How To Break a Weight Loss Plateau – Without Starving Yourself

It is not uncommon to experience a weight loss plateau after a few months of consistently losing weight.

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.

Adaption is the Main Cause of a Plateau

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

If you are eating the same amount day in a day out, the body will eventually adapt.

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.

6 Ways to Break a Weight Loss Plateau

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).

You have to switch things up and counteract the adaption that your body has made to your way of eating or your way of exercising.

1. Alter Your Macro-nutrient Intake: Flexible Dieting


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. If you have been eating only 1200 calories for a long time, start eating more for a few weeks as a way to “reset things”.

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


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

This keeps your body guessing and helps keep adaption at bay.

3. Add Strength Training


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


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

The more you do a particular activity the greater your body adapts and this efficiency equates to less calorie burn.

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 furniture.
  • 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


This is contentious and some would argue that it doesn’t matter. But, it has worked for some.

It’s been a technique for bodybuilders: 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.
  • Intermittent fasting: Increase your daily fasting window to 12-16 hours and shorten your eating window. Fasting periods burn fat reserves to keep your body going.

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,

Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition and is our lead macro coach. If you need help reaching your weight loss/fitness goals see our personal coaching options.
Last Updated: June 17, 2020


  1. Vivien 2 weeks ago

    Hi Ted! I’m Vivien and I’ve lost 24pounds over 2 months. I’ve been on strict Low calorie diet (high protein and no carbs) plus I workout 7 days a week up to 60-90 minutes. However, now I feel like I’ve hit weight plateau, I don’t lose weight as fast or as much as I used to before or it’s been the same weight for days! (But I’m still doing everything I have been doing for the past 2 months). Please gimme some tips how to break this plateau…

    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 weeks ago

      Hi Vivien, Great job on your progress but since you went the fast route this always stalls things eventually. You need to start eating more to support both your metabolism and the exercise you do. Here’s an article of mine that talks about this in more detail. If You Want to Lose Weight, You Have to Start Eating! I see this problem a lot with my clients.

      • Vivien 2 weeks ago

        Hey Ted, thank you for the advice! Would I put on again weight if I add calories to my diet? Or how fast would it switch back to ‘calorie deficit’ to lose weight again if I eat more?

        • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 1 week ago

          You may gain a pound or two while you’re body is readjusting but your new numbers would still be in a calorie deficit from your maintenance levels. Just not as severe of a deficit as you had been doing.

  2. Josie 1 month ago

    Hi My name is Josie and I’ve lost over 13 lbs in 2 months. I’m on a low cal diet but I’ve hit a weight loss plateau and the weight stopped dropping. I only have 5 lbs left to lose. Not sure what to do

    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 1 month ago

      Hi Josie, Great job on your progress. You probably need to get your calorie/macro levels up a bit to get your metabolism back to where it should be. You can use my macro calculator to set a less severe calorie deficit. Flexible Dieting Macro Calculator

      • Josie 1 month ago

        What if I start to gain weight? I think that’s my biggest concern

        • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 1 month ago

          You’d still be eating less than what your body requires to maintain itself. Also, you may gain a little due to more food volume in your system and as your metabolism adjusts but this is temporary and the best way forward. You can’t keep starving yourself.

  3. Lisa 2 months ago

    Is it normal to hit more than one weight-loss plateau I’ve been dieting for nearly two months and I’ve hit my second weight loss plateau. The first time, I ate a few extra calories and went back to my normal diet. This time, I did the same and I’m not sure if it will work. Is it normal to hit more than one weight-loss plateau? Especially during such a short period.

    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 months ago

      Hi Lisa, It seems like you’re just seeing weight fluctuation due to water weight changes. Since it’s happened each month,What Causes Water Retention and Weight Fluctuation? it’s likely due to your monthly cycle or another reason. Give my article here a read.

  4. Melissa 2 months ago

    Hi! My problem is i eat between 1200 to 1600 calories a day and don’t feel hungry at all. Been weighing the same thing for 3 yrs. Been to see 4 different dietician but they ain’t no help on a meal plan that would help me . I’m very discouraged because everyone around me is losing and I’m not. I’m working very hard at it and ready to give up . Any advice or help is greatly appreciated.

    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 months ago

      Hi Melissa, If you’re working out hard, you need to be supporting that and your muscle tissue with enough nutrition. If you don’t plateaus are sure to happen. Calculate what you should be eating here:

    • Marilyn Trulsen 4 weeks ago

      I’m having the same problem exactly I. Stuck I walk and do 1hr yoga every morning not easy stuff. Cant lose.

  5. Brelian 2 months ago

    Hey. Im 21 and Im in calorie deficit for 5months.i weigh 70kg and my height is daily calorie taking is about 1200 to 1400 calories. 2 days a week i eat about 1500. I do workouts at home about 45min to 1 hour,4days a week.2014 to 2018 i was 52 kg but bc of working too hard in office,i had got binge eating that caused gaining weight weight was 72 kg about7months ago then i started 5:2 diet i lost 3.5kg but stopped losing weight then when i started eating normal by having calorie deficit(i mean 5months ago)my weight started to gaining then it stopped on 70.even my hormones are normal,i drink 6 to 8 glasses of water..but plateau made me hopeless..can you guide and help me?i mean by not offering buying private coaching please.thanks

    • Brelian 2 months ago

      By the way, when i had binge eating, i was doing Hiit for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week!

    • Melissa 2 months ago

      I’m 48 and had. Gastric bypass that went wrong .

    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 2 months ago

      Hi Brelian, It seems like you need to be eating more. Use my calculator to estimate what you should be eating on your workout days and what you should be eating on your rest days. The “lose” setting will form a safe deficit for fat loss. Flexible Dieting Macro Calculator

  6. emaly 3 months ago

    I’m 18 years old girl . I’m 168cm tall and I weigh 64.8 kg now ( i used to be 68.2kg) so i lost 3kg in 20 days (0.2kg a day) but i stopped losing this week i’m stuck between 64.8kg and 64.4kg … btw i did the 1200 calories diet without working out … is this consider a weight loss plateau or is it maybe water retention cz this week is my period week ? and if it is a weight loss plateau how can i break it fast and without gaining any weight back

    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 3 months ago

      Hi Emaly, It sounds like water retention to me as is common during a woman’s monthly cycle. I would recommend calculating what you should be eating for safe weight loss. This can prevent a plateau if you keep your calorie deficit from being too severe. Flexible Dieting Macro Calculator

      • emaly 3 months ago

        but water retention cause weight gain from 1lbs to 6 lbs but i’m not losing or gaining any weight… could i be losing fat but gaining water (like losing 2 lbs of fat and retaining 2lbs of water ) could this be possible ? and should i stick to my diet and see till next week or should i staring changing things up ?

        • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 3 months ago

          You could have lost two pounds of fat but are retaining two extra pounds of water which makes it look like you haven’t lost any fat this week scale-wise. You should wait until after your cycle before changing anything.

  7. Bici 4 months ago

    Hi Ted!
    I’m 40 years old woman. I’m 163cm tall and I weigh 81kg now. I’m on caloric deficit for four months. I take 500 calories less on daily basis which means 1400 calories or 1800 calories in the days of my training. I do cross fit training three times a week. I lost 10kg until now but I hit plateau. Last 10 days I stopped loosing weight. Should I change my eating habits or should I change something in my training?
    Thank you

    • Ted Kallmyer (Macro Coach) 4 months ago

      Hi Bici, Based on what you mentioned it looks like your diet needs an adjustment. You’re probably eating a tad too much. I’d be happy to take a closer look and get you back on track. Check out my coaching option in the top menu.

  8. Erin 9 months ago

    Hi Ted!
    I’m 21 years old (female) and I started changing my diet 2 months ago and eating 1200 a day. After I lost about 10 pounds I started walking on the treadmill and using the elliptical burning around 200 calories. I do this 3-4 times a week, and my weight has not changed in some time now. Should I be eating more, or changing my workout?


    • Erin 9 months ago

      Also to add I am 5’10 and 180 pounds

    • Ted Kallmyer (Macro Coach) 9 months ago

      Hi Erin, You should definitely be eating more. Eating 1200 calories is placing your body in too much of a deficit for a woman of your height and activity. See my macro calculator for a more moderate approach. Flexible Dieting Macro Calculator

  9. Courtney M

    Hi Ted!
    I’m 143lbs and 5’3″. I lift weights about an hour or a little more 4 to 5 days a week, and also do about 30 minutes of run intervals on my treadmill 3 days a week. I am eating around 1300 calories a day but struggling hard to eat that many calories actually. Eating really clean, like example today I ate Oatmeal with milk and 1 hard boiled egg for breakfast, a little thing of cheese for a snack, a can of light tuna in water, chopped onions and carrots and a tablespoon of light miracle whip for lunch, a chicken breast, pineapple, onion and a tablespoon of olive oil for dinner. I’m not losing much weight at all any suggestions with that? And also suggestions on what foods I can add to get a little more calories easier?
    Thann you!

    • Ted the Macro Coach

      Hi Courtney, You aren’t eating enough to support healthy weight loss in light of all the exercise you are doing. You have to nourish properly and be in about aa 20% calorie deficit. I suggest you use our macro calculator to get your TDEE calculated correctly and here’s a good list of foods to use to help you eat more: Top 15 Healthy Carb, Protein, and Fat Rich Foods I also offer coaching and can calculate everything for you if you want a little more help. All the best and start eating!

  10. Malaihka

    I’ve been stalled for over 5 months now on keto, I’m 5’2, 172 pounds at 16 and I feel terrible about it. I’ve only lost 40 pounds since Feb 2018. I’m in a big calorie deficit, I’m eating 1345 cals roughly usually 900 something a day but I hit my macros (75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs) I’ve never felt so unmotivated especially since everyone loses weight so fast on keto and IF doesn’t do anything for me!

  11. Lisa

    I am 38, female, 5’6″, 140 lbs. I started dieting 3 weeks ago. I eat 1040 calories per day. The first week I lost 6 lbs. I stopped losing and gained a bit so added 10 min. of hiit daily. My weight is still not moving. What now?

  12. Gabriel Smith

    Hi I’m 21 and I’m 5’11” 200lbs I lift weights and run a mile at 7mph 5 days a week I’m eating 1400 calories 280grams of protein 50 carbs and 10 grams of fat what do I do

    • Ted the Macro Coach

      Hi Gabe, You aren’t eating enough, you are eating too much protein, not enough carbs and not enough fat. Your body is in protein burning mode for energy. Have a look at our Macro calculator.

  13. Monica

    Hi I’m 31 , 5’2 and 130lbs. I train hard, do Hiit and strengthen exercise. I feel I’m kind of athletic, my pants size are 4 and blouses Small. Doesn’t matter how good I might look, I feel the number on the scale should go down. I eat 5 small.meals a day, low carbs, high protein and veggies. My diet is also rich in fiber and I drink at least 2lt of water daily. Doesn’t matter what I do, the scale only fluctuates in between 125-130 lb. I feel super good and athletic, yet I wish I could weigh 120 or 110 maximum. Can you give me some advice?

    • Ted Kallmyer

      Hi Monica, It sounds like you haven’t been eating enough. This, over time, has caused your metabolism to slow. This is pretty common especially with women who exercise heavily. Also, since you are eating low carb, high protein you have your body in protein burning mode for energy and this is probably also sacrificing muscle tissue. You need a sound nutritional plan in place to recover your metabolism and then be able to drop fat.

  14. Bella

    Hi, I’m 19 years old, I’m around 154 cm and I weight 119 ibs, I’ve lost around 11 pounds in the past 2 months Through a very strict diet of less than 1000 calories and now I think I’ve hit a plateau, I’m scared to increase my calories in case I start gaining weight,

    My weight has been a greatly depressing thing since I used to weight over 145 ibs when I was younger and I just want to be eating healthy again.

    I’m hoping to weigh around 100 pounds by the end of this year but I would like to lose it before if possible, is there a way to increase my calories without gaining Weight?

  15. Moe Adam

    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.

  16. Jeni Hagger

    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! ??

    • Ted

      Hi Jeni, Have you calculated how much you should be eating? Nutrition is 85% of the process. Have you thought about biking or spinning for cardio?

      • Jeni Hagger

        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? ?

  17. Pamela

    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.

    • Ted

      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.

      • Ayla Lane-pierre

        Hi I’m Ayla … Currently I been on a low carb high protein diet for about 6 months I platued at 137lbs I’m 5’3 athletic built I tried changing workouts to more cardio I mostly weight train 6 days a week and am trying to change my diet but am at a stand still I wanna loose 8 more pounds and am unsure what to do if I have to change my diet? if so to what?

        • Ted the Macro Coach

          Hi Ayla, My initial thought is that you are undereating in light of how much you exercise. Over time, this causes your metabolism to slow and the body starts to conserve its resources. See if this article makes sense to your situation.

  18. Health Enigma

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

  19. Jenny Jasmine

    Great points all together , I would like to bookmark this page. Here are some more tips for breaking weight loss tips

  20. Patrick Nguyen

    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.

    • Ted

      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.

      • Patrick Nguyen

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