How to break a weight loss plateau

How to break a weight loss plateau

How to break a weight loss plateau

Wondering why your weight is refusing to budge? Read on, learn how to break a weight loss plateau.

The Found Team
Last updated:
August 19, 2021
5 min read
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You’ve been working hard, eating well, and making an effort to exercise regularly. At first, these healthy habits may have resulted in steady weight loss. (Woot!) Then, suddenly, your progress totally stopped—and the number on the scale stayed the same for several weeks. What gives? What can you do? 

First, don’t worry—hitting a plateau on your weight loss program is normal. 

Most people on a weight loss journey experience the same thing you’re going through right now. But the good news is that it’s possible to break through this tough spot and start losing weight again. Keep reading to learn more about weight loss plateaus, why they happen, and how to break a weight loss plateau.

What is a weight loss plateau?

Before we get into the details about how to break a weight loss plateau (stick with us because we’ll get there!), you need to understand what it is and why it happens. The more you understand your body and how it works, the better equipped you’ll be to overcome weight loss challenges and find long-term success. 

Part of the reason a weight loss plateau happens is that during the first few weeks of making lifestyle changes (eating healthier, exercising more, getting better sleep) and taking any prescribed medication, your body loses a lot of fluids and fat. That extra water weight you drop during this time will make it seem like you are losing pounds super fast. 

As you keep on a path toward your weight loss goal, you’ll likely try to keep doing what has worked for you. (Makes sense—all signs say it has been working for you!) But instead of continuing its downward trend, your weight stays the same for days, weeks, or even longer. Gah!

Why do weight loss plateaus happen?

So all of this begs the question: Why the sudden stall if you’re doing the same things that have been producing results? One reason may be that you’re doing, well, the same things—without accounting for changes in your body. 

As you lose weight, your body needs fewer calories. (The smaller your frame, the less energy you need to sustain yourself.) So if your diet is the same, and you haven’t upped your activity, weight loss is bound to stall. 

We also now know that other factors contribute to how our bodies process the food we eat. Beyond calorie intake, a weight loss stall can happen because of the following:

  • Muscle loss (when you lose weight, some is fat, and some is muscle mass)
  • Stress
  • Thyroid or adrenal gland problems
  • Medications 

There are a few other things that could be at play here:

1. Metabolic Adaptation  Your body can’t tell the difference between famine and dieting for weight loss—and wants to maintain homeostasis, or balance. It does this through metabolic adaptation: Your body dials down its energy expenditure and calorie burn to avoid further weight loss and to help preserve its energy stores. Essentially, it’s a means of survival in response to weight loss. 

To understand how metabolic adaptation works, it helps to know the four components that make up your overall metabolism. First, there’s your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the energy you expend for basic life-sustaining functions like breathing, digestion, and anything your body does at rest. BMR accounts for roughly 70% of your total daily energy expenditure. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) includes the calories you burn through daily movement—things like doing laundry and running errands, as opposed to actual planned exercise. It accounts for roughly 15% of your daily energy expenditure, but varies significantly per individual. The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the energy required to eat, digest, and absorb the food you eat. And it accounts for approximately 10% of your daily expenditure. Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT) is just what it sounds like—it’s the energy used doing activities like yoga, jogging or swimming—and accounts for roughly 5% of your total daily energy expenditure. 

When you begin to lose weight by cutting calories and being more active, your body responds by lowering your BMR in an attempt to keep your weight steady (back to that homeostasis mentioned above). NEAT also decreases to help your body conserve energy. TEF naturally drops, as well, just due to the fact that you’re eating less. And EAT lowers simply because a smaller frame doesn’t burn as many calories, so the same 30-minute walk you did 10 pounds ago will require less energy. Plus, as you lose weight, you lose muscle in addition to body fat. And that’s important because the more muscle you lose, the slower your metabolism. So getting through a weight-loss plateau (or avoiding one in the first place) isn't just about burning fat. It's also about making sure you retain or gain muscle.

2. Set Point Theory This theory was developed in 1982 by researchers William Bennett and Joe Gurin, and claims that there is a specific weight where your body feels comfortable. It is sort of an internal control system that dictates how much you should weigh, or how much fat you should have based on your genetic makeup. And it can be a reason your weight loss has plateaued—your body is trying to maintain its natural weight. Everyone is different (as is everyone’s set point!), but you could expect to lose anywhere between 10 and 20 pounds until your body begins resisting change.  

3. Changes In Exercise & Eating Habits  If your initial lifestyle changes were too extreme, they’re not going to be sustainable, and sooner or later you’ll start bending the rules. Maybe you choose different foods. Maybe you cut back on the loads of daily activity you were doing. Even small, unconscious calorie fluctuations can lead to a weight-loss plateau. 

Ways to break a weight loss plateau

Now let’s explore some ways to jump-start your progress and break through that plateau! 

Tip #1: Eat more water-rich foods

Dehydration is much more common than people think. And, according to press reports, an estimated 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.

Why does that matter? Because dehydration can lead to health problems like a lack of energy, focus, and bloating. And all of those things can impact weight care.  Try filling up on water-rich foods that can help boost your energy and improve your satiety. Some good choices include:

  • Low-sodium vegetable soup
  • Salads with crunchy veggies and a light dressing
  • Fresh fruits
  • Crudites like carrots sticks, cukes, celery, and cauliflower florets

Tip #2: Eat more protein

Increasing your lean protein intake can make you feel fuller, longer by suppressing the body’s production of ghrelin—a hormone that triggers appetite. High-protein foods may also help control your eating habits and prevent you from, say, snacking on Doritos between meals. (Not to judge! They’re addictively delicious). Protein also helps maintain lean muscle mass that is often lost during a weight care journey.

Tip #3: Fill up on fiber

Like protein, diets rich in fiber promote weight loss by boosting satiety. Fiber also helps keep your digestive system running smoothly and promotes a healthy microbiome—which can help with weight loss.

Tip #4: Consider what you’re sipping 

What you drink—even if it seems healthy—can be a sneaky source of excess calories. Research shows that your body may not register liquids like solid foods, so you may still feel hungry after having a big smoothie. Our advice: Be mindful of bevs like fruit and vegetable juices and specialty coffee drinks. Instead, opt for water (you can add a little fresh lemon juice or drop in some raspberries or cucumbers to amp up the flavor) or sip some herbal tea. 

Tip #5: Choose healthy snacks and desserts

OK, let’s start by saying that we never think you should deny yourself a little chocolate or a handful of chips. Making something off-limits has been shown to have the reverse effect—and can lead to increased cravings, causing you to overeat the forbidden food. Instead, it’s about moderation and choosing to have healthy snacks most of the time. This will also keep you from getting too hungry between meals and overeating when you grab a bite. 

Some positive choices include:

  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Plain Greek yogurt topped with a lower-sugar granola or fresh fruit
  • Whole-grain crackers and hummus
  • Air-popped popcorn 
  • A piece of dark chocolate

Tip #6: Switch up your movement

If you’ve been exercising the same way throughout your weight loss journey, odds are your body has adapted, and it’s time to shake things up. Challenging your body with a new activity level forces it to work harder, boosting your metabolism and calorie burn. There are countless ways to keep your workouts anything but routine, including: 

  • Lift weights As we mentioned before, you don’t just experience fat loss when you lose body weight. You also lose muscle mass. Experts say that up to 25% of the weight you drop can be muscle. And that matters because muscle is key to keeping your metabolism humming along. When you lose it, the opposite happens, and your metabolism can slow and may result in a weight loss plateau. Doing weekly resistance training builds muscle. It could be lifting weights, doing yoga, or any type of movement that strengthens your muscles. 
  • Jump around Plyometric workouts that involve jumping and explosive movements challenge your muscles and cardiovascular system. They also burn a ton of calories in a short amount of time.
  • Hit the pool Swimming is another full-body workout that could put you in a calorie deficit. It’s also low-impact—a great type of cardio for those with joint problems. 
  • Split it up Instead of doing one workout in the morning, try dividing it into two..or three…or four smaller ones that work with your schedule. Exercise kicks your metabolism up a notch and keeps it elevated even after you finish.
  • Try something new When you do the same thing repeatedly, you might get bored and stop challenging yourself. (It’s just human nature.) This is true for physical activity too. So challenge your body with a different exercise regimen.  You don’t have to give up an activity you enjoy—just look for ways to amp up the intensity. Go for a longer walk or bike on a path with more hills.

Tip #7: Log your food and workouts 

Studies show that people overestimate how much they move and underestimate the amount they eat. So jotting it all down in a journal can help you notice areas where you could improve—and keep getting the weight-loss results you want. Plus, an important step in overall health is mindfulness. A food and exercise journal can boost your awareness of what you eat and do and how those things make you feel. Try focusing more on the quality of the food you eat rather than calories when you log.

Tip #8: Be mindful of your hunger cues

Speaking of mindfulness—journaling about your food intake can help you understand when you tend to feel hungry throughout the day. If you’re always starving at 11:00 a.m. and then overeat at lunch, maybe you need to add more protein to your breakfast or have a mid-morning snack.

Tip #9: Manage stress 

Another critical factor in weight loss is stress management. When you’re frazzled, your body produces cortisol, the stress hormone. This can trigger cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate, and sugary foods. It can also make blood sugar levels fluctuate. 

Some excellent de-stressing activities include:

  • Yoga—or any exercise, really
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling

Even a few extra minutes of these daily activities can help you refocus on your weight care journey and get you back on track.

Tip #10: Get good quality sleep

Lack of sleep makes your diet, exercise, and stress levels suffer. It’s just facts. Research has also shown that high-quality sleep is a must for overall health and body fat loss. One study showed that just two weeks of poor sleep slowed weight loss by up to 55%, even when the participants’ caloric intake stayed the same.

Overcoming weight loss plateaus with Found

Sleep, stress, mindfulness, exercise, and a healthy diet are all components of successful weight care. If you’re wondering how to break a weight loss plateau, understand that, sometimes, no matter the hard work you put in to make healthy changes and form healthy habits, your body may not respond the way you’d like. If you’ve tried everything and feel stuck at a never-ending red light, Found is here to help. 

Our prescription weight care program can get you back on the path to weight loss success. We also provide the support you need to keep you accountable through our online resources and community.

Take our quiz today to see if Found is right for you.

Published date:
August 19, 2021
Meet the author
The Found Team
The Found Team

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