Plateaus are an annoying fact of life when it comes to losing weight. While the pounds may come off more easily at first, it can get harder and harder to see progress as you get close to your goal weight.
Hitting this kind of speed bump on your weight loss journey can be very discouraging, but a weight loss plateau is a 100 percent normal obstacle that you can overcome.
It’s a tale as old as time: You’ve been cutting back on calories, but 6 months in, your weight loss comes to what feels like a screeching halt. The human body is a curious organism — even doctors are a little split as to why this phenomenon occurs. But there are a few plausible causes.
The most obvious reason for a weight loss plateau is a change in your diet, but that’s not always the case. Even if you’re doing everything you think you need to do to lose weight, you can still fall into a rut.
It may seem counterintuitive, but rapid and significant weight loss can actually slow down your metabolism. (Losing a lot of weight quickly is also not a safe or sustainable approach — the CDC recommends a gradual rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week.)
But even if your weight loss has been slow and steady, you’re likely to hit a plateau sometimes. All weight loss comes at the cost of some lean muscle mass. Since muscle consumes more calories than fat does, loss of muscle mass slows your metabolism, so you’ll have to either exercise more or eat less to keep losing weight.
But should you really do either of those things? There are other ways to shimmy your way out of a plateau. Let’s dive in.
Consider stress your sworn enemy when it comes to weight loss. Stress can cause people to eat more, even when they’re not hungry. It also stimulates the production of the “stress hormone,” cortisol, which has been shown to increase belly fat storage.
So if you’ve hit a weight loss plateau, the last thing you want to do is worry — for more than one reason.
While getting enough high-quality sleep is the foundation for a healthy body and mind, it can also affect your weight. Skipping out on sleep wreaks all kinds of hormonal havoc that can make you hungrier, increase fat storage, and slow your metabolism.
Viscous fiber is a type of soluble fiber that’s found exclusively in plant foods like asparagus, oats, brussels sprouts, and flaxseeds. When viscous fiber comes into contact with water, it forms a thick gel-like material that slows nutrient absorption and may help you feel full longer.
Add foods high in viscous fiber to your diet to keep hunger at bay.
Mom was right: Eating your vegetables is a good idea. Vegetable-rich diets are proven to help people lose weight. This makes sense, because non-starchy vegetables are low in calories and carbohydrates and high in fiber and other nutrients.
Research shows that people sometimes underestimate how much they eat. Food journaling can be an effective way to keep track of how much food you’re actually consuming each day.
If you’d prefer a truly objective tool to help you monitor your intake, there’s an app for that — many, in fact. Apps can help you keep tabs on your overall food intake, its nutritional breakdown, and even your activity.
Food journaling or app-based tracking isn’t meant to be a long-term practice, since it can make you preoccupied with food and calories. But tracking your intake short-term can help you understand which foods you might be overeating and identify habits you might want to change.
If you want to keep losing weight, you’ve gotta get moving as much as possible. Remember: You lose some lean muscle mass as you lose weight. Lean muscle mass is the engine that drives your metabolism, so it’s important to preserve as much of it as possible.
Adding resistance training to your workout can help you rebuild and preserve what your mama gave you. And don’t forget cardio. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) has proven especially effective at promoting weight loss.
Get moving with intense, muscle-preserving activities that will boost your metabolism.
Protein speeds up your metabolism more than other macronutrients do. Part of this has to do with TEF, or the thermic effect of food. Your body uses more energy to digest proteins than it does to digest carbs and fats.
Protein also stimulates the production of PYY, a hormone that decreases hunger and makes you feel more full when you eat — talk about a win-win.
Eating for weight loss isn’t just about cutting calories — eating enough protein will boost your metabolism and may help you overcome a plateau.
Eating protein is great, but spreading it out among your meals is even better. Since protein can help you feel more satisfied, getting some in at breakfast and throughout the day may prevent you from overdoing it at meals.
This is especially true when it comes to snacks. Just because it’s not a full meal doesn’t mean you should skimp on protein. A small 2014 study found that people who ate a daily snack rich in whey protein ate less throughout the day than those whose snacks were lower in protein.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is having a moment, and it could be a good option for you. Research has shown that short-term fasting or intermittent energy restriction is more effective at promoting weight loss than continuous energy restriction and may have less detrimental effects on your metabolism.
Plus, research has shown that intermittent fasting may help improve other aspects of health such as inflammation, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
Intermittent fasting should be considered a short-term approach to weight loss, because it can lead to disordered behavior. It’s also not a one-size-fits-all option. It’s not recommended for children or seniors and should be avoided if you:
- have diabetes
- have reactive hypoglycemia
- are pregnant
- engage in rigorous physical activity on a daily basis
Excessive calorie restriction can also throw your hormones out of whack, which could disrupt menstruation. So proceed with caution.
Some research has shown that intermittent fasting may be an effective way to boost weight loss and improve other aspects of health.
Another way to weasel your way out of a weight loss plateau is to cut back on carbs or go full-on keto. Keto (short for ketogenic) diets are very, very low carb diets (less than 50 grams of carbs per day).
These kinds of regimens have been shown to help people lose more weight than more traditional methods like calorie restriction. Ketogenic diets put your body into ketosis, which has been found to decrease appetite.
If you’ve cut your calories as low as they can go (which should never be less than 1,200 calories a day for a woman or 1,500 for a man), switching to a keto program may help you power through a plateau.
Put down the pinot noir. For the most part, alcohol isn’t doing you any favors in the weight loss department.
The way alcohol affects the body differs from person to person, but since alcohol has no substantive nutritional value, it’s worth cutting out.
Sipping on coffee and tea may bolster your weight loss efforts for many reasons — starting with caffeine. The caffeine in coffee and some teas can give your metabolism a slight boost while simultaneously suppressing your appetite.
If a cup o’ joe isn’t your jam, research shows that green tea may help boost fat loss, thanks to its content of caffeine and EGCG, a powerful antioxidant.
In addition to plain old water, coffee and tea (hold the milk and sugar) may give you the metabolic edge you need to keep on losing.
Obsessing over the number on the scale won’t do you any favors. Something as simple as water retention after a salty meal can make the number creep back up, but that doesn’t mean you’ve gained any weight in earnest.
And for the ladies, the hormones that flutter around your bod at that time of the month can also put the kibosh on your perceived weight loss.
Instead of fixating on a certain goal weight, try your best to focus on how you feel or even how your clothes fit — sometimes your jeans are more reliable than the scale.
The most important tool to overcome a weight loss plateau is perseverance. Stay motivated and try incorporating one or more of the aforementioned tips to help you get over the hump.