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, it’s not the enemy.

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.

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Photos: frukt, Wolfnowl, bobolink, Ulfbodin,

59 Comments

  1. Moe Adam 4 months ago

    Hi there,
    I am 26 years old and I’ve been doing bodybuilding for four years now. I started bulking up by adding more calories to my diet and eating lots of simple carbs which made me gain 33 pounds in seven weeks! now I am in the cutting phase and I am doing strength training while maintaining high protein intake to not loose my muscle mass. I loved the idea in your post about the team sports it might encourage me more because you know sometimes I get bored from going to the gym. Great post thank you.

    Reply
  2. Jeni Hagger 5 months ago

    Hello, I am 5ft 3″ and weigh 159lbs and feel so uncomfortable. I’ve tried everything I can think of. I am unable to do high intensity such as jumping and running due to flat feet and painful shins, a lifelong issue that has been addressed by several doctors and physiotherapists. So I use weights and have recently been following the Jillian Michaels body shred after switching from another hiit training DVD. I’m on level 1 and after my first week I can feel that cardio wise I could do more but due to pain in my shins and feet, I can’t push that extra bit. Food wise I have been trying to eat more protein, vegetables, dairy and less bread, but eating other carbs such as sweet potatoes. In the past month I’ve lost 3lbs and I’m just so deflated. My son is 5 years old now and I’ve been trying to lose 28lbs since he was born, to no avail. My medical dr says my thyroid etc is all fine. So where am I going wrong? I’ve been consuming 1300-1400 calories per day. My workouts are only short 20-30 mins. Please give me some advice! 🙏🏻

    Reply
    • Ted 5 months ago

      Hi Jeni, Have you calculated how much you should be eating? https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator Nutrition is 85% of the process. Have you thought about biking or spinning for cardio?

      Reply
      • Jeni Hagger 5 months ago

        Hi Ted, I have been using MFP and the calories on there it states I should be eating is just below 1300. After I wrote my post to you I read about macros so I used the calculator and have input those figures to match as much as I can and calories of 1344, it’s not exactly as it should be but it’s almost that. So today I’m trying to think of my macros and looking at this I can see I’m very carb heavy in my diet and very very low protein. Yes I do have a static bike and I do interval training on this for about 15 minutes. Or a steady state for 50 minutes whilst watching my TV programs 🙂 do you think this change in food will help? I’m struggling to hit my protein goal without tipping over my carb goal today lol! Also, what about eating out? We are invited to a BBQ next weekend, will I need to be on MFP the whole time trying to figure out what I can eat? 😳

        Reply
  3. Pamela 5 months ago

    Great article. I have been dieting over a year and have lost 135lbs. I’ve for sure platued at this point as I’ve been in the same 10 category for almost 3 months! I feel part of the problem is I under ate most of the year 1,000-1,200 calories a day. How do I increase calories to a healthier level and not gain weight? I’m 5’9 233lbs.

    Reply
    • Ted 5 months ago

      Hi Pamela, Great job, that’s amazing! You will initially gain a pound or two while your metabolism is getting to where it should be but after a few weeks you should start losing again. I’ve seen this so many times with some of the clients I coach.

      Reply
  4. Health Enigma 7 months ago

    Great points altogether, you can simply won a new reader.

    Reply
  5. Jenny Jasmine 7 months ago

    Great points all together , I would like to bookmark this page. Here are some more tips for breaking weight loss tips http://www.healthenigma.com/break-weight-loss-plateau-15-simple-ways

    Reply
  6. Patrick Nguyen 7 months ago

    I am glad I cam across your article, I am currently doing flexible dieting. I do an upper/lower split 4 times a week and have gradually increased my cardio from burning roughly 1200 calories per week when I started to around 2000 calories per week. The first three weeks I was loosing about 1.5 lbs per week. Then for three weeks straight I have only lost 0.2 lbs per week. For those three weeks I dropped around 100 calories per week and still only loosing 0.2 lbs per week. Currently I am on 1800 calories, 50 fats, 160 protein, and 180 carbs. I don’t really want to increase cardio too much this early. I am 5’9″ and currently weigh 191.3 I was 194 when I started the diet on February 13. Any recommendations? 30 Years of age.

    Reply
    • Ted 7 months ago

      Hi Patrick, It looks like you aren’t eating enough to support your basic metabolism and all the exercise you are doing. You are in too drastic of a calorie deficit which is slowing down your metabolism in order to conserve resources. I would advise you to revise your macros that factor in your daily exercise while maintaining just a 20% deficit. You could also switch things up exercise wise and do some weight training.

      Reply
      • Patrick Nguyen 7 months ago

        Thanks Ted for the recommendation. I will definitely be checking your website out more often and recommend it to friends!

        Reply