If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that you’re at one point or another going to hit a weight loss plateau. These plateaus are a natural part of the weight loss process.
What you decide to do at that time is going to have a large impact on your success. The following ideas will help you out when you inevitably reach that sticking point.
Don’t blow this mindset off. I’ve seen far too many people have unrealistic expectations when it comes to weight loss.
Losing a half a pound for two straight weeks isn’t a plateau – it’s weight loss. Not losing any weight one week isn’t a plateau – it’s just a week without weight loss.
If it hasn’t been at least 2-3 weeks without weight loss then you just need to be a little more patient. Fat loss can be masked by water weight fluctuations.
When it comes to my personal coaching clients I won’t even consider adjusting calories unless there is no downtrend for at least two straight weeks.
Eat Enough Calories
In my opinion this is the #1 reason why people plateau. It’s usually a result of people starting their weight loss program by eating way too few calories.
Not eating enough calories will slow your metabolism, negatively affect hormones, lead to reduced lean body mass, result in less physical activity, and will generally make you miserable.
Weight loss is a process. Reduce your food intake systematically over time in small increments.
Your goal should be to eat as many calories as possible that still results in weight loss. Yet most people get this backwards and try to eat as few calories as possible in the hopes of faster weight loss.
Implement Periodic Refeeds
Refeeds are planned days of extra calories – specifically carbs. These extra calories serve to stimulate specific hunger regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin, which can further give a short term boost to your metabolism.
In my own coaching practice I have used refeeds with good success when systematic calorie reduction isn’t working as expected.
I don’t start people off doing refeeds though. It’s a tool that we use down the road after we’ve worked our way through the process.
First we work on behavioral change and getting consistent with our eating across all situations. Many times that results in weight loss. If it doesn’t we move on to calorie counting, then manipulating fat/carbs/protein, and then finally to nutrient timing strategies like refeeds and carbohydrate timing…
Try Carbohydrate Timing
Energy balance and total calories are the main deciding factors when it comes to losing weight. However, our metabolism isn’t static.
That means the amount of calories we burn can be influenced by the type of exercise we do and the types of food we eat. That’s when manipulating macronutrients and when you eat them can be an effective strategy for getting you over your weight loss plateau.
Remember though, just like refeeds, carb timing is best saved for when (or if) needed once you exhaust the main strategies of behavioral change.
The idea is simple – by eating your carbs at certain times of the day when insulin sensitivity is higher you have a better chance of them being stored as muscle glycogen as opposed to body fat. This can influence the fat loss environment in your body.
Take a Diet Break
If you’ve been going at it for a while – say months, and your weight loss is coming to a stand still, it might be time to incorporate a short diet break.
All a diet break means is you increase your calories up to maintenance levels for a couple of weeks. This can give you a mental break as well as help restore some of the metabolic down-regulation that’s happened from months of living in a calorie deficit.
After those two weeks are up you simply drop back down into a deficit. Many times this results in a resumption of weight loss.
One small caution though – be careful during this diet break that you don’t overdo things. If you’ve been feeling restricted or frustrated with your lack of progress you might be tempted to throw caution to the wind and overeat.
The goal is to eat at maintenance calories, which means at the end of those two weeks you should weigh about the same as you did when you started your diet break.
The Obvious Strategies…
I didn’t want to finish this article without outlining some of the obvious weight loss plateau strategies. In reality, these should be tried first before any of the above ones. Here they are…
- Increase physical activity – now might be a good time to implement cardio as a tool to increase your energy deficit. Start with 1-2 days per week and see if a downtrend in your weight resumes.
- Reduce calories – most people get the adjustment process wrong and overly slash calories when they stall. It only takes a small 100 calorie reduction to get things moving again. Think small.
- Increase the ratio of whole foods to fun foods – by swapping out some of your fun foods for whole foods you provide a natural calorie restriction, as whole foods are more calorically sparse. I usually have people start out at 80/20 (whole foods / fun foods), but over time that whole food number will increase.
- Check on your recovery – there are times when less activity can be more. If you start veering into overtraining territory your metabolism can be negatively affected. Double check that your rest days are in place, sleep is optimized, and stress is in check.
I’m willing to bet that at least one of the strategies above will get you over your weight loss plateau. In my entire coaching career I’ve never had to go beyond what I’ve laid out in this article.
So focus on doing the big things right. Then adjust your program appropriately. When the obvious fails to work try implementing one of the ideas I laid out.