Health Advocate Blog

Understanding Weight Loss Plateaus

Nothing is more frustrating than when you’re making good progress on your weight loss goals and then all of the sudden, you stop losing weight. You’re following the same plan, but you’re not losing additional weight. Unfortunately, you may have hit a weight loss plateau. There are several factors that can contribute to hitting a plateau, but with a little effort you’ll be back to losing weight in no time.

Factors that May Contribute to Weight Loss Plateaus

You’re not eating enough calories each day. Your metabolism (or the rate at which you burn calories) is dependent upon food. If your food intake is too low to meet your body’s energy needs, your metabolism will slow down to conserve energy. Although your calories need to be reduced in order to lose weight, skipping meals or not eating enough may actually cause you to gain weight.

You’ve already lost weight. When you begin your weight loss journey, you may lose weight quickly. Weight loss is a metabolic process which breaks down glycogen stores and fat which are converted and expelled by your body. The more glycogen stores and fat you have to lose, the more “fuel” there is to work this process. As you begin to lose weight, the process slows down due to less “fuel.”

You’re gaining muscle. Muscles burn calories, so it’s a given that exercise can assist with weight loss. If you’ve started a strength training routine, it is possible that you’re starting to gain muscle, which could result in a plateau. If this is a concern for you, try limiting your strength training activities to 2 or 3 days per week.

You’re losing muscle. On the other hand, since muscles burn calories, if you’re not eating properly to fuel your muscles you may also experience a plateau. Muscles need protein and carbohydrates for maintenance and growth. If you’re not eating a balanced diet, you may end up gaining weight as a result of not adequately fueling your muscles.

Your body adjusted to your exercise routine. After 4 to 6 weeks of the same exercise routine, your body develops efficiency and the exercise becomes easier, resulting in burning fewer calories. Your overall health is still benefiting from the exercise, but you’ll lose weight slower without variety.

Tips for Conquering Your Plateau

  • Help your metabolism run more efficiently by eating 5 to 6 small meals per day, rather than the 3 conventional larger meals.
  • Don’t go longer than 3 to 4 hours without eating at least a snack. After this time, your body begins to conserve energy. If you feel physically hungry, it’s a sign your body needs to eat.
  • Track your eating habits to eliminate unnecessary calories.
  • Always eat breakfast. Your body may not start burning calories efficiently until you eat.
  • Eat more protein at breakfast, such as yogurt, low-fat dairy and eggs.
  • Get more fiber throughout the day to help you feel fuller for longer.
  • Check food labels and carefully measure out your portions to ensure you’re eating the correct serving sizes.
  • Try a new form of exercise, increase the intensity or duration of your current workout, add resistance, change the number of sets, or try a new fitness class.
  • Avoid weighing yourself too frequently. Normal weight fluctuations happen day-to-day, making it hard to really see your progress. If your weight stays the same after two weeks or more, you may have hit a plateau.

Keep in Mind

Weight loss plateaus can be discouraging, but remember that if you’re maintaining your weight, you’re still making progress! It can be discouraging when the number on the scale isn’t moving, but know that each step you take to improve your nutrition and physical activity is a step towards good health! Plus there are additional ways to observe your weight loss. Some signs you’re on the right track include noticing your clothes fit better, people giving you positive comments about your appearance, or noticing improvements in your energy level.

Are you looking for additional information or support to help you lose weight? If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to our Wellness Program, connect with a Wellness Coach for more weight loss advice.