How To Break a Weight Loss Plateau – Without Starving Yourself

I’ve been there and I know you have too.

You tried your best. You lost weight. You gave it everything and it hurt.

And then it all stopped.

You still went out there and exercised harder. You watched everything you ate.

Nothing happened.

The Plateau

The human body is incredibly adaptive, and will do its level best to maintain equilibrium (homeostasis).

The plateauing effect is the biggest motivation-killer there is.

Unfortunately many popular diet books are strangely quiet on the issue — weight loss plateaus don’t make good testimonials.

Yet they happen to most people.

What You Must Do Now

The best single word of advice is to make a change.

Change something. Anything. Do it now.

Don’t make the mistake of doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result (Ben Franklin’s definition of insanity).

What changes can you make?

1. Alter Macro-nutrient Intake: Flexible Dieting

squirrel_peanuts

Although it sounds complicated, once again, the idea is to change what you are eating.

If (for example) you are eating a moderate diet that is higher in carbohydrates – try eating less carbs and more protein. There is no need to get super-technical over the whole thing.

If you have a carbohydrate snack every day at morning tea time – change it to a protein snack.

This is known as flexible dieting or If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM), which tracks macros instead of just calories. People like it because it isn’t restrictive and encourages people to eat according to what their body needs instead of just a generic calorie amount such as 1200 or 1500.

Eating too little can actually stall your weight loss.

Some examples:

  • Instead of eating a fruit snack, eat a handful of nuts.
  • If your diet is heavily bread-based, try reducing this and increasing the protein (say a tin of tuna, or chicken.)
  • Don’t be afraid to eat fat, low-fat diets do not work.

flexible dieting bookPlease see our comprehensive guide to flexible dieting.

It contains everything you need to know and do to be successful.

This only works if you have some idea of what you are eating, so your first step might be to track this (use an app like MyFitnessPal or MyNetDiary).

Whatever you are doing consistently – try mixing it up a bit. However if you want to get technical, use our macronutrient weight loss calculator here.

2. Zig-Zag Calorie Intake

frukt

Zig-zagging, or calorie cycling is the process of varying daily calorie intake, while maintaining the same weekly intake.

Instead of consuming (for example) precisely 1800 calories each day – you can mix it up.

Eat 1500 calories one day, and 2100 calories the next. This can be as simple as halving then doubling a portion size, or adding a post-workout shake into the plan.

Here’s something a little more technical, from the Zig-zag calculator.

If your daily calories for fat loss is 1860, a weekly zig-zag would look like this:

Daily Calories
Monday 1861
Tuesday 1489
Wednesday 2233
Thursday 1861
Friday 1675
Saturday 2047
Sunday 1861

3. Strength Training

barbells

Many people follow a basic and fairly repetitive routine of walking. This is a great start, but it’s time to add some resistance into the mix.

If you are not doing this as part of your program or lifestyle, then it’s time to start.

Working your muscles will help to strengthen bone tissue, increase lean mass, and ultimately boost metabolic rate.

Many people have increased success with HIIT training.

There are so many things you can do:

4. Change Your Exercise Routine

runner-bw

Flowing on from the previous point: You must change something in your exercise routine.

If you walk a lot, then try jogging, or swimming, or cycling — anything that will change the way your body is working.

If you are doing low intensity cardio work, then try some high intensity (short duration) exercise.

For example: instead of your normal slow jog – run as fast as you can for 30 seconds then walk for 30 seconds. Do this 4 times in the middle of your jog.

Need More Exercise Ideas?

  • Try an Exercise DVD
    Some of us happen to like dancing around the room knocking over coffee tables and other assorted future.
  • Gym Class
    Yoga, Pilates, or Zumba to name a few.
  • HIIT
    High Intensity Interval Training
  • Social sports
    Join a Volleyball team.
  • Meet your friend for a walk
    Instead of meeting for coffee.
  • Go hiking.
  • Yoga
    Maybe it’ll help you to relax.
  • Get a cool bicycle
    And don’t leave it in the garage gathering dust.
  • Got Kids? Get on the playground with them instead of sitting on the side.
  • Video Games with Movement
    Get a Nintendo Wii (or even Xbox with Kinect) and get some good fitness games. Just don’t do the tennis or you’ll end up with tendonitis.
  • Prancercise
    I’m kidding.

Okay Mr and Mrs Hardcore, these activities probably won’t cut it for you. Especially if you are already quite the fitness fanatic.

The issue here is that you MUST change what you are doing. Keep your body guessing. Notice how quickly you can adapt to a certain exercise.

I used to bicycle a lot, but I’m a lousy swimmer, panting after an embarrassingly small amount of lengths. My body is efficient at one but appalling at the other.

5. Change Meal Frequency

2ndbreakfast

This is contentious.

It’s a been a technique for body builders: they eat 5+ meals per day. They claim the thermic effect of eating helps to burn fat. There is energy expenditure involved in the body processing food (particularly protein).

Some claim this is myth, yet there is research showing that the Thermic Affect of Food (TEF) is very real. A recent study of gastric bypass patients showed enhanced TEF after surgery.

Gastric bypass patients can only eat small amounts at a time (leading them to a pattern of little and often)

What You Can Do

  • If you are eating three square meals a day – start adding snacks in between (which may mean reducing the portion size of the main meals).
  • If skipping breakfast has been your thing – maybe it’s time to change that.
  • Be careful this doesn’t backfire.
    I did this and ended up eating all the time thinking I was being healthy. You still need to make wise choices and not overeat.

6. Some Extra Things To Try

Still not working? Here are some more things that have worked for some people:

  • Get more sleep, or figure out what’s affecting your sleep quality.
  • Overeat – Might sound counter-intuitive, but after a period of sustained restricted eating, a day or two of big eating might be just the ticket. However if you are a person that has problems with binging this could backfire – be careful.
  • Change your goals – obsessed with the scales? Think about focusing on something else like being able to run 5km or getting stronger.

What Happened to Me…

Some of us seem to have more adaptive bodies than others.

I remember when I was eating a fairly rigid diet. I had meal plans stuck to the fridge. I counted everything I ate.

I was doing three strength training sessions per week, and as much as seven (often intense) cardio sessions a week.

After 3-4 weeks – the fat simply stopped coming off.

The frustration was enough to make me take my meal plans, screw them up and throw them away in disgust. I was furious and disappointed. I felt that I was doing everything “right”.

So what was the answer?

Chill out and back off… I was becoming obsessional. I started eating more, and gradually reduced my cardio levels. I gave my body and mind a break. In the process I have learned to eat more intuitively.

The funny thing is, even though I went onto lose a bit more fat, I found I no longer cared.  It all seemed like vanity to me.

Every person is unique, and we must learn how our individual body responds – and how to work with that.

Photos: frukt, Wolfnowl, bobolink, Ulfbodin,

Comments

  • spectra311

    I did zig-zagging a lot when I’d hit plateaus. It really worked well for me. I would alternate 1400 calorie days with 1800 calorie days and sometimes I’d do 2 1800 in a row and then a 1400 or two 1400 and then a 2000. It really helped to keep my body guessing and stopped me from staying in a plateau for very long.

    • http://energyfiend.com/ JamesF

      That’s good, although measuring calories is not for everyone.

      • spectra311

        I guess I never really “measured” calories per se–I have always just estimated my intake and stuck with whole foods. That seems to work best for me. One day, I’d eat yogurt and fruit for a snack, air popped popcorn the next day, etc.

  • Daniel Wagle

    When I was unsuccessful at weight loss in the past, I would often plateau. This last and successful time, I did not plateau that often. Once I did and I figured out that I ate a lot of restaurant food when I was in a focus group study. I also think plateaus can come from cutting one’s calories too much and putting one’s body in starvation mode. When I was unsuccessful, I would drastically cut my intake but then only lose so much weight. I would tend to think from my own experience if I do a lot of exercise everyday, I don’t also need to drastically cut my calorie intake. It is better to just moderate intake than to drastically cut intake if a lot of exercise if done. Counting calories, weighing and measuring everything is also key. This way one can make accurately eat to have small calorie deficit that will less likely lead to a plateau.

    • http://energyfiend.com/ JamesF

      I would agree that the most common cause of plateuing is from restricted food intake. It needs to be varied.

    • http://www.the10principles.com/ the10principles

      Drastically restricting was one of my big downfalls too! Initially I wanted to lose 10 pounds and so I thought the fastest way to lose them was to eat as little and low fat as possible. But the result was that I gained a further 20 pounds (30 in total) because under-eating and over-exercising always ended in over-eating, eventually 🙁 After, I’d always ‘try again’ the same way, believing I could muster up more will power, not realizing that restricting works against your body. But reaching and maintaining a healthy weight doesn’t have to be that uncomfortable or complicated.

      • http://www.healthyeater.com/ Dan Bolton

        “under-eating and over-exercising always ended in over-eating, eventually” great point! That’s definitely been my experience

  • Ryan

    You should cover dieter’s edema and the “whoosh” phenomenon. I’ll actually start gaining weight on a constant activity level and calorie intake (all food weighed to the gram) for a week or two, then suddenly have to pee a lot and 5 lbs will come off on the scale. Water retention will make you just think you’re not losing fat, though putting a lot of stress on the body is a good way to induce further water retention.

    • http://energyfiend.com/ JamesF

      Tell me more…?

      • Ryan

        Google “Of Whooshes and Squishy Fat” by Lyle McDonald and “How to Deal with Water Retention” by Martin Berkhan.

        I went through a fairly aggressive cut in the last quarter of 2013. After the first 3 weeks, I went into a pretty regular rhythm of slowly gaining ~2 lbs over ~2 weeks then dropping ~5 lbs in a day or two, averaging out to about 1.5 lbs/wk.

  • http://www.the10principles.com/ the10principles

    I like your suggestion of not doing the same thing over and over again thinking they’ll be a different result. It’s so easy to fall into a pattern and not realize you are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole over and over again. Sometimes it takes someone else to recognize the patterns in your life. In my case, it wasn’t until I spoke to a Doctor and he pointed it out. After that it was obvious and I found it much easier to break the cycle I was looping around that set me up to fail, time and time again – without me realizing. 🙂

  • Joe Abernathy

    Thank you so much for this page. I am using myfitnesspal and am monitoring calories like the scientist I am…weighing everything, cross checking for accurate calorie data, recording all and planning my meals. Dropped 33 pounds in 6 weeks (at a target of 2 lb/week on myfitnesspal) and not for 1+ weeks I’m dead in the water. Walking more, cutting further calories…yet not an ounce off in more than a week.

    Every other site I found in this search basically listed the ways I must be cheating, miscounting, or otherwise mismanaging my program. Pissed me off to read their smug suggestions. This page and the cogent comment by your readers have helped me become “un-discouraged”. THANKS!

    • JamesF

      Thanks so much for your comments. Look forward to hearing how you get on down the track.

    • David

      How did it go, Joe? Did you continue to lose weight or what?

  • mark bill

    Incredibly
    nice article, accurately what I was in search of. Thanks

    more information you can read here

  • henry

    *Einstein’s definition of insanity.

  • Persis Hedin

    I’ve been overweight all my life and tried so many things. Different things work for different people and I was lucky enough to find one that worked for me. I lost 25 pounds in one month without much exercise and it has been a life changer. I’m a little embarrased to post my before and after photos here but if anyone actually cares to hear what I’ve been doing then I’d be happy to help in any way. Just shoot me an email at oceanflowers82@gmail.com and I’ll show you my before and after photos, and tell you about how things are going for me with the stuff I’ve tried. I wish someone would have helped me out when I was struggling to find a solution so if I can help you then it would make my day

  • Tracy Murphy

    I am new to macros..is it important to eat your exact amount of macros every day? I know not to go over, but what if are under at the end of the day and just not hungry?

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Tracy, It really depends on what your goals are. If you are under too often or by too much than you will also be putting your body in an unhealthy calorie deficit. This can damage your metabolism and stall weight loss. If your goal is to gain, then you really need to be hitting your targets.

  • Ak

    Hi I was 58 kilos and wanted to lose a bit of weigh in 163cm , started the gym about 1 year ago going 3 to 4 times a week and the last few weeks I’ve introduced body attack and body conditioning but I actually weigh more this am I’m 59 kilos my body fat is 24 but I’m not losing weight, any ideas

  • Chelsea Sawyer

    When I got to 140 pounds, I somehow stopped losing weight. Our bodies are incredibly good at adapting to new diets. I read somewhere that changing your diet can help. It did for me. I just added more veggie instead of chicken. I also started using the Lady Soma Detox, and that quickly dropped another 10 lbs. It can speed up your metabolism. That’s what I did, and it worked for me.

    • Amy Luetjen Sullivan

      what type of detox did you do. Im down 40 pounds and have been stuck for a couple of weeks.

  • Apoorva Srivastava

    I weigh 73 Kg and I’m 24 years old.female Height 164cm.
    I started gym a month ago . My weight fell 2 3 kg then became stable. I do intense workout cardio proper balanced diet and even I take meal Skipper in order to gather less calories. But weight isn’t fluctuating. Please guide me what could be the reason and what should I do. Yes I have joined a gym.

  • jayant jindel

    I weighed 110 kg but then i reduced it to 100 kg but now it is stuck there as hell. Doesnt matter if i eat or not when i go for workout its always 101.7 and then it comes down to 100 after the workout of about 2 hours. Although i have lost quite a few inches since then but i cant see my weight going down. And its been 2 months I am stuck on the same weight. Please help me out.

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Jayant, Please see this article: https://healthyeater.com/eat-to-lose-weight

    • Phill

      I hear you buddy! I went from 114kg to 103kg over 3 months of controlled diet and regular exercise and have plateaued for the past 6 weeks, despite increasing my exercise! I think I’ve burned all the ‘soft fat’ and now have the ‘hardcore fat’ left to shift. Highly scientific terminology, but that’s how it feels!

  • Stu

    I am on a ketogenic diet and started out at 129kg. I was loosing about .2kg a day. I have been at 109kg for three weeks now and it is driving me nuts. I think I am not eating enough, but regardless, I think I am going to break the diet for a few days and see what happens. Eat a pizza or something.

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      That’s the problem with quick weight loss diets. They produce great results at first, but they aren’t sustainable. The ketogenic diet was used by bodybuilders to cut before a competition and only used for a short period of time before it became mainstream. I suggest you check out flexible dieting as it’s much more sustainable. Learn more here: https://healthyeater.com/ebook

      • Stu

        Why isn’t it sustainable. I have been on it for several months, and enjoy what I eat. At first it was a little difficult staying away from the bread and pizza (the worst temptation still is black licorice), but I am having no problems staying on the diet. Or, do you mean it isn’t sustainable for some other reason?

        • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

          It’s because the calorie level is usually too low and it ends up slowing your metabolism which is likely why your weight loss is at a standstill.

          • Stu

            I am sure you are correct. However, I am a little bullheaded. I feel so much better on this diet. I am going to try exercising for 10 minutes, 3 times a day to see if that won’t boost my metabolism back up. Are you based out of the UK? I am in the US and had to convert to kgs.

          • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

            You can eat that way, you just have to make sure you are consuming enough calories. You can use our calculator here: https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator

          • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

            No, we are in the US, I’m not sure where you had to convert to kgs?

          • Stu

            Everybody else on your site gave their weight in kgs, so I converted mine to kgs as well.

  • Mike619

    I’ve been using Nutri- systems 5 day kits for my diet ive noticed my calorie intake is between 900- 1300 daily,I do 1 hour of cardio an 1 hour of strength training 6 days a week at the gym.Im 6’4″ 35 years old I started at 358 pounds 4- 5 months ago and im now currently at 279 pounds and havent budged for approximately 3 weeks it starting to mess with me..Should I change my diet..What should i do im lost..Thanks.

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Mike, You haven’t been eating enough to support your exercise and metabolism which has slowed things down. Please read my article about this problem here: https://healthyeater.com/eat-to-lose-weight

  • Chelsea

    I have been at a plateau of around 150# for a couple weeks and need to lose 5# for a powerlifting meet in 2 weeks before a water cut. My macros have been 40 fat, 100 carbs, 145 protein for 2 weeks now, what do you suggest to lose the last 5#? I am 5’2″ and a female.

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      It seems like you aren’t supporting your exercise with enough calories. You are eating at sedentary levels even on exercise days. This isn’t good and has stalled your results.

  • Osiris Ramirez

    I went from 258 , and have gone down to 197 but have been at this weight for three weeks now. I go to the gym monday-saturday and do tredmill, stairmaster and i go to a pure strength class 2x a week .
    My diet consists of a protien shake and wheat toast with pb in the morning , soup ,salad or baked chicken for lunch/ dinner .and nuts / fruits as snacks .
    please recommend what i can do to overcome this

  • Gerges Miriam

    Hi , i lost 15 pounds in three months through exrcising and eating 1000 calories a day , i did ONCE a kind of a binge “3000” because i was so stressed and had low blood sugar and gained 5 pounds ( i weighed myself after two weeks because of the temporary weight gain of the binge of course) but it did not go away and im stuck and im gaining all the weight back from only eating 1500 a day and walking for hours , i get extremely hungry all the time , i keep myself hydrated , but i urinate a lot , i try to eat healthy(protein , complex carbs , no processed foods) but im gaining all my weight back (im 21 , 5’07 tall , female weighing 112 pounds and pear-shaped ive really big thighs ) please im stressed and so hungry and cannot imagine myself eating 1500 while being active all day and gaining weight so freaking fast and only in thighs , and having LOWWWWWWWW blood sugar

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Miriam, your problem is pretty common among people who aren’t eating enough tp support their metabolism and exercise. Read this article which explains this in detail: https://healthyeater.com/eat-to-lose-weight Flexible Dieting can help get things going again.

  • Cicely Jackson

    Hello I just began my weight lost journey, I am 52 Female weighing 170. goes to the gym 6 days a week, for about 1hour. I just recently started drinking total lean protein shake, because I was told to start drinking protein, I am so confuse when I think I am doing great the calculators say different. I am looking for a basic 1200 meal plan which provides me with all the protein, fat and carbs that I need to include protein shakes. my goal is to loose weight get back down to 140-145. thanks

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Cicely, Good luck on your journey! I will say that 1200 calories a day is too low on your gym days. This can potentially stall your metabolism and cause weight loss plateau. You really should figure out your TDEE and then deduct 20% for healthy weight loss. See our calculator for help. https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator

  • Melanie Lourenco

    I was originally 198 pounds and now I’m down to 180 and all of a sudden it’s just stopped. I’ve seen the scale go anywhere from 179-185 pounds. I go to the gym about 3 days a week. I haven’t been counting calories but I do meal prep every week to ensure a healthy diet but I don’t know what to do.

    • http://www.caffeineinformer.com/ Ted

      Hi Melanie, You need to figure out how many calories you’ve been eating and then calculate how many calories you should be eating. (https://healthyeater.com/eat-to-lose-weight ) I bet you aren’t eating enough.