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How to Get Past a Weight Loss Plateau

Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN

Published in Weight Loss

10 min read

January 27, 2023
a woman's feet standing on top of a scale
a woman's feet standing on top of a scale

Experiencing a weight loss plateau is a challenge almost everyone on a weight loss journey has faced. This type of plateau occurs when your body weight, or body fat percentage, won’t budge despite you doing all the “right things.”

You’ve been working out, eating right, and, over time, have been seeing some positive results. Then, all of a sudden, your body seems to hit a wall it can’t break through.

That’s what a weight loss plateau feels like. And it’s frustrating to say the least. You’re not alone in this frustration, but resolving the weight plateau is definitely doable.

Read on to learn about some common reasons weight plateaus happen and nine tips to overcome them with expert advice from our dietitians. 

What is a Weight Loss Plateau & Why Does it Happen?

A weight loss plateau is a fancy way to describe the point in time where your weight loss becomes stagnant. In our recent article on weight loss, we discussed some of the factors that might be stopping you from losing weight.

In order to understand why your weight loss efforts may no longer be working well for you, it’s first important to understand how weight loss works. On the most basic level, we’ve been told that the number of calories you burn needs to be higher than the number of calories you consume. 

While this is true to some extent, it’s also true that over-restricting calories can result in weight plateaus or even weight gain for some people as well. If you’ve been tracking calories and decreasing them significantly as part of your weight loss journey, it might be time to consider some other variables at play.

a woman sitting on the floor next to a scale

You can hit a weight loss plateau for a variety of reasons, and anyone who has tried following a weight loss program will know that this can be very frustrating. One theory for why these plateaus occur is called the set point theory.

This theory suggests that your body will try to maintain homeostasis, or balance, by bringing itself back to a certain “set” weight through shifting hormones and other functions to compensate for other changes you make in diet or exercise.

However, some have criticized the set-point theory for failing to appreciate more complex relationships between our environment and genes. A few researchers have suggested alternate explanations


Why Does Weight Loss Seem Easier At The Beginning?

Weight loss is not a linear journey, and you may experience ups and downs along the way. It can be difficult to stay consistent with your progress as different life events come up or if you feel burnt out along the way.

You may have more motivation to stick to your weight loss plan in the beginning, which may lead to quicker initial results. Getting someone to hold you accountable, whether it be your partner, a coach, or a dietitian can make it easier to stay on track.

It’s important to remember that a healthy weight loss plan does not include extreme calorie deficits or overexercising. Engaging in these types of practices may even contribute towards a weight loss plateau.

For example, undereating can cause your BMR to go down, which can slow your metabolic rate and make weight loss more difficult. 

9 Tips for Overcoming a Weight Loss Plateau

a graphic of tips for getting over a weight loss plateau

Now that we’ve discussed why weight loss plateaus can happen, let’s explore some of the strategies that can be helpful for pushing past the slump.

Here are nine dietitian-recommended weight loss tips to help you move forward in your weight loss journey. 

1) Reevaluate Your Exercise Habits

If you’ve been eating the same thing on repeat or have been doing the same workouts for several months, it may be time to reevaluate these habits. 

Here’s what Nutrisense dietitian Amanda Donahue, CD, RDN has to say about how reevaluating your workout routine or diet can help here. She shares:

“Weight loss plateaus are tough (and super frustrating to say the least!). Oftentimes, a plateau means your body has adjusted to your current regimen and requires a change. Changing up your physical activity regimen or trying a new form of exercise could be helpful!”Amanda Donahue, CD, RDN

If you've been doing a lot of cardio, try changing up your exercise routine with some strength training that targets every muscle group. You may also consider trying HIIT or HIRT workouts (if it's safe for you to do so).

This can help pump up the intensity and get your heart rate up. It’s also important to make sure you aren’t over-exercising, as mentioned above. 

2) Take a Closer Look at Calorie Balance

someone holding a fast food hamburger with fries

Consuming either too many or too few calories for your body’s needs can undermine your weight loss goals. Is your daily calorie target a healthy target? Both overestimating and underestimating your needs can be a common pitfall.  

Underestimating portion sizes happens to many people. Lucky, one of our dietitians, Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN, is here to break down why this happens. 

“If you have reached a weight loss plateau, you may want to consider tracking your food/beverage intake during a period of time. This can help you get a more clear assessment of where your total calorie and macronutrient intake is at. Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN

It’s easy to overlook things like creamers in coffee and alcohol and forget that these have calories and can add up over time. Marie recommends logging what you eat and drink for at least a week. 

Discussing your meal plan with a registered dietitian can help you determine which direction to take it from there. Plus, there are some handy weight loss apps that make it easy to track your intake.

3) Meet Your Protein Needs

two bowls with shrimp and veggies

Protein is a key component of your meals whether you’re trying to lose weight, balance blood sugar, support hormone health, or other essential areas of metabolic health. When it comes to weight loss, meeting your protein needs is crucial.

Muscles burn more fat at rest than other tissues types in your body. To build muscle, your body will need adequate amounts of essential amino acids from your diet. 

The amount of protein you need can vary depending on factors like:

  • Body weight
  • Height
  • Sex
  • Weight loss goals
  • Physical activity levels
  • Other medical conditions

Research suggests that 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight can be a good starting place for adults who are physically active or want to build muscle and strength. 

Our dietitian Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN adds:

 “I always encourage people to make sure they're meeting their protein needs, getting enough essential fatty acids, and consuming adequate micronutrients from whole foods first. Whole foods are key!” – Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Complete protein sources such as pasture-raised poultry and eggs, wild caught seafood, tofu, tempeh, and minimally processed red meats are great options to start with.

4) Consider Consulting a Dietitian

Working with a registered dietitian or nutritionist can be very helpful if you want to take the guesswork out of losing weight.

A dietitian can help you spot gaps in your approach and put together a customized meal plan with the right macronutrient ratios broken down for you. They can also make sure that your dietary habits align with other health goals you may have and that everything is tailored to your unique body.    

5) Reduce or Eliminate Alcohol Consumption

a man drinking a beer

There’s a strong association between alcohol consumption and obesity. This is in part because alcohol contains empty calories that can add to your total calorie intake without providing any nutritional value. 

But it’s not just calories that alcohol may impact. Alcohol may have negative effects on glucose balance, insulin sensitivity, and even influence how your body processes other foods and regulates hormone levels. 

Alcohol consumption can actually be a stressor on your body. Higher stress levels are associated with higher levels of obesity.

Alcohol can also negatively affect GI tract motility, absorption, and permeability, which can increase stress levels. The CDC recommends limiting alcohol consumption to two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women. However, depending on individual response, some people may do well with less. 

6) Don’t Fall For Crash Diets

There are lots of popular diets out there that claim to support weight loss: keto, intermittent fasting, Atkins, and even the carnivore diet. Some of these diets may provide certain health benefits and help you consume fewer calories to reach your calorie deficit.

However, as Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN reminds us:

Severe calorie restriction can provide some short-term weight loss, but it may be harmful in the long run. Healthy weight loss takes time, so don’t make drastic reductions to overall calorie intake.”Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN

Nutrition plays a big role in a weight loss journey, so finding a sustainable eating plan and creating healthy habits is important. Talk to a dietitian or nutritionist about your current eating habits or diet for further guidance.

7) Consider Glucose Balance 

After you eat, your body produces insulin, a hormone that helps your body convert glucose or sugar in your blood into energy. 

If your sugar intake is higher for an extended period, your body may begin to convert that excess into stored fat. Over time, this pattern may also increase your risk for insulin resistance, obesity, and diseases like type 2 diabetes.

 Understanding your glucose levels can help you identify what aspects of your diet and lifestyle may be contributing to imbalances and help you make healthier choices. 

8) Don’t Forget About Stress

Higher chronic stress levels have been linked to higher risk of many chronic conditions, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, immune impairment, gastrointestinal issues, migraines, asthma, and others. 

Don’t forget that stress isn’t just about the social or so-called emotional stress factors in your life, but also can include other areas listed above such as:

  • Nutrient imbalances (including overeating or over-restriction)
  • Over-exercising or under-exercising
  • Alcohol

When your body is under higher amounts of chronic stress, many metabolic changes take place that can sabotage your health and weight loss goals over time. Perhaps you even notice that when you feel more stress, you are more likely to alter your eating habits. 

If this sounds familiar, check out our article on stress-eating to learn more about ways you can tackle the triggers with success. 

9) The Scale Reading Doesn’t Always Reflect Progress

a girl in workout clothes sitting next to a scale

Although it can be nice to check your weight from time to time, it’s important to remember that the scale doesn’t always reflect the full picture of your progress. This is especially true if you’ve been focusing on building muscle and fat burning at the same time. 

If you are working on altering your body composition, your weight may look the same when you step on the scale. However, you may be improving your fitness, strength, lean muscle mass, and other important areas of well-being. Maybe you even notice your energy, sleep, or mood is improving. These are all ways to gauge your metabolic health and success from a broader view. 

Try shifting your mindset away from the number of on scale to what will help you become more physically strong and feel better. This can also help you develop a healthier relationship with food and exercise

Aim to focus less on things like how many carbohydrates you ate today or how many miles you ran. Instead, focus on being consistent in your routine, and eating a nutritious, high-protein and high-fiber diet with lots of whole fruits and veggies.

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Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewed by: Heather Davis, MS, RDN, LDN

Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.

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