Losing a considerable amount of weight can be challenging; often the first few weeks on a winning plan results in steady weight loss followed by a plateau where the scale numbers won’t budge.
A variety of reasons can contribute to this discouraging scenario. Sometimes the body is simply fighting back, trying to hold on to weight through a biological protection response.
These are some of the most common reasons for weight loss plateaus; check them out and zero in on strategies to help you get back on track.
- Not Enough Protein
Studies show eating a protein-packed breakfast leads to less hunger and fewer cravings throughout the day. (4)
- Not Drinking Enough Water
Water can help with losing weight; a three-month study showed dieters who drank 17 ounces of water half an hour before eating lost 44% more weight than those who didn’t. (5)
During the 90 minutes after you drink water, your body’s capacity to burn calories increases by 24% to 30%. (6)
- Measuring Progress Only by Weight
The scale doesn’t always reflect changes in body composition, and you may be losing fat even when the numbers aren’t falling.
If you’ve just begun an exercise program, you may be adding muscle and losing fat at the same time. Fluctuations in body weight are normal, and hormonal activity can affect the retention of water, especially for women.
You can get body fat measured monthly to help determine where you stand, and wrapping a tape measure around your waist regularly may also be a good tool for tracking progress when it seems you’re not losing weight.
- Miscalculating Calorie Intake
People who keep track of what they eat lose more weight than those who don’t. (7) Unless you make a point of knowing exactly what you’re putting into your mouth, you’re probably misjudging calorie intake.
One study showed people consistently underestimated how many calories they ate by significant ratios ranging from 16% to 47%. (8)
Using a photographic approach can help you achieve the awareness you need without keeping a written food diary, and it’s much less time-consuming. You can also find a good selection of free calorie apps online.
- Eating Processed Foods
When it comes to losing weight, the quality of food choices is just as important as the quantity you’re eating.
Choose single-ingredient, whole foods and stay away from processed foods to increase satiation and reduce appetite.
- Overlooking Resistance Training
Weight-loss diets often result in decreased muscle mass. (9) Lifting weights is the easiest way to make certain you won’t lose muscle while you’re losing fat.
Experts say lifting free weights is more effective for beginners than using weight machines.
If you’re not excited about lifting, try other forms of exercise that work groups of muscles against resistance. You can use your own body weight, such as doing pull-ups, squats or push-ups.
- Slacking on Cardio Exercise
Any type of exercise that gets your heart rate up will support weight-loss, so make sure to swim, job, run or engage in your favorite type of cardio exercise at least twice a week.
Cardio work is especially effective at melting off visceral fat that can collect around organs and lead to serious health issues. (10)
- Bingeing on Healthy Foods
Consuming a large amount of food in a short time is a common periodic problem for dieters.
While everyone knows bingeing on junk food is going to set you back in a flash, many people don’t seem to make the connection that overeating healthy foods can do the same thing.
The most common transgressions usually involve dark chocolate, nuts, cheese and nut butters.
- Drinking Your Sugar
When we drink sweetened beverages, the calories don’t register with our brains in the same way as solid food does; no compensation is made, leading to higher caloric intake. (11)
This applies to all sweet drinks, even the ones we might think of as healthy, such as fruit juice, products like Vitaminwater, and coffee drinks.
- Not Getting Enough Quality Sleep
Poor sleep can negatively impact mental and physical health, as well as sabotage weight loss.
Adults who don’t sleep enough are 55% more likely to be obese, and the rates are even higher for children at 89%. (12)
- Eating Too Frequently
Studies show how often we eat has no impact on weight, so leave that myth behind and take a look at meal frequency. (13)
Pack protein into each meal to lengthen the time you’ll feel satisfied; this will save time in meal prep and cleanup, and you may find yourself cutting daily calorie counts without much effort.
- Going Too Heavy on the Carbs
Low-carb diets have been shown to result in 2 to 3 times the amount of weight loss as low-fat diets. (14)
This approach is excellent for those with metabolic disorders like diabetes; others can benefit as well, since low-carb diets can lead to improvements in vital health markers like cholesterol and blood triglycerides.
- Too Many Alcoholic Drinks
Drinking moderately doesn’t affect weight for most people, but heavy drinking is associated with weight gain. (15)
Amounts that impact weight loss efforts can vary between individuals. Staying away from beer, wine, and drinks made with sweetened beverages is a good rule of thumb; spirits mixed with a non-caloric beverage may be the best bet if you like to drink.
- Medical Conditions
It can be much more difficult to lose weight if you have certain medical conditions, including sleep apnea, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and hypothyroidism.
If you feel health issues may be affecting your ability to lose weight, speak with your doctor to explore options.
- Mindless Eating
This involves eating slowly, savoring taste, smell, texture and color, as well as paying close attention to signals from your body that you’ve had enough.
Cut the distractions, sit at the table with your food, and stop when you feel satisfied.
- Junk Food Addiction
For those dealing with this problem, eating less or making a drastic change to dietary habits can feel like a hopeless prospect. Get professional help.
- You Have Unrealistic Expectations
We always want weight loss to happen more quickly than it does; it’s often fast at first, but for anyone who has a lot of weight to drop, the process usually slows down to a pound or two weekly over time.
Most of us are never going to look like bodybuilders or fitness models, and most of them don’t even look the way we see them in photos; their images are enhanced.
Many people find themselves stalled out at a few pounds over what they were shooting for; the body can reach a set-point where it feels comfortable, and getting past that may be nearly impossible. Acceptance is often the most practical answer when this is the case.
- You’ve Been Eating Minimally for Too Long
It’s quite common for dieters to hit a plateau after months of careful eating; sometimes taking a break is the best strategy.
Take a month or two off, and increase calories by a couple hundred daily, aiming to maintain the loss you’ve achieved. Add some extra sack time and lift weights, then go back to your plan later.
Dieting is actually the strongest predictor for future weight gain (20), so your mindset when it comes to losing weight is important.
Summary: Focus on becoming healthier, happier and more fit through better choices in nourishing your body; think of your eating and exercise plans as ways to support your desire for a better lifestyle.