weight room, this could be part of the problem.  Try to add some more time working out with heavy weights to your exercise routine. Lifting heavy activates growth hormone and other fat-burning hormones that will keep you burning more fat for hours after you put the weights down. It also builds lean body mass. When you have more muscle, you burn more calories.

When you do cardiovascular exercise, do some shorter, interval workouts where you work out at near maximum intensity for 20 to 60 seconds followed by a brief  recovery. Vary your workout as much as possible to keep your body guessing, and don’t neglect resistance training. It’s the key to building metabolism-boosting lean body mass and transforming the way your body looks.

The Bottom Line?

Don’t let a weight loss plateau discourage you. It’s a sign your body is adapting, and you need to make changes to your diet and exercise plan. Pretty soon you’ll be back on track to shed more body fat.


The British Journal of Nutrition. 102:488, 2009.
Science Daily. “Interval Training Burns More Fat, Increases Fitness, Study Finds”

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