10 Dietitian-Approved Ways to Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau

Posted: December 1, 2022

If you've hit a weight-loss plateau and you are wondering how to overcome a weight loss plateau, while on a weight loss journey, you are definitely not alone. At first, you can see and feel your hard work paying off, but now, the scale isn't moving.

There are a few things you can do to help you overcome a weight loss plateau and move you closer to your goal weight. Below are 10 dietitian-approved tips to kickstart your weight loss plan!

Colorful weights to show ways to overcome weight loss plateau
Jump to:

Weight loss cannot be achieved without a caloric deficit. A calorie deficit occurs when you consume fewer calories than your body expends. There are many ways to accomplish this, some better than others. And I am sure you're aware of the many different diets claiming that they are the best way to lose weight, such as low-carb diets, intermittent fasting (though this is technically not a weight loss diet per-say), keto diet, and many more.

However, the common denominator between all of these diets is energy expenditure where the total caloric intake must be less than the calorie output. And of course, losing weight can be achieved by increasing physical activity, either as a sole method or in combination with your diet plan.

A reminder about weight loss and health

Before we go much deeper, as a Registered Dietitian who believes in health first, I do need to remind you that it's not the weight loss itself that improves health. It is that being physically active and fit and eating a balanced diet, at any weight, is a far greater contributor to overall health than just being thin.

What is a weight loss plateau?

First, let me start by saying that a weight-loss plateau happens to almost everyone who is trying to lose weight. It is important to understand that weight loss stalls are part of the process.

A weight loss plateau is when your weight stops changing and it feels like you get stuck on a number.

A weight loss plateau happens when you have been following a weight loss plan for some time and, as your body adjusts, you may experience a slower or stopped weight loss. This can be frustrating, but like everything, it is not a linear journey. There will be fluctuations as you strive to reach your goal.

Why does it happen?

There are a few theories as to why weight loss plateaus happen.

The most common one is the "set point" theory. This theory states that the body tries to maintain its weight within a preferred range and there are feedback loops that work to rebalance and maintain homeostasis.

Another theory is that the basal metabolic rate (BMR) decreases when you lose weight which then lowers the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). This lowering of TDEE is referred to as adaptive thermogenesis, decreasing energy expenditure to match the lower caloric dietary intake, thus slowing down or stalling weight loss progress.

What NOT to do when you reach a weight loss plateau

If you reach a weight loss plateau and you are maintaining a healthy diet and a healthy lifestyle, then there is no reason to change up your food intake or start stressing about the number of calories you are eating. The most important thing to remember when you are making these lifestyle changes is that the changes must be sustainable and realistic.

The biggest misconception when it comes to weight loss is that you have to deprive yourself of certain foods and eliminate a whole macronutrient. This is simply not true and can actually be dangerous in the long run, especially if you are a woman. Read: Why Long-Term Success on a Low Carb Diet Can Be Challenging for Women.

You need food to function. You most likely do not need to reduce your daily calorie intake if you are consistently eating healthy. Reducing your calorie intake further will backfire and cause you to regain the weight back in the long run. Not to mention it is very harmful for your metabolism and overall health.

How to know if you’ve hit a weight loss plateau?

I will start by saying that most times, people are not actually in a weight loss plateau. Just because you are not losing weight every week, does not mean you are dealing with a plateau. It is impossible to lose weight every week even when you are being super careful with your weight loss program. You may be gaining muscle, hanging on to some water weight, need to use the bathroom, on your period, etc. There are so many factors that play a role in your day-to-day weight.

woman checking her measurements for weight loss and figuring out how to overcome weight loss plateau

The first thing to do if you think you’ve hit a plateau is to check how often you are weighing yourself. If it is daily, then you need to cut back on the frequency of your weight check-ins. This is because your weight will change every single day and it can be frustrating and demotivating. 

Second thing you need to do is to make sure you are eating enough food, especially protein and fiber. The biggest myth is thinking you need to count calories and be at 1200 calories with your intake. This is not only unsustainable, but it’s also unhealthy. Eat enough food and be patient.

The weight fluctuation does not matter. If your goal is weight loss, you need to keep going, even when the scale is not moving.

What matters is your trend overtime and that you are following healthy habits. These are more important to your health than what a tool is showing you.

10 ways to overcome a weight loss plateau

If you believe you have reached the dreaded weight loss plateau, here are 10 things you can try to get things moving again.

Prioritize getting enough sleep

I know you've heard this before, but there is science behind why getting enough sleep can help you achieve your weight loss goals. One of the main reasons why getting enough sleep is a great way to help you overcome a weight loss plateau is because sleep affects appetite. While you may think that appetite is simply a matter of stomach grumbling, it’s actually controlled by neurotransmitters. The two neurotransmitters are: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin promotes hunger, and leptin contributes to feeling full. The body naturally increases and decreases the levels of these neurotransmitters throughout the day, letting you know when you are full and when you need to eat.

A lack of sleep can cause a dysregulation of ghrelin and leptin which can lead to increased appetite and diminished feelings of fullness in people who are sleep deprived. So making sure you are getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night is definitely a good idea.

Focus on strength training

gray weights on gray tile

If your goal is long term weight loss and reducing body fat, then you want to burn calories and build muscle mass. So, for optimal benefits, you should incorporate both cardio like HIIT (high intensity interval training) and strength training (or resistance training) into your exercise routine. However, what I often find happening is that most will focus on cardio and totally skip on building lean body mass.

You do need to change it up. If you do the same workout every time, your body will get used to your routine and become more efficient at completing the activity. If your body doesn’t have to work as hard to move a certain way, calories burned during the activity is lowered. Building muscle is the quickest way to lower fat storage and improve your health. 

To help you break through a plateau, you need to move your body in new, challenging ways. This may involve increasing the intensity of your workouts or trying something completely different. This will also help increase calories burned at rest by improving your resting metabolic rate (RMR). 

The more muscle you have, the more you burn at rest.

Manage your stress

Journal to manage your emotions to help you overcome weight loss plateau

Managing your stress levels is very important when it comes to overcoming a weight loss plateau or even maintaining a healthy weight.

When you're stressed, your body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. High cortisol levels can raise your blood pressure, raise your blood sugar, and make you crave ultra-processed foods.

All of these things can make it harder for you to lose weight. Therefore, learning healthy ways to deal with stress, like mindfulness exercises, journaling and breathwork can help you manage your stress and keep cortisol hormone levels down.

Eat enough protein

High protein muffins on parchment paper

While calorie deficit is required for weight loss, loading up on protein-rich foods can help you feel satisfied and therefore less hungry. This is because protein is better at sending satiety signals than other macronutrients like fat and carbohydrates. Loading up on protein at every meal, including snacks, can really help you maintain a calorie deficit without feeling hungry. Then there's the fact that protein is key for creating muscle mass. Whenever you lose weight, you naturally lose some of your lean muscle mass, and protein helps preserve that. If you are looking for some easy recipes, make sure to try these Kodiak Cakes Chocolate Chip Protein Muffins (No Banana).

Now if you are wondering how much protein you need, the range is anywhere from 10% to 35% of your calories should come from lean proteins. However, I tend to always recommend going for the higher end of this range when it comes to protein intake. The recommended dietary allowance to prevent deficiency for an average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, but if you have higher activity level, then that number can go as high as 1.0-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Plants at every meal

plate with vegetables and pizza with dressing on top.

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is an easy way to get unstuck with your weight-loss journey. Research shows that replacing foods of high energy density (high calories per weight of food) with foods of lower energy density, such as fruits and vegetables, is an important part of a weight maintenance. The beauty of incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet is that you can eat a larger volume of food without adding too many extra calories. It is also very important to eat more plant-based foods on a regular basis to improve physical health and longevity.

If you don't know where to start, make sure to check out this article: Build Your Meals For Sustainable Weight Loss and this one: 21 Tips on How to Start a Healthy Lifestyle and Stick to it.

Watch out for those "healthy" foods

This is a big one! So many foods are "healthified" and people tend to purchase those believing that they are better for you. These foods tend to be loaded with artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors which can make fat loss even harder as they are not as satisfying as the original version.

I have seen this happen to many women where they buy fat-free options rather than the original food they are craving. For example, if you are craving chips but you opt for a fat-free option that you don't even enjoy, you are most likely going to still be craving chips. So eat the food you are craving as this also helps you avoid getting into an unhealthy relationship with food.

Eat more fiber

whole wheat on a wooden spoon

Eating more fiber can help give you the push you are looking for with your weight loss efforts. Aim for at least 30 grams of fiber per day from fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Some of the best sources of fiber to defeat a weight plateau includes: oatmeal, nuts and seeds, berries, beans and pears.

Studies show that by making this one change to your diet, eating 30 grams of fiber per day, can help you lose weight, reduce blood pressure, and increase sensitivity to insulin.

This is especially true for soluble fiber which is a type that dissolves in water or liquid. Soluble fiber slows down the movement of food through the intestines, which can help you feel full and satisfied. Also, soluble fiber is most effective at keeping appetite and food intake under control.

And finally, fiber helps with weight loss because it acts like a sponge. It helps decrease the number of calories you absorb from other foods because it binds and it gets excreted.

Researchers estimate that increasing daily fiber intake could lead to 130 fewer calories being absorbed!

Change up your daily eating routine

If you do the same workout routine and you eat the same foods every day, it may be time to change things up.

Something to keep in mind is when you hit a plateau, you may be reducing carbohydrates too low which puts your body into something called "starvation mode." When you lose fat, your body produces less leptin (the 'satiety hormone') which tells the brain to conserve calories to prevent starving.

Research shows that the best way to increase leptin production is to eat more carbohydrates. Unlike fat and protein, the carbs tell your brain that you are not going to starve and to burn calories at a normal rate. This will give you the boost you need to kickstart calorie burn and getting you out of the plateau.

Don't rely on the scale alone

more energy

There are so many other forms of progress to focus on when you are losing weight. It can be easy to solely rely on the number on the scale to dictate if you are making progress in your weight loss journey.

However, the scale is actually unreliable and can even be inaccurate. If you are trying to reach an ideal weight where you know you will feel better in your body, then I recommend choosing other ways to measure progress.

Here are some of the best non-scale victories to celebrate for weight loss

  1. Your clothes fit better.
  2. Having the energy to play with your kids or pets.
  3. Your sleep has improved.
  4. You’re reached a fitness milestone. For example, more reps and lifting heavier weights.
  5. You’ve lost inches.
  6. You’re not using food to cope with emotions.
  7. Your mood has improved/
  8. Your health markers, like blood pressure and blood sugars, have improved. 
  9. You’re eating more fruits and vegetables.
  10. Your skin looks better.

Drink your water

Water consumption is important for your overall health, especially when trying to lose weight. Drink at least 8 cups of water daily and more if you are working out and sweating. Carrying a water bottle can help you accomplish your water goals while avoiding alcoholic beverages and sugary drinks. Among the many benefits of staying hydrated, water will help you maintain energy, aid in digestion, regulate your body temperature, and normalize your blood pressure.  

The bottom line

Health encompasses many things, and includes our mental, emotional and even spiritual well-being. At the end of the day, the best thing you can do for yourself is to love your body throughout all of its seasons, whatever shape or size.

Replacing restrictive diets and target weights with small changes to improve your overall health is going to enhance your life so much more than simply trying to reach a goal weight.

This looks like eating a balanced diet consisting of healthy fats, lean proteins and high-fiber carbohydrates, drinking enough water, having fun, and making sure you are increasing your workout intensity overtime to prevent muscle loss and to challenge yourself.

FAQ about how to overcome a weight loss plateau 

How long does a plateau in weight loss last?

Even though the scale may not be moving every single week, or even every month, it does not mean you are experiencing a weight loss plateau.
As long as you are following your exercise regimen and following healthy eating habits consistently, then your weight loss will follow and you are making progress. The scale should not be the only form of measurement used when deciding if you are making progress or not. There are many other ways to check if you are making progress: such as energy levels, how you feel, bowel movements, how your clothes fit, and your mood to name a few.

Will a weight loss plateau go away on its own?

Weight loss at a plateau? Have no fear.
You are still making progress even when the scale is not moving. Stick to your healthy eating habits and workout plan and you will keep losing those extra pounds. At the end of the day, the number on the scale does not matter as you are trying to improve your health when you go on a weight loss plan. All the changes you will be making to lose weight will help you improve your health, and if the scale stalls for a while, do not give up. Keep going!

Can a cheat day break a plateau?

As a Registered Dietitian, the term “cheat day” makes me cringe a little as this mindset can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. However, it has been shown that going off your eating plan every so often can help promote weight loss and get things moving again. 

What to eat when you hit a plateau?

Focus on eating lean protein, healthy fats, and high-fiber carbohydrates at most meals. Also, making sure you are drinking enough water and getting regular exercise keeps you moving in the right direction.

You may also like:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>