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How to overcome a weight loss plateau
BY AMANDA BERRY
March 20th 2019
Your weight loss has been going well, and you’re achieving results that you feel proud of. But all of a sudden, the pounds stop falling off. Have you hit the infamous weight loss plateau?
“Wait a second, does the weight loss plateau even exist?” we hear you ask.
It’s actually a question that the scientific community doesn’t have a definitive answer to yet. While the jury is out, though, it’s safe to say that the plateau is at least a recognised phenomenon. Here’s a quote from the UK’s National Health Service, to motivate people who have encountered one during their weight loss efforts:
“You’ve been eating healthier food and exercising but you’ve stopped losing weight? It could mean you’ve hit the dreaded ‘weight loss plateau’.”
“Don’t worry, it’s common” they add (1).
A study found that weight loss interventions “typically result in early weight loss followed by a weight plateau” – a body weight trajectory that was defined as “near-ubiquitous” (2).
The plateau has been documented through surgical (3) and non-surgical (1) weight loss efforts, and there is even evidence that the autonomic nervous system acts to oppose weight change (4), which could explain why the weight loss plateau phenomenon occurs at all.
If this is correct, it suggests the body deliberately tries to keep your weight within certain limits. Maybe that explains the weight loss plateau myth?
So in short, it’s not just you that’s affected! Other people hit the plateau, and there is plenty of help available for pushing through.
What does the weight loss plateau mean?
In theory, weight loss is much easier to achieve in the beginning especially when you are significantly overweight.
In time, however, as you lose weight, the rate of weight loss slows down, sometimes even stopping or reversing.
This happens because your body has grown accustomed to your new diet and exercise regime.
As a result, your metabolism is adapting to be able to burn fewer calories than before, while still meeting the same energy demands.
To visualise this, bring to mind the first time you did a press-up.
Remember how much harder that felt than when you could do ten press-ups in one go, a bit later into your training?
It’s because that first press-up burned more calories than each of the individual ten press-ups you did later. Your body was better able to deal with the physical effort.
Effective weight loss relies on maintaining a calorie deficit. This means having fewer calories than your body needs to perform its various functions. The calories you get from food, minus the calories you burn via exercise, should be lower than your body’s recommended daily amount for the duration of your weight loss efforts.
How Long Does A Weight Loss Plateau Last
A plateau usually occurs around six months into your weight loss (5), although this onset can vary.
Some sources state that it’s not a weight loss plateau until things have stalled for four weeks or more. Beyond that, there is no upper limit on how long a weight loss plateau can last.
If there is no underlying physiological reason for a weight loss plateau to occur, it follows that an insufficient calorific deficit is the cause. This means a plateau could last indefinitely if changes are not made to kick-start your weight loss efforts.
Breaking through a plateau
To push through, you need to adapt your weight loss efforts to reflect your new, lower metabolic rate. This means decreasing the number of calories going in, or increasing the number of calories being burned.
If you do reduce calorific intake, make sure you do so within safe and healthy limits.
And if you ramp up the intensity of your exercise regime, make sure you do so in a way that is compatible with your strengths.
Weight Loss Plateau Solutions
Remember there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Here are a few things that can help you bust through a plateau, and resume losing weight.
Our favorite hacks for reinvigorating weight loss:
Look at what you’ve achieved so far
Progress may have slowed, or stopped entirely, but remember it has still been made.
You’re doing well
Be kind to yourself, breathe, and don’t get disheartened.
Ramp up your training
Add some minutes, steps, or reps into your training, depending on the type of workout you enjoy. Healthy weight loss relies on a good diet and the right amount of exercise. So if things are stalling it may be time to ramp up your exercise routine a little bit.
Incorporating exercises that target different muscle groups can help, too. If a less-honed muscle has to work hard it will burn more calories than its toned cousin (remember what we said about press ups earlier). Bringing new exercises into your workout can make you work harder.
Count your calories
As we’ve said, weight loss relies on a calorific deficit. If you are ingesting too many calories, or not burning enough (or both), your weight loss will slow down.
It can be time consuming, but counting calories you consume can help you to understand whether your weight loss plateau is being caused by burning too little of the energy you are consuming.
A study found that weight loss plateau occurred when around 11% of initial weight had been lost, and that this led to “a significant increase in hunger and desire to eat” (6).
Resisting this urge is an important step in maintaining weight loss. Some weight loss supplements work by making you feel fuller after eating, which in turn helps you feel the need to eat less.
Another way to control your appetite is to fast intermittently: The 5:2 diet is perhaps the most well-known method. Here you eat normally on five days of the week, and eat reduced calories on the other two days. Your body still gets what it needs to be healthy, but overall fewer calories can help with your weight loss.
Using the right supplements to boost results
When combined with the right diet and the right amount of exercise, supplements can work through various mechanisms to provide that little extra boost to your weight loss efforts.
Some supplements nudge your metabolism upward, helping your body to burn fat more quickly. Others give you a little energy boost, to help you squeeze that bit more out of your workout. A couple help your body to feel more satisfied after eating, meaning you are less beholden to your appetite.
Lean Bean is a supplement containing a mixture of ingredients that cover all of the bases mentioned above. When taken alongside other weight loss efforts, you can expect boosted results.
Taken together, these tips should help you push through the weight loss plateau, and move back toward healthy and controlled weight loss.
If you’re looking to learn more about losing weight healthily, Human Window is a great resource offering free advice on how to improve both your physical and mental health.
- Nedeltcheva A et al. Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity (2010). Link.
- Taheri S et al. Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index (2004). Link.
- Chao A et al. Stress, cortisol, and other appetite-related hormones: Prospective prediction of 6-month changes in food cravings and weight (2017). Link.
- Tello M. Stress, Intermittent fasting: Surprising update (2018). Link.
- Gottesmann C. GABA mechanisms and sleep. (2002). Link.