Breaking Through A Plateau




You’ve been clipping along with your weight loss, feeling great, watching those pounds drop, until one day… the scale doesn’t move.

Then the next week… the scale doesn’t move.

Then a week later… scale still not moving!

Maybe the scale died?   Twelve battery changes and still no movement means you have hit the dreaded plateau.  Is this bad?  Nah.  It’s a completely normal  part of the weight loss process.  As you lose weight your body changes and so should your weight loss program.  A plateau is just your body’s way of telling you it is time for a change.  But what change?  Here are 8 things to consider when you’ve hit a plateau.

1. Real Plateau or No?  Just because your weight loss has stalled does not mean you have hit a “true” plateau.  A true plateau is one that results from you “tapping out” the weight loss capacity of your current efforts.  So, for example, if you stuck to your 1700 calorie diet and worked out 4 times a week consistently, eventually you would stop losing weight from that specific effort.  That plan will only get you so far, and you will know how far when the weight loss stops.  Often people hit their first plateau at about a 7-10% weight loss, and then more plateaus will follow at various increments.  The most important thing to figure out though is if the plateau is real or instead being caused by your calorie intake having increased or your exercise having decreased.  So, back to our example, if your 1700 calorie diet has drifted up to a 1900 calorie diet and your 4 day exercise plan turned into 2, then you are drifting not plateau’ing.  See this for help with drifting:

2.  Too Soon for a Plateau?  If you have hit a plateau before you have lost 5% of your weight, it is too soon to be a real plateau.  Your weight loss efforts might not have been intense enough in the first place.  You may be eating more than you think or you may have set a calorie goal that is too high for much weight to come off.  If you aren’t exercising that could also be why you are hitting the skids too early.  Try to up the intensity of your efforts and you should see the weight loss get back on track.

3.  How Low Can You Go?  The energy balance equation has 2 variables: energy in (calorie intake) and energy out (exercise).  These are your two options for breaking through a plateau.  To restart weight loss, you need to eliminate another 3,500 calories from your week for each pound of weight loss.  For many people, the “energy in” side of the equation gets increasingly difficult to change.  After reducing your calorie intake in the initial weight loss phase you may find it difficult to further reduce calories, depending on how low your calorie goal has been.  Eventually you will hit a level of calorie intake that you can no longer reduce without experiencing frequent hunger and low blood sugar.  Are you at that point yet?  If you can go a little lower on your calories, then attempt to do so, but if further reduction is very uncomfortable don’t bother.  Go to #4 instead.

4.  Energy OUT.  Increasing your exercise is often the best way to break through a plateau.  Unlike calorie intake, you have a little more leverage with exercise.  You can increase the duration of your workouts, the frequency, the intensity, or the type of exercise.  Consider adding a “cross train” day which means a day where you do something completely different from your usual.  For example, if you are a treadmill god, try swimming, biking/spinning, rowing, or elliptical on your cross train day.  This will work different muscles and give your body more of a challenge than your usual. Try some combination of these things, such as increasing your intensity on one day, duration on another day, and adding a cross train day to your week.  You are likely to see results in just a couple of weeks.

5.  What’s So Bad About a Plateau?  To break free of a plateau is going to require some effort.  Consider “hanging out” at your new weight for a while to give yourself a break before picking up steam again.  Planned plateaus are helpful because they give you practice at maintaining your weight, something you may not have done ever before.  A lot of people are in one of two zones at all times: weight loss or weight gain. Long lasting weight loss requires that you become an expert at maintaining your weight, so consider giving maintenance a try for a couple of months to see if you can do it.  Plateaus are not bad, gaining weight back is the thing to avoid here.

6.  Plateau Myth!  I have heard people say that they think they need to INCREASE their calorie intake in response to a plateau because they aren’t eating enough and by eating more they will increase their metabolism.  This logic applies to very very few people and only under the circumstance where calorie intake is extremely low (sub-800).  It is highly unlikely that eating MORE calories will result in weight loss for the vast majority of people.  While this option is enticing, it is more likely to land you with weight gain than loss.

7.  Plateau Reality Check!  If you want to lose a LOT of weight, you will probably hit multiple plateaus on the way down.  The challenge is that the workload required to further reduce your weight each time is going to increase.  At some point the workload may increase so much that it becomes very difficult for you to commit that much time to the extra weight loss without some even more significant life changes.  Consider that the frustration of further forging ahead when you hit this point could cause enough frustration and demoralization that you start to backslide.  I can’t tell you how many people I have worked with who have lost about 20 pounds or so, got frustrated that it wasn’t enough and then gained it ALL back.  Please beware of this trap.  Ask yourself, could I be satisfied with a smaller weight loss goal, knowing that the larger goal is going to require a much larger commitment than I am currently making?  Decide if you can be satisfied at status quo, and if not, do you have a realistic plan to put in the required effort to get to the larger goal?

8.  I Hate To Say This But…  If you want to lose a lot of weight (50 pounds or more), you will need to do a LOT of exercise.  There is no way around this.  When I say a lot, I mean 5 days a week and at least an hour a day, maybe even more.  Check out my Real Life Biggest Loser series,  each of these people has dropped 50-180 pounds and the common denominator across all of them is that they exercise their butts off…. Literally.  These folks are running half and full marathons, really logging in some serious exercise time.  If you are finding exercise a challenge, check out some of my previous posts on this topic.  The good news is, and I promise you this, you will fall in love with exercise.  I know you don’t believe me, but ask any of those real life biggest losers.  I’m not saying you won’t feel like it sometimes, but at the end of the day, you will love it.  I promise.

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One Comment

  1. Melissa says:

    “The good news is, and I promise you this, you will fall in love with exercise. I know you don’t believe me, but ask any of those real life biggest losers. I’m not saying you won’t feel like it sometimes, but at the end of the day, you will love it. I promise.”

    I never would have believed this until it happened to me. But it is true!

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