If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight is an admirable goal. Getting into better shape will give you more energy and motivation, as well as more confidence in your daily life. At the same time, you’ll increase your life expectancy and reduce your risk for a host of different chronic illnesses and health complications.
When you’re first starting to lose weight with a new diet and exercise plan, the pounds will seem to vanish. But if you’re like many people, after a few weeks of consistent weight loss, you might hit a plateau – a seemingly uncrossable barrier that stops you from proceeding with your weight loss goal.
Why do most people hit this plateau? And what can you do about it?
Why Weight Loss Plateaus Exist
If you’re no longer losing weight, one (or more) of these problems is likely the reason:
- Exercise reductions. Over time, some people get less motivated to exercise. They spend a few weeks going to the gym every day, but then they get tired, and they choose to go only twice a week. They may also fall into a holding pattern, refusing to exercise beyond light intensity. If your workout routine begins to diminish, you can expect a weight loss plateau.
- Diet failures. The same is true if your diet begins to fail. If you start eating more junk food, if you’re consuming more calories than you think, or if you’re not adjusting your caloric intake to accurately target your long-term weight loss goal, your weight will not continue to drop. Make sure to measure your intake correctly and make adjustments as needed.
- Natural fluctuations. Your weight fluctuates significantly throughout the day and throughout the week. If you appear to be the same weight you were last week, it might just be because you’re retaining extra water or some other reason that has little to do with your fitness efforts.
- Stress and other factors. Studies show that factors like stress and sleep deprivation can have an effect on your weight loss and overall fitness. If you’re having a hard time at work or if you’re not getting enough sleep, it could lead you to a plateau.
However, it’s also been suggested that weight loss plateaus can sometimes be attributable to variations in your body’s “set point.” Under set point theory, your body has a natural preference for being a certain weight, determined by a combination of your DNA, your environment, and your previous lifestyle. Over time, your set point can gradually change, so if you’ve weighed 230 pounds for ten years, your body’s set point will be around 230 pounds.
Set point theory suggests that you can lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight without much of an issue – but going further forces your body past its built-in set point. In other words, when you get to 210 pounds, you may hit a plateau, making it harder to lose weight.
How to Handle a Weight Loss Plateau
So how should you handle a weight loss plateau if one happens to you?
- Take accountability. Your weight loss plateau may or may not be a direct result of your own actions. Either way, it’s important to take accountability. Even if the plateau isn’t your fault, there are positive changes you can make to your eating and exercise habits. Focus on the factors that you can control.
- Remain patient. Weight loss is a long-term journey. Most people will not be physically able to reach their goals in a healthy way in the span of a week or two. Instead, it takes months of effort. Plateaus are temporary, so do your best to remain patient and continue focusing on your long-term results.
- Evaluate your habits. Take a critical look at the habits that led you here. Have you been writing down everything you eat? Have you been exercising dutifully every day? Are you getting enough sleep and are you relieving your stress? With honest analysis, you’ll usually find the culprit behind your plateau.
- Ratchet up the intensity. Be ready to ratchet up the intensity. Lifting extra weight, spending extra time on the treadmill, and making a few more cuts to your eating regimen might be all you need to break past this plateau.
Weight loss plateaus can happen to even the most committed people, so don’t take your plateau as a sign that you failed or that your weight loss journey is over. In fact, you can almost consider it a natural part of the experience.
Try to take your weight loss plateau in stride, change your habits, and pave the path forward for the next phase of your weight loss journey.