Oftentimes in our health journey, there comes a point when your body stops changing despite consistent diet and exercise. It’s commonly referred to as “hitting a plateau” and most aren’t really sure what caused it or what to do about it.
Although very common, it's one of the most frustrating parts of the health journey. The reactions to the plateau vary. Some people cut calories which sometimes leaves them eating very little...too little. Or the overwhelming frustration leads them to just throw in the towel and revert back to their old ways negating any progress that may have been made.
Even though it may come as a surprise (especially if you’ve been consistent), it’s completely normal and those who seek weight loss or a change in their body composition will experience it. Most people dread this phase in their journey but a plateau is nothing other than a sign your body has adapted and this is your signal that it needs something different. Listening to this sign may be just the thing you need to save your metabolism from slowing more than necessary.
A plateau is a sign your body is communicating that some changes need to be made
Let’s talk a little bit about how the body reaches this point in the first place.
Causes of a Weight Loss Plateau
When you go on a diet that restricts calories, initially you’ll typically see changes in your body. Whenever you cut calories, it’s only a matter of time before your body adapts to the new amount of fuel it’s being provided. As your metabolism is receiving less fuel than before to convert into energy, it’ll slow to accommodate your new body weight. Since the calories you’re consuming at this point equal the calories you eat based on your new weight and activity level, weight loss slows or even comes to a halt.
How You Know if You’ve Hit a Plateau
So how do you know if you’ve actually hit a plateau? Sometimes we think we have, when in fact, we haven't. These are some signs to look for to know for sure.
01: Weight Loss or Body Changes have Stalled or Stopped Completely
This may seem like the most obvious one but it’s still important enough to call out as there are a few questions you can ask yourself to find out if this is truly what’s happening. Have you actually been consistently in a caloric deficit week after week? How do you know for sure? Because if not, you haven’t really hit a plateau, you’ve simply increased your calories and therefore are no longer in a calorie deficit and naturally won’t see any change.
This is why we recommend tracking if that’s something you feel comfortable with. It helps bring awareness around whether or not you’ve truly reached a plateau.
02: Low Energy Throughout the Day
If your energy levels are much lower than you’re used to, it’s likely that you’ve been consistent and have, in fact, reached a plateau. If you’re used to crushing your workouts but are feeling like you just don’t have it in you, or you get winded going up and down the stairs... yep, you’ve hit a plateau.
03: Feeling Unmotivated
Similarly, if you have a hard time getting yourself to do your usual workout routine or hikes with the family, then you’re likely running on low fuel and your body needs a change.
04: Experiencing an Onset of Cravings
If at any point you feel an overwhelming urge to binge on sugary or other less than desirable foods. Or if you find yourself overeating foods you typically don’t, this is your body’s way of communicating that it’s craving nutrients. The longer you try to resist this pull, the louder the cravings will become and the more likely you’ll end up binge eating and ultimately negate any progress you made. You could potentially even end up worse off than you started.
All of these are just signs that your body is ready for the next phase. The phase that’s right for you will vary based on your personal experience as well as your desired outcome.
What to Do When you Hit a Plateau
Reassess Your Habits
Before you make any changes, be sure you’re actually at a plateau. If you’ve reviewed the above options and check those boxes, the next step is to take a deeper look into your overall healthy habits. Are you getting good quality sleep 7-9 hours a night? Are you practicing de-stressing activities and managing your stress? Are you limiting processed foods and prioritizing real whole foods?
Choose a Plan of Action (options are below)
When you’re ready, look over the various options below and see which one best meets you where you’re at. Not every one of these options will work best for every situation so it’s important to review them carefully and proceed based on what you believe will help you achieve your health goals long term and not just get you a quick fix.
Options to Overcome a Fat Loss Plateau
Option 1: Increase Your Calorie Deficit
This is the most obvious option and not one we typically recommend. If you’ve been tracking and know with certainty that you’ve been consistent, you may want to consider reducing your overall calorie intake by another 10% per week. If you choose this route, under no circumstance should you ever go below 1500 calories per week. As your nutrition is one of the easiest things to control, this will likely help you start seeing results again. If, however, you’re feeling lethargic, unmotivated, or experiencing cravings as mentioned above, we do NOT recommend cutting any more calories as this can lead to slowing your metabolism in time. In such situations, there are other options on this list that’ll be a better fit for you to get results.
Option 2: Increase Exercise Frequency or Intensity
Another option is to ramp up your workouts, either by increasing the duration or intensity. If you’re comfortable with where your workouts are at currently, however, this isn’t an option we usually recommend as it’s not sustainable. The reason being is that you’d have to keep up the intensity in order for the plateau to recede. Additionally, if you’re already working out consistently, working out more or harder may end up backfiring you as it could increase your stress levels. Higher stress levels increase your insulin sensitivity which can lead to weight gain.
Option 3: Increase Your Calories
I know this probably seems counterintuitive but this is a sure-fire way to prime your body for fat loss while maintaining the integrity of your metabolism. If you’ve been stuck at a plateau for a long time, it’s likely your body isn’t getting enough nutrients and has adapted to the lower calorie intake. If you increase your calories slowly and intentionally (by about 50-100 calories per week), you’ll be able to find out how much you can eat in order to maintain your current weight. Continue to increase until you notice some weight gain. Initially, the weight will be just water weight so keep at it until you've gained for a full week or more. It’s important to STAY at your maintenance weight and caloric intake levels for a period of time. Ideally, for as long as you were in a deficit. This will reset your metabolism and better prime your body to lose fat the next time around (if that’s your goal).
If this seems overwhelming, we walk you through the steps in our Pretty Healthy Metabolism™ 8-week program. Reaching your health goals in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling deprived and miserable takes time and patience… but what are 8 weeks when you have sustainable results that can last a lifetime? Learn more about how we can help here.