Yes, a weight loss plateau can be a good thing! Shocking, right?
I’ll explain more in a minute, but first I want to tell you about a client of mine.
My Client Susan
I’ll call my client “Susan” for the purpose of this email. Susan is in her late 50’s. She had been lost a good bit of weight prior to our working together – about 20 lbs. She did this by consuming about 1200 calories per day, and exercising 5-6 days per week. Her workouts consisted of walking on her treadmill for 30 minutes at a time.
Things had been going well for Susan, but lately her weight loss hit a plateau. She couldn’t lose anymore, yet she felt she still had about 10 more lbs she wanted to lose.
By the time Susan contacted me for coaching, she recently started reducing her calories to between 1,000 – 1,100 per day. She was even considering the 900-1000 per day range to try and speed things up.
Susan also began adding a second walking workout multiple days per week, so she was working out in the morning before work, and then again when she got home from work as well.
She contacted me for coaching because she said she knew cutting calories very low and working out 2 times per day was not sustainable, but she didn’t know what else to do.
I was glad she contacted me!
Weight loss plateaus are common and many of us hit plateaus at some point during our weight loss journey.
And you know what? Weight loss plateaus can be a GOOD THING.
Because if we are in a true fat-loss plateau, it’s a sign we’ve been doing a great job being consistent with our new healthy lifestyle – like Susan was.
Her consistent diet and workouts are what made her achieve great weight loss.
Plateaus are also typically a sign you are getting closer to your goal weight. Typically you’ll lose a lot of weight up front, but the closer you get to your goal weight, the slower things go.
The other good news is after you hit a plateau, they can be worked through. The solution to fixing it and losing weight again can be unique for everyone.
Read on to learn strategies if you hit a plateau, and to find out what I did with Susan to get her losing weight again.
5 THINGS TO DO IF YOU THINK YOU’VE HIT A WEIGHT LOSS PLATEAU
1) (MOST IMPORTANT) MAKE SURE YOU’VE ACTUALLY HIT A PLATEAU
This is the first step. You may not even need to try any of the other techniques after reading this first section. Be sure to give it at least 2 weeks to a month (longer is better) to make sure you truly in a fat loss plateau. And you may notice I saw “fat loss plateau” instead of “weight loss plateau.” Don’t rely solely on the scale and your weight to determine whether you’ve hit a plateau or not.
Take circumference measurements each month, because the scale is not the best method to track progress. You may not be losing weight, but if you are still losing body fat and losing inches – that is not a true plateau. Read my previous blog post: The Scale Is A Liar. Use This Tool Instead for better ways to understand the results you get on the scale, as well as a handy chart I provide in the post to troubleshoot your fat loss.
Second, confirm you are in a plateau and not simply cheating yourself out of your results by doing other things that may be sabotaging your progress.
This requires you taking an honest look at your lifestyle.
Some questions to ask yourself:
Are you exercsing consistently enough?
- At least 3 to 5 days per week, with enough intensity and variety (strength training & cardio)?
Are you consuming more calories than you think?
- Sometimes it takes an honest look at portion sizes and even measuring portions with a digital scale temporarily. Look at your BLT’s (bites/licks/tastes) throughout the day as well.
Try fixing those things first and getting consistent again with workouts and portions if you are struggling in those 2 areas.
It’s normal for weight loss to slow down after the first couple months
As I mentioned above, the more weight you lose, the more weight loss slows down. If you had be losing a large amount of weight each week in the beginning of your fitness journey, and and now it’s slowed and you are only losing 0.5 lb each week – THAT IS NOT A PLATEAU.
Now, IF you know what’s going on is not one of the issues above, and you are really have hit a plateau, here’s where you go next to help bust through it…
2) RE-EVALUATE YOUR CALORIE INTAKE GOAL
If you are truly in a fat loss plateau, it’s probably time to re-evalauate your caloric intake goal. If you aren’t someone who tracks calories (and you don’t have to be), it’s still valuable to look at portions and adjust over time. Calories and portions do matter – and are the #1 influence on fat loss.
It’s important to note as you continue losing weight and you get smaller, your calorie intake requirements go down as well. So, it is likely you’ll need to reduce calorie intake to keep losing. As a side note: this is why I suggest clients start with the highest amount of calories you can lose weight on. If you start very low calorie and have a lot of weight to lose, yes you may lose more up front by keeping calories very low, but where do you have to go later when you need to reduce calories further???
This is what happened to Susan. She was correct in initially thinking she needed to reduce calories further, but there is only so long you can continue using that strategy before calories simply get too low.
3) CYCLE CALORIES OR TRY REVERSE DIETING
Sometimes you need to shake things up if you’ve been consuming the same amount of calories for a long period of time. Cycling calories is a great technique to trick your body into losing again. There are 2 ways I like to cycle calories. One is just by adding one or two days per week where you increase calories and/or carbs. The second way is more effective and I use it as a metabolism reset, especially for clients who have been dieting for a long period of time (like Susan). The fitness world calls this technique “reverse dieting.” With reverse dieting you slowly increase calories each week (over a longer period of time) with the purpose of increasing metabolic rate and health to reset your metabolism.
After increasing calories slowly (by doing it slowly you limit rebound weight gain), you can then reduce calories again once again when reverse dieting is complete – but this time you’ll start losing weight more effectively.
I love reverse dieting and this is one of the methods I used with Susan. Although she was apprehensive to try it, I told her if we increased calories slowly, it would limit any rebound weight gain she would get while doing it. In all, she only gained a few pounds using this technique because we did it slowly. And she lost those pounds right away after we reduced calories again after we were done with her reverse dieting.
4) MODIFY WORKOUTS
I’m not a big fan of unnecessarily changing workouts everyday. In fact, sometimes it’s good to have the same exercises for a period of time to help build strength, BUT if you’ve been doing the same workouts for a number of months and do not see changes anymore, it’s probably time for a change. It’s also a good idea to add strength training workouts along with your cardio workouts.
This is something I did with Susan. We began to add strength training workouts 3 times per week and balanced that with a reduced walking schedule. Her two-a-day walking workouts were gone.
5) CHECK FOR OTHER MISC ISSUES – LIKE STRESS, HORMONAL ISSUES, SLEEP ISSUES, MEDICAL CONDITIONS OR REACTIONS TO MEDICATION
Sometimes we hit plateaus due to hormonal imbalances, underlying medical conditions or even as a side-effect of medications we are taking.
Two other common reasons why we may plateau with our fat loss has to do with stress in our daily life and/or reduced sleep. These issues effect the stress-hormone cortisol and can limit our fat loss. For this, I recommend adding restorative activities for stress reduction. Examples: yoga, restorative walks, massage, prayer, meditation, etc. And having a sleep deadline each evening where you shut off the electronics and start devoting yourself to a relaxing bedtime routine helps with sleep hygiene.
We evaluated this for Susan and created a new goal to add one relaxing yoga class each week, and have a goal to start a relaxing bedtime routine at an earlier hour to get a more restful night’s sleep.
SO, WHAT ABOUT SUSAN NOW?
As you can see from my notes in italic above, we used a few techniques for Susan. She did the metabolic reset with reverse dieting, we added strength training to her cardio workouts, and reduced her walking so she didn’t have to workout twice per day. We also helped her with her sleep routine and aimed to reduce stress.
The results: Susan started losing again and she’s on a roll with her weight loss!