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 closer to a healthier-for-you 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.)
Even if your weight loss has been slow and steady, you’re likely to hit a plateau sometimes. It’s common to lose lean muscle mass during weight loss, especially if you’re following a diet that’s too low in calories and protein. 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.
1. How stress affects weight loss
Consider stress your sworn enemy when it comes to weight loss. Being chronically stressed can lead to increased appetite and calorie intake, which can lead to weight gain. 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.
2. Get snoozing: Sleep and weight loss
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.
3. Fill up on fiber
Viscous fiber is a type of soluble fiber that’s found exclusively in plant foods like asparagus, oats, brussels sprouts, and flaxseed. When viscous fiber comes into contact with water, it forms a thick gel-like material that slows digestion and may help you feel full longer.
4. Veg out with lots of nonstarchy veggies
Mom was right: Eating your vegetables is a good idea. Studies show that healthy diets rich in vegetables may help promote weight loss. This makes sense, because nonstarchy vegetables are low in calories and carbohydrates and high in fiber and other nutrients.
Feel free to nosh on nonstarchy veggies at any time of day (including breakfast) — the greener, the leaner!
5. Step up your workout
If you want to keep losing weight, you’ve gotta get moving as much as possible. Remember: Maintaining muscle mass is important when losing body fat. 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.
6. Pack in the protein
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.
Bottom line? Eating for weight loss isn’t just about cutting calories — eating enough protein will boost your metabolism and may help you overcome a plateau.
7. Pace out your protein
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. Several studies have shown that snacking on high protein foods like Greek yogurt may help reduce hunger and lead to reduced calorie intake later in the day.
8. Talk with your doc about intermittent fasting
Some 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. However, more recent research suggests that intermittent fasting (IF) is similar to continuous energy restriction in terms of promoting weight loss. Either way, it’s clear that IF can be an effective tool for weight loss for some people.
Although IF may be safe and effective for some people, it’s not right for everyone. Ask your doctor or a registered dietician for advice if you’re thinking about trying out IF for weight loss. It should be avoided if you:
- have diabetes
- have reactive hypoglycemia
- are pregnant
- engage in rigorous physical activity on a daily basis
9. Cut some carbs
Another way to weasel your way through a weight loss plateau is to cut back on refined carbs.
Eating plans which focus on reducing refined carb sources have been shown to help people lose more weight than more traditional methods like calorie restriction.
As with IF, reduced carb diets aren’t for everyone and long-term effects are not yet known. Speak with your doctor or a registered dietician before changing your diet to reduce carb intake.
10. You booze, you don’t lose
Put down the pinot noir. For the most part, alcohol isn’t doing you any favors in the weight loss department. Research has shown that some people tend to eat more both during and after drinking. Plus, alcohol has been shown to suppress fat-burning and may contribute to an increase in belly fat.
The way alcohol affects the body differs from person to person, but since alcohol has no substantive nutritional value, it’s worth cutting out.
11. Grab some tea or java
Sipping on coffee and tea may bolster your weight loss efforts for many reasons — starting with caffeine. The caffeine in coffee and some teas may potentially help promote weight and body fat reduction.
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.
12. The scale doesn’t lie, but it can mislead
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 those with a period, 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. This is especially true if you’re doing a lot of muscle training.
The most important tool to overcome a weight loss plateau is consistency and patience. Plateaus are usually temporary. Stay motivated and try incorporating one or more of the aforementioned tips to help you get over the hump.
It’s also important to have realistic expectations about body weight and focus on your overall health, energy, and mood. Certain conditions, such as hypothyroidism and PCOS, can actually make it harder to lose weight even when making all the right moves to lose it. If you continue seeing no difference in the markers that matter to you, speak with your doctor to rule out any underlying conditions.