The Weight Loss Plateau and How to Push Past It

A weight loss plateau can be discouraging in the weight loss journey. Understanding what they are and how to work through them can encourage individuals to continue working towards their weight loss goals.

What is a weight loss plateau?

An individual can determine if they are in a weight loss plateau if they have not lost single pound in a three week period, when sticking to a low-calorie diet and meeting exercise goals. 

Why do weight loss plateaus happen?

Decreased Metabolism

The plateau occurs because of the decrease in metabolism in the weight loss process. Low calorie diets have been shown to decrease a person’s metabolism by 23% and this drop can occur after the deficit has stopped (1).

One reason why metabolism decreases is because of muscle loss. Muscle is metabolically active, meaning it requires more calories to be maintained. Therefore, when muscle is lost, our metabolism drops.

The very low calorie diet, specifically one that lacks protein is what causes muscle loss. Additionally, it occurs with a lack of muscle use.

It is important to not eat a calorie amount below your basal metabolic rate (BMR), eat enough protein, and participate in at least three days of strength training per week to avoid muscle loss. Avoiding muscle loss can help avoid a weight loss plateau.

Not Sticking to Your Goals

Another reason why a weight loss plateau may occur is from a lack of sticking to your health goals. In weight loss, it is essential to be honest with yourself in your progress. 

Are you meeting your eating goals and doing three days of strength training each week? Do you move your body as much as you can throughout the day? If you answer ‘no’ to any of these questions, you may not be in a weight loss plateau. It may just be time to get back on track. 

The Scale Does Not Tell the Whole Story

When stepping on a scale, that scale tells one number. That one number includes the weight of your muscles, bones, organs, fat, and any food or beverage has been consumed. 

It does not provide any additional information, unless it is a scale that includes body fat percentage, body water percentage, muscle mass and others. However, even those scales can be inaccurate. 

So, if the number on the scale has gone down, there’s no way to show where that weight loss has come from. Was it fat loss, muscle loss or loss in water weight? There’s no way to be certain when stepping on the scale at home.

Because of this, scales are not the best way to monitor weight loss progress, when used alone. It is essential to use other forms of monitoring to determine how successful you have been with weight loss.

Monitor Progress in Many Ways

There are many ways to monitor weight loss progress. Measuring progress in multiple ways can help determine if an individual is actually in a weight loss plateau or not. Choosing at least one additional way to monitor weight loss success, in addition to the scale, is what’s recommended. 

Body Measurements

One option is to take body measurements. This is a great option because the measurements will show you where fat loss is occurring. To do this, wear tight fitted clothing or no clothing at all and begin measuring various areas of the body with a tape measure.

Areas where measurements are needed include bust, chest, upper arms, forearms, waist, hips, thighs and calves (2). For the forearm, hips, thighs, and upper arms, measure around the largest part.

Measure around the chest right at the nipple line to get the measurement for bust. The chest measurement is just below the bust and the waist should be measured about a half inch above the belly button (2).

Progress Photos

Progress photos are another great method to measure weight loss progress. As mentioned previously, the scale does not tell the whole story. Progress photos tell more of the story by showing your body composition changes.

If interested in taking progress photos, choose clothing where progress can easily be seen or take them naked. Then, simply take the photos from various angles once a month or so and be sure to smile!

How Your Clothes Fit

Monitoring how your clothing fits is another great method to measure weight loss progress. This method is simple, too. Choose a clothing item that fits a little too tight and monitor to see if it starts to fit more comfortably.

Some clothing item ideas include:

  • Belt
  • Jeans/shorts
  • Blouse
  • Dress

How to Get Out of a Weight Loss Plateau

To get out of a weight loss plateau, follow these steps:

  1. Estimate your BMR here: 
  2. Never eat below your BMR.
  3. If you like to track calories, check out this post to determine your weight loss calorie goals.
  4. Have a source of protein at all meals and snacks.
  5. Schedule three days of strength training into your week and complete the workouts.


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