Weight loss plateaus can be so frustrating! Before I found flexible dieting, I would diet until I hit a plateau, then quit because “it wasn’t working”. Or I would diet for 2 weeks then give up when I didn’t see any results. Let me tell you something friends, 2 WEEKS IS NOT ENOUGH TIME TO SEE RESULTS! I wish I could scream it from the rooftops! I get so frustrated with my past self sometimes, for not just sticking to it then! Ok, rant over.
So back to plateaus… The funny thing about people is that they rely 100% on the scale to determine if they’re making progress. My former self included. I have something to tell you. Since last December, I have gained 6 pounds! But the thing is, my clothes still fit the same, I still look them same (ok, a little different because some of those 6 pounds are muscle) and my measurements are close to the same. When you eat to put on muscle you also put on some fat but that’s a different story for a different day.
So the problem with relying 100% on the scale is, it lies! Yes, you read that right. The scale is a big fat liar that knows nothing about you except your relationship to gravity. It doesn’t know if you ate late last night or had too much salt or are about to start your period, or if you’ve been lifting weights. The scale doesn’t know and that is why it’s important for you to take the number on the scale with a grain of salt. Is it a form of measurement? Sure, but it’s not the ONLY form of measurement.
When people say they have hit a plateau, they really probably haven’t and let me explain why. Like I mentioned above, there can be a million and one reasons why the number on the scale went up or stayed the same. And just a small, teeny tiny percentage of those reasons is that you gained actual fat or that you stayed completely the same without making any progress in any direction.
The way to know if you’ve hit a true plateau, is by assessing several things about yourself. Have you taken measurements? Are they the same or did you gain inches? Have you taken pictures? Do you see any differences at all? How do your clothes feel? Looser, tighter or the same? And one more and this is a big one…Are you getting stronger? Are you able to lift more weight? Run further? Go harder than before?
You see, the only way you have truly hit a plateau, is if you are the same on the scale, in measurements and pictures AND if you’re not making progress in the gym. If you are still making progress in the gym, you haven’t hit a plateau. I know this might be frustrating, especially if you are really hung up on the number on the scale, but trust me! There is so much more to progress than the number on the scale. If the scale frustrates you that much, please get rid of it.
You can’t know with 100% certainty if you’ve hit a true plateau unless you go have a body scan done. You don’t know for sure if you are or are not losing fat and/or gaining muscle without just giving it time to see results. The scale doesn’t know, sometimes your measurements don’t know and sometimes you can’t even see the difference in pictures right away. And that is because of what I touched on in the first paragraph….that change (muscle building and fat loss) takes TIME!!! I am almost 2 years into my fitness journey and I am STILL NOT where I want to be. I can’t stress this enough. The bodybuilders and fitness models that you see on Instagram have been at it for a long time. They didn’t just happen to look that way after 2 weeks or 2 months. They have been at it for YEARS!
My advice, if you think you’ve hit a plateau, is stay the course. Keep doing what you’re doing for at least 2 weeks. If NOTHING (weight, measurements, clothes fitting) has changed in those 2 weeks, it’s a possibility that you’ve hit a plateau.
Below are some things to make sure you are doing first. If these things aren’t happening, that is probably the reason you aren’t seeing progress. Once we have these things down, we can move on to bigger ways to help overcome a plateau
Assess your nutrition-
Are you tracking everything? Little bites and handfuls of food can add up to be hundreds of calories throughout the day. Make sure you track everything meticulously until you start to see progress again. Make sure you fill your day with a majority of whole, healthy foods. Treats are fine, but it could also be hurting your progress if you’re not getting enough of the good stuff. You need those micronutrients! Also humans tend to way underestimate portion sizes which can cost you hundreds of calories a day. Get a scale and use it! Measure in grams to get as close to exact as you can.
Drink enough water-
Water is a huge factor in weight loss. Make sure you’re drinking at least 100oz. a day. And read this blog post I wrote about the importance and benefits of water. It’s a good one 😉 Drinking water can help with water retention, keep you feeling full longer and help you have more energy for your workouts which will all help you break through that plateau.
Get enough sleep-
Sleep is another thing that can totally throw off your results. Your body needs time to rest and recover and if you’re not getting enough sleep, you can be hurting your ability to recover. And when you’re tired, you feel hungrier and it’s harder to make good decisions. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Try to get as close to that amount as possible.
Get your NEAT up-
NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT is all of the activity that you do that is not exercising…so cleaning your house, walking to get the mail, cooking dinner and even fidgeting.. Try moving more throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park at the back of the parking lot. Stand up and walk around every 15 minutes of sitting down. Just move more.
Hit your fiber goal-
You need 25g of fiber per every 1,000 calories. Make sure you’re hitting your fiber goal everyday. In order to hit your fiber goal everyday, you’re naturally going to have to eat more healthy foods, which is going to help you keep your nutrition on track. Win win!
Cut back on salt-
Sodium can cause you to retain water which causes the number on the scale to go up or stay the same. Cut back on foods high in sodium and resist the urge to salt your food. Drinking a lot of water will also help with water retention. When you retain water, you’re not actually gaining weight or plateauing but it will sure seem like it. You will feel fluffier and your clothes will fit tighter. If I have a high sodium day, I will usually not weigh myself for several days and I will make sure I am drinking at least a gallon of water every day until I feel back to normal.
If you’re under a lot of stress, it can definitely have an affect on your ability to lose weight. Try not to stress. Go get a massage. Relax. I know that is easier said than done but do what you can to remove stress from your life. Not only can stress cause more hunger and cravings, it also increases cortisol in our bodies. Cortisol is the stress hormone and can increase fat storage, particularly in the belly area.
Weigh in under the same conditions every week-
Make sure you weigh in on the same day, time and under the same conditions every time you weigh in. I like to weigh in right after I wake up and after I’ve gone to the bathroom without clothes. Also it helps to take a weekly average if you weigh yourself everyday because our bodies tend to fluctuate up and down so much from day to day.
If you’re doing ALL of the above and are still not seeing progress, here are some tricks of the trade to help you:
Reassess calorie needs-
You might be eating too many calories. When you lose weight, your calorie needs will go down naturally so it might be time to lower your calories too. Try dropping 50-100 calories if you have room to do so and stick with that for 10-14 days and see what happens. I highly suggest you don’t go too low with your calories or you will either 1- set yourself up for failure or 2- have nowhere to go if you feel you need to drop your calories again. And NEVER drop your calories below your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)
Some people respond better to lower carbs and higher fat and some respond better to higher carbs and lower fat or a medium range for both. Try changing up your macros and stick with that for 10-14 days and see what happens then reassess.
A refeed is a one day of the week or every few weeks that you eat at maintenance calories. Your overall weekly calories will still be in a deficit so you should still see some fat loss. The calories that you increase are typically all carb calories when you do a refeed.
Sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes what you need is to take a break from dieting all together. Now this is not an excuse to binge and eat everything in site, it’s just a planned break from tracking. And it’s as good for you mentally as it is physically. If you have a vacation coming up or a big event, this is the perfect time for a diet break. Last year, I went to Disneyland with my family. I ate mindfully but I didn’t track anything. When we came back I weighed myself and I actually lost weight. I am sure a little bit of that has to do with all of the walking too but it just goes to show that one week untracked will not hurt your progress. I typically take a diet break if I am going on vacation or have something big to time it around. OR if I am feeling mentally fatigued from tracking and my progress seems to have stalled. The diet break should be anywhere from 10-14 days to get the full benefit of the diet break and it really helps mentally to tell yourself that you don’t have to diet forever. Some people recommend taking one every 10-12 weeks.
When you decrease your calories, your metabolism decreases to save your energy. That is why going lower and lower on your calories will only work for so long. And if you do keep lowering calories to see results, you are going destroy your metabolism. At some point, you are going to have to quit dieting and move your calories up maintenance for an extended period of time. Dieting forever is not a good idea and at some point, it will stop working. That’s where a reverse diet comes into play. Reverse dieting can work in one of two ways. Some people say you should move your calories straight up to maintenance then slowly add more calories into your diet over time. Another way to do it is start where you are at with your cutting calories and add in 100-200 calories a week until you start to gain weight. Then you can stop where you are or back off a bit to maintenance. The point of reverse dieting is to add more food into your diet slowly enough that you won’t gain fat. Remember that less food doesn’t always equal fat loss. Especially when you get down to the last 10 pounds. Your body is going to hold onto that for all it’s worth. Reverse dieting is great because you are training your body to eat more, and the goal is to recomp your body (gain muscle and lose fat). You may gain “weight” on a reverse diet, but remember, the scale isn’t the only form of measurement and the weight you’re gaining could be muscle, especially if you’re weight training. I have seen picture after picture of people who have recomped their bodies and weight the same or more and look completely different in their before and afters. Their before holding onto a fair amount of fat and their after looking super toned and fit. Don’t be afraid to add in calories. It may just be what your body needs.
Calorie cycling is eating more than maintenance calories for 3-4 days a week and eating below maintenance the other days of the week. The purpose of this is to not let you body adapt to a certain calorie amount and to help you out of a plateau by showing your body you’re not starving it all the time.
Carb cycling is like calorie cycling but you only add in carb calories. You have 3 low carb days in a row then 2 high carb days. Choose carbs from healthy sources and avoid too much junk food. I will go more extensively into refeeds, reverse dieting, calorie and carb cycling and diet breaks in future posts. There is too much info in each of those areas to cover today.
I know I’ve got some of cardio lovers out there. I am personally am not one of them. I don’t mind cardio and I do like the way it makes me feel but cardio has a time and place. Cardio is great for overcoming plateaus, especially if you don’t do a lot of it already. If you need an extra push, add in 20 minutes of cardio 2-3x a week. If you’re doing only cardio, there is a good possibility it could be hurting your progress. Try incorporating some other form of exercise into your workout. Ladies, don’t be afraid to get into the weight room. I used to run a lot. I ran 6 half marathons and 2 Ragnars. In that time, I didn’t see weight loss, but I did see weight gain. It wasn’t until I started incorporating heavy lifting into my routine that I noticed big changes. I did always lift, but I didn’t always lift HEAVY weights. So you cardio lovers, add in some weights and you weight lifters, add in cardio as needed 🙂
If you’re already lifting weights, try lifting heavier! Women tend to think that lighter weights more reps is the way to go. Girls! Start lifting HEAVY! You will be surprised at what you can do and no you won’t get bulky. I usually do one to two sets of the heaviest I can go to get through 8-10 reps, then I do 1-2 sets of the absolute max I can go sometimes only getting in 1-2 reps. Don’t be afraid. It’s SO much fun!!
(I lift heavy weights, do I look bulky? No :))
Rest/Take a break-
Sometimes what your body really needs is a break from working out. Take a couple of rest days or even a week. You might just be worn out.
Increase exercise intensity-
Our bodies are incredible at adapting and that means that we have to constantly be pushing harder or backing off for a few days in order to show our body that we aren’t stuck in a rut. I change my workout routine often so my body is constantly challenged. Doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself off by constantly increasing your intensity or workout times, but switch it up. Maybe you are stuck in a rut and need to push yourself a little more than you have been. It’s ok! It happens to us all, but recognize it and push yourself.
Change your exercise routine-
Sometimes you need to change up the intensity of your routine and sometimes you need to change your routine. If the only exercise you do is running 3 miles every day at the same pace, your body is going to adapt. Try adding in some sprints or stop halfway along your fun and do some pushups and jumping lunges. Try riding a bike or lifting weights instead. Our bodies are incredible and they adapt easily so switch it up.
Add HIIT training-
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This is my favorite type of cardio to do and I kid you not, a 5-10 min session wipes me out. Even to the point of feeling like I want to puke. I use the spin bike or treadmill but there are so many ways you can do HIIT training. HIIT training is awesome because it turns your body into a fat burning machine and continues to burn calories long after you’ve stopped exercising. Whereas steady state cardio will only burn calories during the workout. I recommend doing 2-3 HIIT sessions a week and like I said, it can be anywhere from 5-10 minutes long. If you can go for much longer than that, chances are you are just doing interval training and not truly doing HIIT.
Get your hormones checked-
If you’ve tried all of these recommendations and you still aren’t seeing progress on the scale, measurements, pictures or in the gym, go talk to your doctor about getting your hormones checked. There could be a deeper issue that you’re not aware of.
Like I mentioned earlier, it takes time. Please be patient and loving with yourself through this process. This is not a quick fix or fad diet and you don’t want it to be. If you’re anything like me, fad diets never got me anywhere but worse off than when I started. Have patience. Time is going to pass by anyways so you might as well use this time to better yourself.
You’ve got this!