Coach Ted's Diet Advice

How To Break a Weight Loss Plateau – Without Starving Yourself

By Ted KallmyerUpdated August 8, 2022
How to break a weight loss plateau

After a few months of consistently losing weight, reaching a weight loss plateau is not uncommon.

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

And then it all stopped.

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

Nothing happened.

What causes a weight loss plateau?

Adaptation.

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

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

The plateauing effect is the biggest motivation-killer – yet most diet books are strangely quiet on the issue (weight loss plateaus don’t make good testimonials).

Plateaus happen to most people.

Six ways to break a weight loss plateau

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

Change something. Anything. Please do it now.

Don’t make the mistake of doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

You must counteract your body’s adaption to your diet and exercise.

1. Alter your macro-nutrient intake

squirrel_peanuts

The food we eat is split into three primary macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

Changing the ratios of macronutrients can help break a plateau.

If you are eating a diet high in carbohydrates – try eating fewer carbs and more protein.

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

A macro-tracking approach to nutrition is a highly successful method of losing weight or body recomposition.

The macro approach is popular as it isn’t restrictive and is based on individual calorie needs.

Eating too little can stall your weight loss.

If you have been eating only 1200 calories for a long time, start eating more for a few weeks to stimulate your metabolism.

Macronutrient Plateau Breakers

  • Instead of a fruit snack, eat a handful of nuts.
  • If your diet is heavily bread-based, try reducing the bread 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.

Want to know the exact macro-nutrient amounts you should eat? Use our macronutrient weight loss calculator.

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 exactly 1800 calories per day, you can vary your intake.

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.

Using the Zig-zag calculator at freedieting.com, we can see what this looks like.

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

 WeekdayDaily Calories
Monday1861
Tuesday1489
Wednesday2233
Thursday1861
Friday1675
Saturday2047
Sunday1861

The zig-zag keeps your body guessing and keeps adaption at bay.

3. Add strength training to your exercise routine

barbells

If your only exercise is steady-state cardio (such as walking), it’s time to add some resistance.

Working your muscles strengthens bone tissue, increases lean mass, and boosts metabolic rate.

Many people have increased success with HIIT training.

How to start doing resistance training

  • Join a gym and get a trainer to make you a program.
  • Follow a bodyweight program, such as this classic 7-minute workout.
  • Get some dumbbells at home and follow along with a Youtube trainer at home.

4. Change your exercise routine

runner-bw

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, try jogging, swimming, or cycling — anything that will change how your body works.

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

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

Ten practical exercise ideas to break a weight loss plateau

  1. Use an exercise video
    Some of us like to dance around the room, knocking over coffee tables and other assorted furniture.
  2. Gym class
    To name a few: Yoga, Pilates, or Zumba.
  3. HIIT
    High-Intensity Interval Training
  4. Social sports
    Join a Volleyball team.
  5. Meet your friend for a walk
    Instead of meeting for coffee.
  6. Go hiking.
  7. Yoga
    Maybe it’ll help you to relax.
  8. Get a shiny new bicycle
    And don’t leave it in the garage gathering dust.
  9. Got Kids?
    Get on the playground with them instead of staring at your phone on a bench.
  10. Video games with movement
    Get a Nintendo Switch and Ring Fit Adventure or Fitness Boxing. Do it properly or you’ll end up with tendonitis.

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

The issue here is that you MUST change what you are doing. Keep your body guessing.

5. Change your meal frequency

2ndbreakfast

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 daily. They claim the thermic effect of eating helps to burn fat. Energy expenditure is involved in the body processing food (particularly protein).

Some claim this is a myth, yet research shows that the thermic effect of food (TEF) is more significant for those eating a regular five meals a day, rather than a random variable number of meals.

How to change your meal frequency to break a plateau

  • If you are eating three square meals a day, add snacks in between (which may mean reducing the portion size of the main meals)*.
  • If skipping breakfast has been your thing, it’s time to start eating some breakfast.

*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 eat within your daily TDEE.

6. Plateau-breakers you can try

Here are some more things that have worked for some people:

  • Get more sleep
    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.

A true story of breaking a weight loss plateau

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

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

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

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

The frustration made 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, gradually reduced my cardio levels, and gave my body and mind a break. In the process, I have learned to eat more intuitively.

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

Each of us is unique, and we must learn how our body responds – and how to work with that.

How to count macros for body transformation.

Show article references

References

  • Klika, B., & Jordan, C. (2013). High-intensity circuit training using body weight: Maximum results with minimal investment. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 17(3), 8-13.
  • Farshchi, H. R., Taylor, M. A., & Macdonald, I. A. (2004). Decreased thermic effect of food after an irregular compared with a regular meal pattern in healthy lean women. International Journal of Obesity, 28(5), 653-660.
  • Home illustrations by Storyset
Ted Kallmyer is an ISSA certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, author, and macros coach. He has helped hundreds of clients reach their body transformation goals.

129 Comments

  • diane gitzlaff 6 months ago

    I am 61 years old. In the past year I have lost 60 pounds. I currently weigh 270. I have hit a plateau since Thanksgiving (3 months) I eat 1000 – 1500 calories per day., My knees are terrible, I use a walker to ambulate. I have been advised surgery can’t even be discussed until I lose 100 pounds. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 6 months ago

      Hi Diane, Great job on your fat loss so far. Could you take a break for at least a month and eat at your maintenance levels?

      Reply
  • Brooke 9 months ago

    Hi Ted! I’ve done a reverse diet and have eaten at maintenance maintaining my weight for about 9 weeks (2300 cal). My plan was to incorporate mini cut cycles with a 2 week 500 cal defect and a 2 week maintenance to prevent adaptation. What do you think of this plan and have I given my metabolism enough time after reversing? Thank you so much!

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 9 months ago

      Hi Brooke, It’s a bit hard to say without knowing your stats and history, etc. but I would do a 20% deficit for a month and assess. Metabolic adaptation doesn’t happen after a couple of weeks so an extended “safe deficit” is fine.

      Reply
      • Brooke 9 months ago

        Awesome thank you so much Ted! That is super helpful

        Reply
  • Janet 10 months ago

    Hi I’m struggling with my weight loss journey I’ve lost 11kgs over 3 months but now can’t lose any..

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 10 months ago

      Hi Janet, This is one of my specialties and I’ve helped so many clients break out of this. It’s likely due to your nutrition not being balanced properly with your exercise level. See my coaching page and schedule a consult if you need my help. Personalized Macros Coaching

      Reply
  • Latricia Orns 12 months ago

    Hi Ted, I’m almost 57. I started a 1200 calorie diet and walking at the beginning of January 2021. I have lost around 40 lb I averaged about 6 pounds a month weight loss but for the last month or so I haven’t really lost anything, maybe a pound or two. And my weight goes up by a pound or two within a couple days and then back down but I can’t seem to break the plateau. I can’t exercise a lot or do any intensive exercise as I have fibromyalgia. What should I do?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 12 months ago

      Hi Latricia, Weight fluctuation is normal but it seems like you do need to take a break from a calorie deficit. Eat at your maintenance amount for about a month and then go into a 20% deficit to resume weight loss. Use my calculator here: Macro Calculator for Accurate Daily Macronutrients and Calories

      Reply
      • Latricia 12 months ago

        Thank you but im kinda scared to do that. I’ve worked so hard and im afraid I’ll gain a lot of it back in a month…

        Reply
        • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 12 months ago

          You can only gain fat if you are in a calorie surplus during a 24-hour energy cycle. Your maintenance numbers are calculated to keep you at a balanced energy level. You can create a small buffer by entering your goal weight instead of your current weight when calculating your maintenance. The most important thing is to eat more and give your body a break from always being in a deficit.

          Reply
          • Latricia 12 months ago

            Well, just like I was afraid of I have been eating between 1500 and 1650 calories. Those are the maintenance for my current weight and the weight I want. And now my weight is higher than it’s been in the last 6 weeks. I know my body is not typical I’ve always had weight issues even as an active child. I don’t generally eat lots of food. I don’t always make the best choices, but I don’t make the worst choices either. Do you have any more advice?

          • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach) 12 months ago

            If you had been undereating, it’s pretty typical for your weight to increase slightly while you wait for your metabolism to catch up and get to where it should be. Your metabolism didn’t slow overnight and it won’t increase overnight either. Be patient with the process, focus on fueling your body with nutritious foods and using the extra nutrition to help push you a little harder during your exercise.

  • Suzanne Bilodeau

    This is very refreshing this morning, thank you!
    5 weeks of plateau, eating clean and exercising, and nothing.
    I will try to switch things up and maybe back off for a while.
    I’ve gain 20 lbs during COVID, but my body shed only 4… wtf?!

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Suzanne, Are you tracking your nutrition?

      Reply
  • Jill DeFelice

    Hi Ted,
    I’m 60. I lost 100 pounds on low carb, non-processed food ten years ago (but the battle has been lifelong – I just finally found what works). I ate about 2300 cals a day, weight trained 4 days a week, did pilates, and some swimming and lots of walking. Life happened and I regained about 50. This past year, I took off that 50 off at 1600 – 1800 cals eating low carb and unprocessed foods (I am older now and need work harder at it than ten years ago) with weight training 4x a week and lots of walking, but then got stuck–FOR MONTHS! I decided to chill thru the holidays and regained 10 pounds in the blink of an eye. Am trying to get back on track. I have resumed weight training, can’t power walk (bad knee) but still put in 10K steps a day. Cals at 1500-1600 but I zig zag a bit. Been back on track for 8 weeks. Losing a few inches, but the scale has not budged. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Jill, it seems like based on your exercise description that you aren’t eating enough. Try a balanced approach and shoot to be in no more than a 20% deficit on your exercise days.

      Reply
  • Yessenia

    Hi Ted! I have been on my weight loss journey for 4 months now. I have lost 40 pounds. However, I’ve hit a plateau. I haven’t lost weight in about 3 weeks and I’m feeling discouraged. I have been tracking my macros. I have been eating 90-100 grams of protein daily, around 50 grams of carbs, and around 30 grams of fat. I exercise 4-5 times a week for about 30-45 minutes a day. Any advice is appreciated!

    Reply
    • Yessenia

      I also should mention when tracking my macros this way by calorie intake ranges 700-900 calories a day.

      Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Yessenia, Great job on your efforts so far. You are undereating. This works fine at first but then it slows your metabolism and causes plateau. This is pretty common. I’ve written more about this here: If You Want to Lose Weight, You Have to Start Eating!

      Reply
  • Karissa Sernas

    Hi Ted, I’m Karissa! Ive been on a calorie deficit for about 3 months and have lost 28 pounds now i feel like i’ve hit a weight plateau, I haven’t been eating more then 1,241 calories and now i’m not sure what to do because I know decreasing my calories even more would be very bad, please help me break this plateau 🙁 !

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      Hi Karissa, Great job on your efforts! This is a pretty common problem and it happens because you are exercising and not eating enough to support that and your metabolism. You need to be eating more on days you exercise. You can use my macro calculator to help or I can calculate things for you via my coaching services.

      Reply
  • Vivien

    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…

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      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.

      Reply
      • Vivien

        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?

        Reply
        • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

          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.

          Reply
  • Josie

    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

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      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

      Reply
      • Josie

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

        Reply
        • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

          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.

          Reply
  • Lisa

    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.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      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.

      Reply
  • Melissa

    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.

    Reply
    • Ted Kallmyer (Certified Macro Coach)

      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: https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator

      Reply
    • Marilyn Trulsen

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

      Reply