In this article, we’ll provide tips to fix and prevent that stubborn weight plateau.
We’ll share lifestyle, mindset, nutrition, and fitness solutions to hit your weight loss plateau from all angles, and break it once and for all.
Hitting a weight loss plateau after weeks on a fitness routine or diet is incredibly frustrating.
No matter what you do, things feel like they’re not changing. Did you stop increasing weights? Or can’t lose those last 5 pounds?
So first, if you’ve hit a plateau… congratulations! Seriously, we mean it! You’re working towards your goals, so don’t get disillusioned. The weight plateau is a natural — and even healthy — part of the process.
Don’t worry, though, there are ways to break through and get that scale moving again.
Weight Plateau Definition
According to the Mayo Clinic, this what weight plateau means:
“When the calories you burn equal the calories you eat, you reach a plateau. To lose more weight, you need to either increase your physical activity or decrease the calories you eat.”
Does that help? Personally, we think the whole “eat less, move more” mentality is way too vague.
A weight plateau is when you stop progressing for one of the following reasons. In our experience, this is why a weight loss plateau happens.
- Improper weight and progress tracking
- Unrealistic expectations about weight loss or gain
- A bad plan that won’t bring results long term
- A good plan that’s missing a key weight loss or gain ingredient
We’ll discuss each of these in detail shortly.
How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau
To fix a weight plateau and prevent them going forward, it’s time to change your “eat less, move more” mentality. Instead, adopt one of curiosity and continuous improvement. Here are some examples.
Example 1: “Why did I hit a weight loss plateau while intermittent fasting?”
Opportunity: Did you already reap the benefits of fasting and now you need to focus on building strength and endurance? Or, do you need to start cooking at home and eating out less?
Example 2: “Why did I hit a weight plateau after doing Weight Watchers for 3 weeks?”
Opportunity: Did your body lose weight too fast and now is depleted and imbalanced? Do you need to start tracking your calories better to make sure you’re not eating too much or too little?
Example 3: “Why was I doing so well only to hit a weight plateau for a month or even months?”
Opportunity: That is a tough one and we’ll dig a bit deeper in this article. With our tips and your new continuous improvement mindset, you will break your weight plateau.
But really, you need to take ownership and embrace continuous improvement, because a weight loss plateau will not go away on its own. Weight loss is never a linear path, but staying on a plateau for too long can derail your motivation and progress.
Here are our top tips to improve your lifestyle, mindset, nutrition, and fitness to correct and prevent a weight plateau.
Lifestyle and Mindset Weight Plateau Tips
Weight plateaus are a direct result of several lifestyle factors. Basics like drinking enough water and getting enough sleep all work to support your weight loss goals.
Here’s how you can further optimize your weight loss plan to overcome that dreaded weight plateau.
1. Use More Numbers Than Just the Scale
Has the number on the scale remained the same for a few weeks? While frustrating, it may not mean you haven’t progressed with your goals.
The problem with only evaluating the number of the scale is that it doesn’t differentiate between fat loss and muscle gain. Plus, for women specifically, water weight changes dramatically during that time of the month. All in all, we need to gather more data.
We recommend downloading our free PDF Body Measurement Chart to track the inches or centimeters you lose around your waist, thighs, arms, and more.
Also, while it may be uncomfortable, take progress photos at least every quarter. No one ever has to see them, but keep them for reference to check your progress.
This was critical during Alex’s transformation story, where photos revealed that she carried excess weight on her shoulders and back!
In our article, ‘How to Measure for Weight Loss,’ we share the best metrics to track. We’ll teach you how to measure fat loss and weight loss, and recommend the most accurate tools.
While the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story, as long as you’re feeling good and healthy, and showing progress in other areas, you’re on the right path.
2. Reset Expectations
We know you want to lose that weight as fast as possible. But in our experience, how much weight you should be losing per week depends on your final weight goal.
As we share in our article, ‘How to Lose 20 Pounds,’ losing weight slowly is very healthy and sustainable. It gives your body time to adapt and for your hormones — mainly leptin and ghrelin — time to adjust.
Aim to lose 4% or so per week. That means if you have 100 lbs. to lose, losing 4 lbs. a week is a win. If you have 15 lbs. to lose, around 0.6 lbs. per week is a good pace.
Taking your time to lose weight is not a bad thing at all. Those last 10 lbs. may take you just as long as your first 20 lbs., but know that you’re on the right path.
3. Add More Mindless Movement
Mindless movement, or mindless exercises, is a phrase coined by The Blue Zones, an organization that studies the healthiest and longest-living populations in the world.
One common characteristic for the places that have high numbers of healthy centenarians is that they all move, all day long.
Whether it is strolling (100 calories), vacuuming (120 calories), or raking leaves (400 calories), their day incorporates a lot more movement than most of ours.
Given that a recent study published in the journal, The Obesity Society, found that adult dieters who lost 30 pounds and maintained or continued to lose weight tracked 12,000 steps per day, it’s a good time to start walking.
Overweight adults only tracked 6,500 steps.
Adding a few more movements throughout the day could have you burning 300 or more calories extra. In a matter of 12 days, that’s an extra pound of weight lost right there, keeping your weight plateau at bay.
Can you walk to work? Or the grocery store? Since you have weight loss goals, view our ‘Walking to Lose Weight Chart‘ to set your weekly mileage target.
4. Bring in the Ringer – a Workout Buddy
Our favorite way to prevent weight plateau is by working out together!
Ryan and I both have days when we’re not feeling it, so it’s the responsibility of the other person to push through and motivate the other. Don’t underestimate the power of a workout buddy, especially when it’s your partner.
The benefits of working out with your spouse, for example, include enhancing your bond, boosting attraction, and giving you that much-needed quality time together.
Studies have also found that working out with your partner also makes you nearly 3 times as likely to work out!
Ready to get started? Try our Couples Yoga Poses or Couples Workout Routine or Couples Yoga Flow Routine for a fun way to get healthy and bond with your partner.
Nutrition Weight Plateau Tips
Most often, a weight loss plateau is due to improper nutrition. So before we dive into ways to break your weight loss plateau with better fitness, how is your diet?
As you start losing weight, your metabolism slows down. Your body has recognized that there are fewer fat stores to call upon in “times of need” and therefore burns fewer calories.
This is the double-edged sword of weight loss and the big reason why we never subscribe to restrictive fad diets or “overnight” weight loss. It is the same reason why dieters yo-yo and bounce back to above their original weights.
Here are a few simple nutrition tips to add to your to-do list to overcome a weight plateau.
5. You May Need to Eat MORE Calories
To break a weight loss plateau, you often need to increase your caloric intake or eat more healthy carbs to match the intensity of your workouts and build muscle.
Our favorite analogy for this is that you would never underwater a flower to make it grow strong and healthy, so don’t underwater yourself.
Believe it or not, to lose weight sustainably and healthily, you need to eat enough food.
Often when people first start on a diet, whether it’s keto, juicing, or some sort of other calorie restriction, people lose weight fast. And a lot of weight.
While this feels (and looks) amazing at first, it can mess with your hormones, creating an uphill battle later on as your metabolism slows.
Need help calculating how many calories you should be eating? There are many free resources online, and we also share the calculation in our article, 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge.
Generally, adult women should never consume less than 1,200 calories a day and men less than 1,600 calories. This is a hard and fast rule, regardless of how petite you are or how many pounds you’re trying to lose.
6. Focus on the Good Calories
While this goes without saying, no matter what diet and nutrition strategy you’re using, make sure to focus on eating high-quality, good calories.
Here are a few easy recommendations to follow:
Eat high-fiber foods.
A randomized 2018 study concluded that adult dieters who consumed 30 grams of fiber per day lost 5 pounds without making other lifestyle changes. The problem is, 97% of Americans are deficient in fiber.
Quit drinking calories.
Stick to water, coffee, and tea. Soda and energy drinks have calories and chemicals that cause your weight loss plateau. In China, Coca-Cola is called “liquid obesity.” Here’s why you should quit and how.
Eat real food.
You know, that food your great-great-great-grandparents would recognize, such as vegetables, beans, grains, eggs and potatoes!
Healthy doesn’t mean bland.
Load up on these zero calorie foods to zest up your meals.
We also made an Ultimate Healthy Foods Guide that you can use to bring more of the highest quality foods into your life.
Fitness Weight Plateau Tips
Many folks are using fitness as their main method for weight loss, or for some, weight gain. Whichever way you need the scale to move, here are suggestions to defeat the weight plateau through fitness.
7. Add Variety to Your Workouts
Hitting a fitness plateau will influence your weight loss. It happens when your body becomes accustomed to a routine. Your body starts to work more efficiently (aka burn fewer calories) when it anticipates the same routine.
We’re all creatures of habit, so adding variety is key. The variety can be subtle, like mixing up the number of reps and weights, changing the speed, or trying out HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts instead of the exercise bike.
8. Experiment to Find Your Most Effective Workout
Everybody and every body is different and responds to workouts differently.
Recently, we ran an experiment to find the best cardio workout.
Ryan burned 45% more calories doing a cardio HIIT workout over the treadmill. Alex burned only 15% more calories doing the HIIT workout over the treadmill.
Regardless, we both found that HIIT workouts can be 60-90% more effective for calorie burn than slower-paced cardio workouts.
While this data is specific to our bodies, it is generally accepted that adding muscle to your frame increases your metabolism and helps burn off body fat.
So, we urge you to run your own experiment to see which workouts are truly moving the needle. Who knows, maybe you can use those same 45-minutes at the gym burning to double your calorie burn!
Hint: usually the most effective workout is one that you’re uncomfortable in. So if you’re loving barre, for example, it’s probably time to move onto something else to fulfill your weight loss goals.
9. Follow a Workout Plan
Having a schedule for your workouts is critical. Seriously, critical. A good calendar could prevent your weight plateau in the first place.
Useful calendars compensate for weight plateaus by incorporating appropriate rest days, ramping up intensity periodically, and including variety. We talk about this in-depth in our article titled ‘How to Get Fit as a Couple.’
With our current workout, Insanity Max:30 through Beachbody On Demand, not only do we follow four different workouts over six days a week, the calendar changes every two weeks to ramp up the intensity. More often than not, we feel the plateau only once we fall off!
Looking for a free workout to get started on? Our Resistance Bands Workout Routine is an effective and simple way to start gaining muscle mass.
10. Introduce Periodization
While good calendars offer variety, the best offer periodization.
Defined as the “long-term cyclic structuring of training and practice to maximize performance,” periodization is a design strategy for strength-training workouts.
Periodized workouts account for variables such as tempo, number of repetitions, amount of resistance, the order of moves, and types of exercises.
Through this, periodized workouts make slow, step-by-step changes for gradual progression.
An often-cited study by Bell State University shows that sports performance in both body fat percentage and lean muscle gains more than doubled with periodized workouts vs. non-periodized workouts in women.
For Ryan and I, we noticed this effect most greatly when working out to Body Beast before our wedding.
The workouts were much more effective when watching the program with trainer, Sagi Kalev, than when we simply printed out the worksheets to follow along on our own. The difference was noticeable!
11. Diagnose Overtraining
Often mistaken as a plateau, overtraining is when you’re over-stressing your body. Signs include reduced energy, muscle and joint pain, headaches, or frequently catching a cold.
Prevent overtraining by getting inadequate rest days, quality sleep, rolling out/massaging your muscles, and eating enough carbohydrates.
Yes, carbs! Although vilified today, we need carbohydrates for muscle recovery. If absent from a diet, your body will go into muscle catabolism – meaning your muscles become energy instead of your fat!
A tell-tale sign of this is if you’re losing more than 2 lbs. of weight weekly. If so, you’re losing too fast.
Weight Plateau FAQs
Will a weight loss plateau go away on its own?
If nothing changes, nothing changes.
Whether you hit a Weight Watchers plateau after 3 weeks or have been at a weight plateau for a month or even months, this rings true.
The same true for both a weight gain plateau or a lose weight plateau. Any weight plateau will not go away on its own.
Think of it as your body telling you it’s comfortable or missing something critical. You need to follow our strategies to get your body out of its comfort zone or give it what it wants.
A weight plateau is an opportunity to slow down to go fast. That’s how you should treat a weight plateau.
How do you know you’ve hit a plateau?
The only way to really know is if you’re tracking your body measurements, using the scale regularly, and also tracking your workouts (reps and weight should be increasing).
This is most helpful because the scale is not a good indicator that you have hit a weight plateau.
When people ask us how to fix their plateau, we always ask “What is a plateau in weight loss?”
If they say the scale hasn’t budged in two weeks, we don’t consider that a plateau.
However, if they have been following their plan to a “T” for over a month and they aren’t tracking progress, then that’s a good indicator that they’ve hit a plateau.
When does a weight loss plateau happen?
Good question. They happen often. You’re definitely not alone.
If you lose weight suddenly (more than 2 pounds a week), a weight loss plateau can happen after 2 weeks or after a month.
If you’re hitting a weight loss plateau because you’re following a low-calorie diet, some science shows that plateau happens after 6 months.
How many weeks is considered a weight loss plateau?
We are all unique, but if it’s been four weeks it’s time to start investigating your weight plateau.
How long does a weight plateau last?
A lot of people try to answer this online, but I have no idea what data they are going off of.
Based on our experience, a 6-8 week weight plateau is common, but it’s really up to you.
When does a weightlifting or weight gain plateau happen?
These can happen anytime for several reasons. It could be a lack of variety, periodization, or a structured plan that ensures progress.
It could also be overtraining, undereating, or simply not tracking progress correctly. However, if you’re hitting a weight loss plateau while bodybuilding (cutting), your diet needs attention.
It’s most common for a weightlifting plateau to happen within 1.5 to 3 months.
Is a weight loss plateau good?
We think they should be celebrated, yes. It means you’re on the right path.
A weight plateau is just a time to stop, switch things up, and optimize your plan. With a good attitude and a problem-solving mindset and you’ll get that momentum back soon.
How do you speed up weight loss?
The rate of weight loss depends on a ton of variables. For best results, you need to self-experiment with these variables and figure out which ones your body responds to.
In our article titled, “How to Lose 20 Pounds,” we show you a chart that predicts how long it will take as well as our top tips to speed up the weight loss.
If you’re confused about why you can’t lose weight when you exercise and eat right, read the above article.
What is weight plateau set point?
The weight plateau set point is a relatively new theory suggesting that your body naturally maintains a comfortable weight.
If you plateau at the same weight over and over again, you may have reached your set point. If you lose weight from there, it’s difficult to prevent regaining weight.
We think this is an accurate theory, but only if your weight plateau set point is close to your healthy weight.
Can a cheat day break a plateau?
Some studies and experts suggest that this is true, but there is only one way to find out. Give it a try.
Just keep in mind that a cheat day means your diet during the week is already 80% perfect.
Closing Thoughts On Weight Plateau
We hope our tips to fix and prevent a weight loss plateau will help you adjust and reach your goals.
As you know, there is more to weight loss than just food and fitness, such as counting calories, eating fiber, getting quality sleep, and drinking enough water to name a few.
Since you’re motivated to break your weight loss plateau, you should check out our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge.
As engineers with a combined twelve years of health coaching experience, we needed to create a data-driven way for our clients to sustainably lose weight in 30 days.
The goal of our 30-day weight loss plan (now completed by several thousand people) is to strip away the fluff and track numbers related to weight loss for one month.
You have never tried our 5 numbers approach before. And it’s going to work!
For questions regarding a weight plateau, please ask in the comments. Otherwise, for more helpful weight loss articles, such as our zero calorie foods list, or our walking to lose weight plan, head over to our Weight Loss page.
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The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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