When your primary goal is weight loss, you very likely jump on the scales every morning hoping to see the number gradually ticking down. At the start of a new diet and workout plan, this might happen consistently, which will leave you feeling like your hard work is paying off. 

But eventually, you might notice your weight loss progress slowing down, despite not making any changes to your programme. You might find yourself stuck at a particular weight, or even gaining a little extra weight.

When this happens, it can be demotivating and leave you wondering if all your hard work is ever going to pay off. What is happening is called a weight loss plateau and it is incredibly common.

Everyone who commits to a weight loss programme will experience this at some point, and it isn’t a sign that you should quit. It should be taken as a sign that you are on the right track.

Read on to learn all about the science behind a weight loss plateau and how you can overcome this to continue towards your fitness goals.

What is a weight loss plateau?

A weight-loss plateau happens when you are steadily losing weight and suddenly find that you can’t seem to shift any weight. If you are eating right and exercising consistently, it can be frustrating to feel like you’ve hit a wall.

This is often the point at which individuals quit their training programme. They become so demoralised and demotivated by the lack of progress that they assume that what they are doing is no longer working.

Most people hit a weight loss plateau after around 3 months of consistent training, and it can last between 2 and 4 weeks. With a few adjustments, you should be able to continue on your weight loss journey, albeit on a slightly different trajectory.

What is happening when you hit a plateau?

A few things are happening when you hit a weight loss plateau. First of all, you are getting stronger and more athletic, so the same amount of physical activity that tired you out a few months ago isn’t as taxing now. This means that, while you might be putting in the same work, you’re not working as hard as you think.

Another reason for the weight loss plateau is that you need fewer calories at rest now that you have lost weight. This means that what you think is a calorie deficit is no longer a calorie deficit.

And finally, weight loss happens at a faster rate when you have more weight to lose. As you get leaner, it becomes harder to shed weight. And this is for a very good reason. If you could continue to lose weight at the same rate as you did at the start of your training plan, you would soon be underweight. The body has mechanisms in place to ensure that you don’t shed weight too quickly.

What is the science behind a weight loss plateau?

We don’t yet fully understand what causes a weight loss plateau, but scientists do agree that it is a very real occurrence for those maintaining a calorie deficit. 

Some believe that the body adapts to the exercise and calorie deficit and stops the weight loss as a defence mechanism. 

Others believe that changes in your metabolism mean that you need to make changes to your programme to continue seeing results. 

And others believe that it is actually down to individuals becoming more relaxed with their programmes over time.

Sticking to a diet and exercise plan over an extended period is tough, but hitting a weight loss plateau is a great excuse to revisit your training plan and review your caloric intake requirements. So while it might be frustrating, it could be the perfect opportunity to reflect on what you have achieved and plan for the next phase.

What can you do to overcome a weight loss plateau?

If you’ve hit a weight loss plateau and want to know how to keep moving forward, the first thing to remember is you can’t quit now. A lot of people fall victim to defeatist attitudes at this stage and assume that they simply won’t be able to lose any more weight. While this might be the case, this is no reason to give up.

When you hit a weight loss plateau, you should also bear in mind that you’ve discovered your maintenance calories and exercise. If you stop exercising and let your diet return to previous levels, you can expect to put weight on again.

Review your caloric intake

Your basal metabolic rate will be lower when you lose weight, so the number of calories you need to achieve a calorie deficit will be lower. Review your diet and look for ways you can maintain this deficit. Something as simple as increasing the proportion of your plate that is filled with veggies can be enough to tip you back into a calorie deficit.

Try a new training plan

If you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time, you might not be pushing yourself as hard as you were in the beginning. If you’re following a weight lifting programme, try increasing the weight, the reps or the time under tension to challenge yourself. 

Give it time

Sometimes you just need to wait it out. If you stay consistent, continue to maintain a calorie deficit, reach your 10,000 steps per day, hit your protein goals, drink enough water, prioritise sleep and challenge yourself with every workout, you should start to see the scales moving in the right direction again.

Reframe your focus

Almost everyone who starts out wanting to lose weight will eventually discover new and more satisfying goals. Even something as simple as switching to measurements over the number on the scales can help to reframe your fitness journey. 

You could also switch focus to increasing the weight on the barbell, rather than worrying about the weight on the scales. When you stop worrying about weight and start thinking about form, flexibility and performance, you might find you can tap into a new source of motivation.

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