Darleen Barnard is Certified Health Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who specializes in weight loss by using the power of the mind.
10 Ways to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau
The dreaded plateau! We all know the frustration that we feel when we are trying to lose weight, but the scale just won't budge! How many times have you found yourself in this situation? You make sacrifices all week. You don’t have a piece of cake at your niece’s birthday party. You order a salad instead of what you really want when you go out to dinner. You did everything you could to stay on track. Weigh-in day comes around and you step on the scale and tell yourself, this is why I made those sacrifices! In 3 seconds all those sacrifices will be worth it! But then you step on the scale and to your horror, you find that the number hasn’t gone down—in fact, it has gone up!! Plateaus are where a lot of people decide to give up. We tell ourselves, “Forget it. I did everything I was supposed to do and it was all for nothing. Why deprive myself if there is no reward?” So how do you break through a weight loss plateau?
Is it Really a Plateau?
The first thing we need to do is to determine if we have really hit a plateau. Just because the scale isn't moving, doesn't mean we aren't losing body fat. Remember, pounds (or kilograms) is only ONE way to measure progress, and many would argue that it really isn't the best measure anyway. Many people use the scale as a weight-loss indicator because it is quick and easy and has little room for error. Using a measuring tape or calipers to measure body fat can be inconsistent if not done correctly.
Just because you are not losing pounds (or kilograms), doesn't mean your body composition isn't changing. As you burn fat and build muscle, you will lose inches and your clothes will become looser, which is the usually the goal for most people anyway.
As muscle building tapers, which it will eventually, the scale will start moving again as long as you continue to burn fat. Therefore, make sure you are using other objective metrics to measure your progress, such as calipers and a measuring tape by a trained professional.
You may also wish to purchase a "smart scale". Most retailers, including Amazon, have dozens of different smart scales to choose from. "Smart" scales will measure body fat as a percentage of lean mass using bioelectrical impedance. This will help you recognize progress even if you are not losing weight. Most "smart" scales will provide data on metrics such as BMI, body fat, muscle mass, water weight, and bone mass and even have bluetooth capability to save your data to an app. These scales have come down significantly in price making it more affordable to monitor your progress.
Buy a Smart Scale Now
And remember – one of the best ways to measure your progress is how you FEEL!! I know you really want to break through a weight loss plateau and it's easy to use quantitative measures (like pounds/kg, inches, and percentages)! However, how we feel is probably one of the main reasons you are losing weight anyway! Don't understate the importance of not being as tired, reduced back pain, better mood, and more energy!! Raise your awareness of how you feel emotionally and physically and don't let the numbers on the scale make you feel like you are not making progress!
Strategies to Break Through the Plateau
Still, we want the scale to move and we really really REALLY want to break through a weight loss plateau. I get it. So now that we better understand some of the physiologic reasons the scale refuses to move, let’s figure out what we can do to better prepare for next week.
1. First, remember that simple changes tend to be most effective to overcome a plateau. Consider reducing portion sizes of foods you commonly eat. Incorporate small bursts of energy throughout the day - take a short walk during your break at work, dance while you vacuum, take the stairs, stand or pace during commercials, etc. Spend less time sitting and more time standing. Stand whenever and where ever you can. Even standing still burns more calories than sitting!
2. Re-assess daily calorie needs. As you get "smaller", your body will require less energy. Use a calorie calculator and see how many calories you need to maintain your current weight. How many did you need when you first started your weight-loss journey? How much has that number changed and have you made the appropriate adjustments? If you are not doing enough resistance training or are losing weight too quickly and are losing muscle, this will also cause your daily calorie needs to decrease. Do everything you can NOT to lose that muscle! This means no crash diets and you need to exercise! This will keep your metabolism high.
3. Use heart rate monitors and pedometers or activity watches to monitor activity. Aim to increase your steps every day - even small increases such as an extra 10 steps per day will really add up over 1 month!! Aim to elevate your heart rate throughout the day by walking and taking the stairs. You don't want to see a flat line on your chart at the end of the day - it should have lots of peaks throughout the day!!
4. Track everything you eat using an app, such as myfitnesspal. Log everything - even that Hershey kiss that you popped in your mouth as you were walking by your co-workers desk! This will hopefully show that you are doing everything that you thought you were - or it may show that you are eating more than you thought you were. Again, raising your awareness and making the unconscious mindless snacking conscious, will help you to break through that plateau.
5. Increase water consumption. Water helps our liver function correctly. Since our liver is what breaks down fat, we want to make sure our liver has all of the tools it needs to do its job!! Drink that water! Water will also help you feel fuller. Sometimes we feel hungry when we are dehydrated and we don't really need food - we need water. You can also drink a glass of water right before a meal to help you feel full faster and you will eat less. Or try this really fun way to drink more!
6. If you have been exercising consistently for 10-12 months, go ahead and take 1 week off (But only ONE week!). If your body has adapted to your new exercise routine, allowing your body to "decondition" a little, may give you a kick-start when you start up again. But again, don't take off more than ONE week. You don't want to lose all of the gains you have been working so hard to achieve!
7. Change your exercise routine. Increase the intensity or the length of your workout. Consider taking a new class at the gym. Increase your weights if you have been at the same weight for a while. Try interval training. An example of this might be to add a few short sprints into your walk. Sign up for a home fitness program that you can do in the convenience of your own home. Even a quick 10 minute workout at home can get your weight loss moving again!
8. Increase social support. Make your friends and family members aware of your goals. Ask them to encourage you to make healthier choices when you go out to eat. Ask them to go for a walk with you. Ask your spouse to make dinner so you have time to go to the gym after work. Consider hiring an online coach for support and accountability. Social support can make all of the difference to help motivate you and hold yourself accountable.
9. Find a walking or hiking or biking group (or ANY group that does something physical that you enjoy). Meetup.com is a great resource for finding others in your community with similar interests as you. Join them this Saturday morning!
10. Re-assess your short-term and long-term goals. If you need help setting goals, review this article on goal setting. Many of my clients feel they have "failed" when they have to change their goals. This is why I always stress during the goal setting process that we WILL be modifying goals. It's not a question of "if", but a question of "when". Life happens, we get sick, we have to work a lot of extra overtime, we get injured, it's the holidays, etc. and of course, we hit plateaus. If you are truly doing everything you can and your body has just become super- efficient at using energy, don't become frustrated because you didn't meet your goal. Just adjust the goal and move on!!
At the end of the day, don’t let the numbers on the scale make you give up and quit because that is when we fail.
Failure doesn’t happen when we don’t lose weight, failure happens when we give up.
Don’t give up!! Use the above information to determine if a plateau has really happened and if it has, use one or more of the 10 strategies to break through that plateau and hit your goal!
In good health!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Darleen Barnard