Weight loss plateaus are typically caused by one of two things (and sometimes, a combination of the two):
- A metabolic adaptation to your current diet and exercise regimen
- Accumulated changes in your existing exercise and eating routine that are causing you to eat more or burn less calories with exercise, even though you aren’t aware of it.
How To Get Past a Weight Loss Plateau
1. Monitoring Body Fat, Not Just Scale Weight
It’s not really about weight loss, but fat loss. The key is to carefully track both scale weight and body fat percentages.
Start measuring and tracking body fat percentages, as well as weight, and monitor the change in muscle to body fat ratios, not just scale weight. A pair of body fat calipers are inexpensive (under $10) and once you get the hang of them, easy to use at home. Take your body fat percentage measurements every two weeks. As long as your body fat percentage is decreasing, you can be pretty sure that you haven’t hit a weight loss plateau.
2. Recalculate Your Calorie Requirements
If you haven’t recalculated your calorie requirements recently, do it.
As you lose weight or fat or gain muscle, daily calorie needs changes as well. As your weight decreases, so can your daily calorie requirements. This could mean that you’re eating more food than you need for your new weight.
In addition, if you’ve added substantial muscle since your last calorie requirement calculation, you might actually be under-eating, which can cause you to lose hard-earned muscle.
Regardless, you should recalculate your calorie requirements at least once a month. Use this new number to adjust your daily calorie intake based on your goals. If you continue to experience a plateau, keep reading.
3. Get Meticulous With Your Diet
You may think your diet and portions are the same as two months ago when you were shedding body fat like crazy. If your sense of servings has gradually increased, the extra calories will add up … and that can mean you will lose body fat more slowly.
So get really meticulous about your diet for a few weeks.
This typically won’t need to be a permanent practice; it’s really intended to help you get a good idea about your actual food consumption to see if you are actually eating more than you thought.
After tracking your calories for a few weeks, you may discover that you are eating more food than you should for a fat-loss or weight-loss goal. If this is the case, adjust your calories down to bring it in-line with your goal. If it turns out you are eating exactly what you should be, but not losing fat, then keep reading.
4. Check Your Exercise Routine and Activity Levels
Your exercise and activity habits can decrease also. Intensity can drop, you get pressed for time and start cutting your workouts short; it gets cold outside and you become a little less active. Over time, these reductions in activity can start to chip away at how many calories you are actually burning each day.
Even a reduction of 50-100 extra calories burned from activity can have long term fat-loss and weight loss consequences. Over a period of 30 days, ending the day up 50 calories from working out with less duration or intensity can result in a gain of a half-pound of fat in a month.
- Carefully record your exercise routine.
- Consider a pedometer to keep better track of your actual activity levels across the day.
- Check to see if you are still coming in at or around your goal targets for fat/weight loss.
If this is a bit too much for you, just do it for 2 weeks as a check and recalibrate your exercise routines based on what you find.
5. Change Up Your Cardio Exercise and Intensity
Changing the type of cardio you are performing can also help. You may want to consider changing your routine to include shorter-duration, higher-intensity interval training, or HIIT. HIIT can help jump start your metabolism, and increase fat loss.
If you’re already a HIIT devotee, try switching out some of your HIIT training for lower-intensity, longer-duration cardio.
Also, changing the type of cardio exercise you perform can also jump start fat loss and help break a plateau. If you typically run, try switching to biking, swimming or even inline skating, these exercises work on different muscles and can help break a plateau. Or try some new machines at the gym for a change.
6. Add In Resistance/Weight Training
Simply adding in 2-3 days of resistance or weight training in addition to your regular cardio training can not only help break a fat loss plateau, but it will also add muscle, which is metabolically more active than body fat. Over time, this can help you burn more calories and keep your body fat levels in check.
It also has a wide range of proven health benefits, including improved bone density, reduced risk of injury as you age, and improved insulin sensitivity.
7. Kick Start Your Metabolism: Eat More
If all the things in your diet and exercise routine have truly remained the same, the reason your fat loss has stalled is that your body doesn’t want you to lose any more fat.
You need to let your body know it is tap into those fat reserves.
The way you do this is by eating more calories for a short period of time. We’re not talking about huge amounts of additional food consumed over days or weeks. Instead, gradually increase your calories to a level that is just above your maintenance level (by 100-150 calories) for approximately 1-2 weeks. Take body fat measurements and weigh yourself and see if you’ve lost any additional body fat.
If you keep the body guessing, it won’t be able to stay in plateau mode for long.
8. Eat More Frequently
If you eat smaller, more frequent meals every 2-3 hours you have less propensity to over-eat, and will use theses calories more efficiently, versus storing the excess as body fat.
Consider spreading your meals out over the day to see if it helps shock your system out of a plateau.