Your diet has been going extremely well. Over the past few months, you have made important steps towards your weight loss goal. Then everything changes and your results come to a halt as you reach your first weight loss plateau.
What do you do next?
This is a common point of confusion for many. Should you eat more food, less food, do more cardio, change up your workouts or some combination?
The goal of this article is to provide tips to handle a weight loss plateau in order to break through them and continue progressing towards your weight loss goal.
1. Ensure you are tracking intake accurately
The first action most individuals take when a weight loss plateau occurs is to make drastic changes to their plan. However, prior to changing anything, it is important to confirm that you actually are eating the calories/macros you are targeting. If not, increasing consistency with your nutritional intake should be the first step prior to making adjustments to your plan.
2. Cross Checking Macro Entries
Additionally, many people currently track intake using a tracking app. Many of these apps allow individuals to input nutrition information for a food. As a result, some of these entries have errors and some may even have calories listed, but nothing listed for macronutrient content. Therefore, it is important to double check that what you are entering for the nutrition value of a food is accurate.
If you find that you have been consuming more calories than you thought, the first step is to accurately track intake prior to changing anything. In many cases, tightening up tracking accuracy will be enough to break your weight loss plateau. If it is not and all calories are accurately accounted for then you truly have hit a weight loss plateau and adjustments will be necessary.
3. Double check that you have hit a weight loss plateau
Prior to making any adjustments, it is important to check that you really have hit a weight loss plateau. At first glance, it may seem obvious. If you aren’t losing weight you have hit a weight loss plateau. However, there are a few other details to keep in mind such as how often you are weighing yourself, when you are weighing yourself, females where are you in your cycle? Have you consistently hit your nutrition targets and are you adding muscle?
4. Reduce calorie intake
You have ensured you are tracking accurately and your morning weight is not trending down on average. This means you have hit a weight loss plateau and adjustments will be needed in order to get your weight trending down again.
Since energy balance is the difference between the calories you eat and the calories you are expending, one easy way to create a negative energy balance is to reduce calorie intake. A calorie adjustment typically does not have to be extremely large to break through a weight loss plateau. Oftentimes, a reduction of 50 – 150 Calories daily may be enough to get loss moving again.
The maximum average weekly rate of loss to minimize muscle loss will depend upon an individual’s body composition:
- Overweight – Up to 1.5% of body weight weekly
- Average Body Composition – Up to 1.0% of body weight weekly
- Extremely Lean – Up to 0.5% of body weight weekly
5. Increase NEAT
Energy expenditure makes up the other side of the energy balance equation. However, energy expenditure is not as simple as energy intake.
An individual’s total daily energy expenditure is a combination of their basal metabolic rate (the energy required for basic bodily functions to stay alive), exercise activity, the thermic effect of food (roughly 10 percent of energy consumed is used to digest and absorb the food you eat) and non-exercise activity thermogenesis.
NEAT is all of the movement done outside of the gym. This includes voluntary movements such as those done at work or around the house and involuntary movements such as fidgeting. The amount of energy expended from NEAT can vary by up to 2000 Calories between individuals of a similar size due to differences in occupation and daily activity
6. Add formal cardio
In addition to increasing energy expenditure through activity outside the gym (NEAT), energy expenditure can also be increased through activity inside the gym. This is typically done by increasing the amount of cardio an individual is doing in the gym.
7. Take a break from dieting
You have hit a weight loss plateau and your goal is further weight loss, why would I be telling you to take a break from dieting? However, there are a few reasons for this.
For those who have been dieting for a while, you may have noticed that your motivation has taken a hit from the prolonged restraint and low energy intake. If this has gotten to the point where your reduced consistency is the primary reason you have hit a weight loss plateau, a break from dieting may be the answer to increasing consistency.
Many times, a break longer than a single day may be necessary in order to have the mental break necessary to increase consistency. In this case, an extended diet break may be the answer. During a diet break, calories are increased to around your current maintenance for a period of time (often times ranging from a week to a couple of months).
8. Don’t stress
When the first weight loss plateau occurs, a common reaction is to stress out about the lack of progress. However, if this stress is elevated to a certain point, it may start to affect progress.
Fitness should be something that enhances your life, not takes away from it. You have chosen to lose weight and nobody should be forcing you to do so. If you are stressing about progress to the point it is taking away from your quality of life it may be important to re-evaluate why you are losing weight in the first place.
Weight loss will not fix other issues going on in your life. This is highly stressed with any of our clients that get deeper into their caloric deficit.
If you are an unhappy person, having a 6 pack will only make you an unhappy person with a 6 pack. One thing that is important to ensure is that you are losing weight for the right reasons, not as an escape from other issues going on in your life. Those issues will still be there once you have lost the weight unless they are appropriately addressed.
Additionally, if you stress about the scale to the point it makes you dislike the process you are likely going to be less consistent. As mentioned many times previously throughout if you are not consistent you will not see as much progress.
Patience with the Process
Therefore, the key to long-term sustained progress is embracing the process and rolling with the punches rather than stressing about every little thing.
When a weight loss plateau occurs, stay calm, double check that your intake is tracked accurately and that you truly hit a weight loss plateau. If so, make adjustments to energy intake, formal cardio and your activity outside of the gym to achieve your target rate of loss once again.
Keep these adjustments to a place you can sustain and that isn’t incredibly stressful to do so, yet where you are seeing progress towards your goal as well. Ultimately, by taking things in stride you will not only stay more consistent and see more progress but also be a much a happier individual while doing so.