When you first start a diet, the weight often comes off quickly. You’ll likely lose several pounds in the first couple of weeks — especially if you have a lot of weight to lose.
But after a while, many people find that their weight loss stalls.
It can feel like your body refuses to shed any more fat, even when you know you have more pounds to lose.
Weight loss plateaus can be incredibly frustrating. They can make you want to give up on your diet — but you shouldn’t! Plateaus are more common than you might think, and they’re usually a sign that it’s time to make a couple of small tweaks to your weight loss plan.
Plateaus happen for a variety of reasons. With the right knowledge, you can figure out why you’ve hit a weight loss plateau and how to move past it.
Fundamentally, fat loss happens when you’re in a calorie deficit: you’re eating fewer calories than you burn. If you’re no longer in a calorie deficit, you’ll hit a weight loss plateau.
This rule stays true for all diets, but it doesn’t mean all calories are created equal, or that the only way to break through a weight-loss plateau is to eat less.
Here are 7 simple strategies to overcome plateaus and continue moving forward in your weight loss journey.
Many people choose to track their calories as a way to make sure they stay in a calorie deficit and lose weight. However, you may not know that when you lose weight on a diet, your daily calorie goal changes.
As you lose weight, your body requires less energy to run, so you burn fewer calories throughout the day. It makes sense — if you’re a smaller person, you require less food and you’re carrying around less weight with every step, so you won’t burn as many calories in a day.
If you’ve been on a diet for a while and you’ve lost a lot of body fat (say 15+ pounds), your resting metabolic rate has dropped, which means it’s time to recalculate your target calorie intake.
You can put your updated bodyweight into a macro calculator to figure out how many calories or macros (grams of fat, protein, and carbs) you should be eating each day.
Eating a high-protein diet can double your post-meal thermogenesis[*] — the number of calories your body burns to digest the meal. A high-protein diet can increase your metabolic rate and help you lose weight, even if you’re eating the same calories that you are currently[*].
Protein is also the most satiating macronutrient — in other words, it’s more filling than fat or carbs[*]. If you’re struggling with hunger and overeating, eating more lean protein will fill you up and help you stay within your caloric goals.
Aim for 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For example, a 150-pound person would want 120 grams of protein a day (150 x 0.8 = 120). Good sources of protein include:
If you’re eating a high- or moderate-carb diet and you aren’t losing weight, it may be worthwhile to try cutting your carbohydrate intake by switching to a low-carb or ketogenic diet.
Many studies have found that keto is excellent for long-term weight loss[*][*]. It’s especially effective because it speeds up your metabolism — you burn an extra ~300 calories a day on keto[*] — while also suppressing hunger, so it’s easier to stay in a calorie deficit[*].
When you’re counting calories to lose weight, it can be tempting to stop tracking all the food you eat.
After a few weeks of tracking, you have a general idea of the calories in the food you eat. You may stop tracking calories because it’s a hassle.
However, if you’ve hit a weight loss plateau, it’s a good idea to go back to thorough calorie tracking. Even if you’re eating healthy, going over your daily calories will slow down or even stop weight loss. Go back to tracking — you may find you’re eating more than you thought.
Exercise is another great way to kickstart weight loss.
The classic idea is that you do cardio to burn extra calories and lose weight, and if that approach appeals to you, it’s a valid option.
However, strength training (weight lifting), high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and other intense forms of physical activity also work well for weight loss because they change your body composition — your ratio of body fat to muscle mass.
Muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells, which means if you build muscle, your metabolism speeds up.
If you aren’t sure where to start with your exercise routine, check out a free beginner’s workout plan or consider hiring a personal trainer to help you learn how to work out.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t break down. You lack the enzymes to digest fiber, so it passes through your digestive system intact.
Even though it doesn’t have any calories, studies show that fiber makes you feel full[*]. Adding more high-fiber foods to your diet is a good way to break through a weight-loss plateau and reach a healthy weight.
High-fiber foods include:
- Green veggies (broccoli, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts)
- Berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios)
- Legumes (black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans)
- Dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher)
- Whole grains (avoid if you’re doing a low-carb or keto diet)
Stress can also contribute to a weight loss plateau.
When you’re stressed out your body releases cortisol, your main stress hormone. Cortisol disrupts your metabolism, and studies show that being chronically stressed can stall weight loss and even cause weight gain[*].
On the other hand, a 2018 study on obesity found that people who managed their stress levels lost significantly more weight than people who didn’t[*]. Successfully managing your stress can help you reach your goal weight.
Ways to manage stress include:
- Pursuing your hobbies
- Taking time off work (even if it’s just the weekend)
- Deep breathing
- Eating well
Weight loss plateaus can be frustrating, but with the right approach, you can break through them and continue forward on your journey to better health.
Try using the tools listed above to overcome your weight loss plateau. With a few changes to your approach and a bit of effort, you’ll be back on track with your weight loss goals in no time.