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What Not to Do When Hitting a Weight Loss Plateau

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A frustrated woman with blond hair holding her head in her hands. Two red X marks are positioned above her shoulders, indicating mistakes or things to avoid. She is wearing a white t-shirt and standing against a plain white background.

When you’re trying to lose weight, you might reach a point where your progress slows down or stops altogether.

At this stage, it’s common to wonder, “What should I do now?”

However, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.

In this article, I will show you what not to do when you hit a weight loss plateau.

1. Don’t Panic or Get Discouraged

It’s actually quite common for someone trying to lose weight to see the scale moving downwards quite quickly at first, and then slowing down or stopping for weeks.

But as a nutritionist, I can tell you it’s PART OF THE JOURNEY. You will experience weeks where the scale moves and weeks where it stays the same.

This happens for different reasons, but it’s important to understand that panicking and getting stressed about this can negatively impact your weight loss journey.

When you feel stressed or sad, you might think, “What’s the point of eating healthy if I’m not losing any weight? I might as well go back to eating the way I did.”

This mindset can lead to cravings for processed foods like ice cream, cookies, chocolates, and chips.

While these foods might make you feel better temporarily, they can undo all the hard work you’ve put in simply because the number on the scale isn’t moving as you expected.

I can tell you that weight loss is easier for some than for others. For some, it could be a linear path, and for others, it’s more of an up-and-down journey. Everyone’s body and metabolism are different.

So don’t panic. Just remind yourself that it’s part of the journey and calmly evaluate what might be causing this plateau and what steps you can take to overcome it

The key is not to panic when you hit a plateau.

Getting frustrated and making drastic changes like drastically cutting more calories or overexercising can actually backfire. Your body may think it’s starving and hold onto weight even tighter.

2. Don’t Drastically Cut Calories

When you see the number on the scale not moving for a while, it’s common but unhelpful to think about drastically reducing your calorie intake.

I’ve seen people go on soup diets because they believe this is what they need and that it will significantly cut their calories.

However, this doesn’t work in the long run. As soon as you eat more than the allowed calories on this extreme diet, you’ll gain back the weight and more.

This happens because your body has a resting metabolic rate (RMR) based on your current weight and activities.

If you suddenly cut calories drastically, you might see some initial weight loss because of your current RMR. But eventually, your body will adapt to this new, lower RMR.

For instance, if you only eat 500 calories a day on a soup diet, your body will adjust to this low intake. The moment you eat more, you’ll gain weight.

Moreover, you can’t maintain such a restricted calorie diet forever. This means you can’t eat normally at restaurants with family and friends, or enjoy a regular dinner at home. Everything will have to be restricted indefinitely.

Even if you want to, you can’t keep this up forever because it will lead to nutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

You might lose muscle mass, experience hair loss, and have a weakened immune system. All of this happens because of extreme calorie restriction.

Humans are meant to eat normally, which is why even on a calorie-deficit diet, I recommend starting slowly by reducing 200 calories and gradually increasing to 500 as your body adjusts. But never make drastic cuts.

Also Read: The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Counting Calories

3. Don’t Overexercise

Another natural instinct can be to double or triple your current workout routine to overcome a plateau.

While I agree that sometimes you need to make changes to your workout routine to break through a plateau, overexercising is never the solution.

Changing your exercise routine usually involves doing different kinds of workouts than what your body is used to. The idea is to give your body something new to shock it a little.

However, spending more time on the treadmill or cycling for extended periods is not the right approach.

This can tire you out, pushing your body to its limits without proper rest or recovery. Without adequate recovery, your body won’t burn calories as efficiently, and you also risk injuries.

Additionally, you’ll quickly get bored. You might do longer workouts out of anger or frustration for a while, but maintaining that in the long run is not sustainable for the average person.

You’ll end up physically and mentally exhausted, potentially losing motivation for your normal workouts. Overworking your body can also increase your appetite, making you hungrier than usual.

So, don’t overexercise. Re-evaluating your exercise routine is one thing, but overworking your body is entirely different.

4. Don’t Ignore Sleep and Stress Management

We are quick to judge that it’s the calories or the exercise routine that needs to be adjusted, but often, the issue is that your sleep schedule isn’t right.

You might not be sleeping enough, which can create an imbalance in hormones, including those that manage your appetite and satiety, such as ghrelin and leptin.

This imbalance can make you feel hungry even after you’ve just eaten because your body is low on energy from the lack of sleep, leading to physiological hunger – a hunger that is not caused by a lack of food but rather by psychological factors.

The same applies to stress. If you are dealing with a stressful work environment or stress at home, you need to get it under control.

I know not everything is within your control, but you can at least get better at managing it.

Reducing stress can prevent it from affecting your health, which ultimately impacts your weight loss progress.

So, don’t ignore these two important factors, as they could also be causing your weight loss to plateau.

Also Read: Best Sleeping Position For Weight Loss

5. Don’t Rely Solely on the Weighing Scale

The scale is just one measure of progress and doesn’t tell the whole story. Your body weight is made up of muscles, bones, water content, and fat.

Sometimes, your weight may not decrease significantly, but when you measure your belly, hips, thighs, etc., with a measuring tape, you might see a difference.

For example, you might look overweight at 80 kgs, but you could also look fit and still weigh 80 kgs.

If someone like this bases their success purely on the number on the scale, they might think they didn’t achieve their goal of losing weight, but that’s not the case. Look at the image below.

The reason your weight could still be high while you look fit is that, when you started working out, your weight consisted more of fat and less of muscle.

After sticking to a healthy routine and exercising consistently, you develop muscle while losing fat at the same time.

So, while the number on the scale may not change much, it doesn’t mean you’re not making progress. The point is, don’t rely only on the scale.

Here are some simple ways to track your weight loss without using a scale:

  • Use a tape measure to see if you’ve lost inches, especially around your waist, hips, and thighs.

  • Notice how your clothes fit. If they’re looser, it’s a sign you’re losing fat.

  • Take pictures of yourself over time. You can see changes that the scale might not show.

These methods can give you a better picture of your health than just the number on a scale

Weight can fluctuate due to various factors like water retention, muscle gain, and hormonal changes.

Track other metrics such as body measurements, fitness levels, and how your clothes fit. Keeping a journal to monitor your overall well-being, energy levels, and habits can provide a more comprehensive view of your progress.

Also Read: How Much Weight Loss is Good For You?

6. Don’t Go for Fad Diets

It’s very easy to think, “Okay, I tried a caloric deficit diet and did regular workouts, and yet I’m not making the progress I should have. Now it’s time to try alternative diets.

These alternative diets often include restrictive options like the cabbage soup diet, juice cleanse, detox diet, low-carb, low-fat, ketogenic, plant-based, carnivore, or Atkins diet.

I want to clarify that not all of these are fad diets; many, like low-carb, keto, or low-fat diets, do work for people and can provide results.

However, the fundamental rules of weight loss remain the same. Even on these diets, you still need to be in a caloric deficit, maintain an exercise routine, and do all that jazz. The way you achieve this might differ, but the basic rule is the same.

Plus, a diet you adopt for weight loss should be sustainable, affordable, enjoyable, and not overly restrictive. It shouldn’t feel like you’re on a “diet” in the long term.

So, if you suddenly switch to a keto diet when you are used to eating plant-based, it will be difficult to sustain in the long run.

Don’t immediately turn to other diets as a solution to your plateau without first finding out what is causing it.

7. Dont Start Starving Yourself

Okay, I get it. You’re frustrated, annoyed, and feel like a failure. You’ve followed all the expert advice, yet here you are, stuck with no progress.

You feel like giving up, deciding not to eat at all, or eating very little, just to force yourself to lose weight by any means necessary.

I understand your frustration, but this isn’t the right approach. Yes, you will lose weight if you practically starve yourself, but it will be the wrong kind of weight loss.

Remember, your body weight isn’t just made up of fat; it includes muscle mass, bones, water, and more. You should never lose muscle mass because muscles keep your metabolism fast.

If you starve yourself, you will lose both fat and muscle, slowing down your metabolism. When you start eating normally again, you will likely gain the weight back quickly.

The better way to manage your eating is through intermittent fasting. Start with 12 hours if you’re a beginner and gradually increase it to 16 hours.

Sixteen hours is an average that works for many people without causing discomfort. However, starving yourself is never the right option.

Also Read: Is Intermittent Fasting Good For Weight Loss?

8. Don’t Forget to Reassess and Adjust

One could argue that this is the most important thing to do when you hit a weight loss plateau. The reason you are hitting a plateau can vary.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as your body adapting to your current lifestyle, and all you need is a new routine to shake things up.

For others, it could be more complex—factors like medication, underlying medical conditions, improper sleep, or stress levels can cause changes in the body that prevent your efforts from producing the results you saw initially.

So, before you do anything, reassess the situation. Find out what is causing the problem, and preferably, speak to a doctor or nutritionist to help you figure out the areas in your lifestyle that may need some changes.

Conclusion

When you find yourself at a weight loss standstill, remember it’s a bump in the road, not the end of your journey.

Instead of getting stuck on what’s not working, use this time as an opportunity to explore new foods, activities, and routines that might give your body the nudge it needs.

Stay curious and flexible, and most importantly, be kind to yourself. Every step, even the small ones, is progress in your health adventure.

Keep going, and you’ll find your way past the plateau.

FAQ

How do you keep from losing weight when you hit a plateau?

Change up your workout routine, increase intensity, or adjust your diet to create a new challenge for your body.

How long can you be stuck in a weight loss plateau?

A plateau can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Should I eat more to break the weight loss plateau?

No, figure out what is causing the plateau then make adjustment in that area of your lifestyle.

Are you still losing fat during a plateau?

Yes its possible, you might still be losing fat during a plateau, especially if you’re exercising and building muscle. The scale doesn’t always tell the whole story.

This post may contain affiliate links which means I may receive a commission for purchases made through links at no extra cost to you. See my disclosure policy for more information.

Rahul is a professional nutritionist certified by the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) and a personal trainer certified through the American Council of Exercise (ACE). He has a special interest in the science of nutrition and how it can impact the body.

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