How to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau
There’s nothing as frustrating as putting in all the effort of losing weight and then the weight loss stops. The weight loss plateau is something that almost everybody faces at one point or another. Any progress pic or weight loss story that you’ve come across likely has at least 2 or 3 plateaus over several weeks behind it.
This is a follow up to our popular article on your Training Plateau. There are some tips and tricks to break through a weight loss plateau and start to see that progress pick up again. Let us provide you with the cure for the barrier blues and give you solid, actionable steps to put your weight loss goals back on track.
What is a Weight Loss Plateau?
You can’t define a weight loss plateau as no change in 24 hours. Waited a whole 36 hours and no change? Still doesn’t qualify. So how do you define a weight loss plateau?
Normally, any lack of real change over 1-2 weeks is enough to consider it a plateau. It’s that demoralising moment when the same numbers come up on the scale again and again when you haven’t changed your diet or fitness habits.
How can this be?
It’s a normal part of how your body reacts to losing weight, and you should expect it to occur at least once (if not more) over the course of your fitness journey.
Assess your Goals
Your first job is to remember this:
Weight loss ≠ Fat Loss
Just because you haven’t seen the numbers drop on the scale does not mean that you have no results. Your body could be simultaneously burning fat while adding muscle if you’re doing some form of weight lifting or resistance training.
Progress is not always defined by the scale and your leaner, toner body could be a result of the fat loss that the scale doesn't register. Weight loss is a marathon and not a sprint. You’re training your body to eat better, lift heavier, move faster, and burn fat efficiently. If you are really concerned about a plateau of fat loss, the best measurement is to use a set of body calipres to determine your body fat percentage at home.
Also, how much weight have you already lost? Although plateaus can affect your motivation to continue, it’s helpful to remember how far you’ve come and how much better your relationship with food and fitness is since you started. Your body might not have the numbers just yet, but the changes in your body and habits speak for themselves.
Discipline is better than motivation
Check Your Diet
Your body is actually remarkably good at adapting to its circumstances. As you lose weight, your body gets better at burning that fat. But as it drops weight, your body requires fewer calories to function and slows down the weight loss. You need to reassess your diet as you go, compensating for the changes your body is going through. Every 7-10 kilos lost, you should sit down and measure your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and adjust your caloric intake as needed.
As a guide, your calorie intake should be different for fat loss than it would be for bodybuilding or maintenance. For optimal fat-burning levels, try to maintain a 10-20% carbohydrate/30-40% fat/40-50% protein intake.
Fixing the Plateau
Let’s kickstart your weight loss again with some simple fixes that should blast through the plateau in no time.
Make Adjustments to Your Intake
Losing more weight is not going to be solved by simply eating less. You can actually nosedive your progress by eating too little. Skipping meals and further shrinking your meals might inhibit your results and further frustrate you. But the real risk is that eating too few calories tells your brain to stop burning and start conserving calories. It’s counterintuitive, but eating enough calories tells your body that it’s OK to burn them - there’s more coming.
Try instead to knock off 100-200 calories in a day to see if that kick-starts progress again. A small drop like that might compensate for your body’s adjusted BMR and metabolism needs.
You should also make sure you’ve added enough protein to your diet. Your body needs energy to break down protein. Eating increased amounts of protein also stops your body from muscle catabolism to access energy reserves. For fat loss, try eating 1.6-2g/kg of bodyweight. Spreading it out over the course of several meals also helps sustain that burn.
Eat more fibre as well. For every 1g of fibre, your body doesn’t need 7 calories of energy. The recommended daily intake of fibre is around 30g, which should mean your body needs 210 calories less per day to feel satiated. Those who add enough fibre in their diet see better weight loss results than those who don’t.
Keep a food journal to monitor your eating habits. “Calorie creeps” are a real thing and they can surprise you. Sauces and dressings, misleading serving sizes on food packets, and alcohol are all common hidden sources of calories. When your body has reduced in size, those hidden calories affect your results more than they did before.
Try eating more foods that boost satiety (the feeling of being full). Start your meal with around 400g of steamed veggies. Eat more water-rich foods to increase the satiety and reduce your temptation to overeat.
Try a Refeed Meal
Some experts have said that to blast through a plateau, try a refeed meal. Refeeding is similar to eating a “cheat” meal but is way more beneficial for you. Cheat meals allow you to eat whatever you want in whatever quantities. Refeed meals are high in complex carbohydrates and are for a purpose.
The science shows that eating a large meal of carbs (pizza, a large plate of pasta...etc) boosts your body’s production of leptin, the hormone that signals to your body that you’re full. To compensate for the boost of calories, temporarily lower your fat intake by 20-30% for the day. That refeed meal also replenishes your carbohydrate levels for energy. Try to schedule a refeed around your training to maximise the energy stores to your muscles.
The refeed also curbs your appetite for 24-48 hours after the meal, making the restriction of calories much easier to stomach.
Add in Exercise
If you’re on a weight loss journey, you’re probably already doing some form of exercise. Change how that looks by alternating your workouts to “shock” your body into losing weight again.
High-Intensity Interval Training
One of the most effective cardiovascular exercise routines is High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT for short. HIIT is all about maximum effort. It’s fast, you can do it anywhere, but it’s not going to easy, so buckle up.
The basics of HIIT is that you perform exercises for short bursts of time and your maximum output, followed by double or triple the rest time. So if you do sprints at maximum speed for 30 seconds, you rest for 60-90 seconds until you do your next burst.
The benefit is something called EPOC, or Excess Post Oxygen Consumption. It’s the afterburn of your workout that lasts for up to 24 hours afterwards. Up to 95% of your calories are burnt after the workout is complete. Compare that to normal cardio like jogging where you experience all your calorie burning during the exercise and almost none afterwards.
This could be just the boost you need to see weight loss results even faster.
Lift Heavy Things
Strength training is essential to weight loss, and your stalled progress could be fixed by starting a strength training routine. As you train your body to handle big weights and compound movements, your muscles create a vacuum of energy that they need to rebuild and repair the tissue. That prompts your body to break down fat cells to access the energy stored inside.
As long as you’re eating enough protein and carbohydrates to fuel these training routines, your body will blast fat and your weight loss should be back on track.
Weight Loss Plateau Reminder
Stalling out is the worst. It’s a horrible feeling that all your efforts are for nothing.
Only they’re not.
Remember that you’ve already made incredible progress and this is just temporary. You can fix it and it will start up again. And remember, your body is improving in ways that a scale can’t show you.