How to Break A Weight Loss Plateau

Woman - Frustrated with Weight LossWeight loss plateaus are the bain of every dieter existence. There is nothing more frustrating than doing everything that you are ‘supposed’ to do but for whatever reason the weight loss just stops.

Before we get into ho you can smash through your weight loss plateau it is important to determine if you have  actually plateaued OR perhaps you haven’t actually been following your diet and/or training program.

The first step is to do a gut check and make sure your compliance to your program is where it needs to be. If you haven’t been 90% compliant then stop reading this article and get back to focusing on doing what you actually said you were going to do.

If you have been sticking to your program but have stopped losing weight then we have a problem.

Homeostasis.

The human body is all about achieving homeostasis (check out this article in regards to homeostasis and weight loss), so what we need to do is shake things up and get our systems un-homeostatic (not sure if that is a real word). Here are 4 ways that you can disrupt homeostasis and blast through your weight loss plateau. You aren’t meant to do all of them instead just pick one at at time.

1. Increase Calories for 7-10 Days

This doesn’t mean go off your diet. Instead, increase your calories (no more than 500 calories per day), mainly from carbohydrates to give your system a ‘break’ from calorie restriction. After the 7-10 day period cut your calories back down and your weight loss will start back up. This strategy works well if you have been dieting for a long time.

2. Crank Up the Intensity

Often times we find ourselves perpetually dieting (see the Lifetime Fat Loss article for a great example) and can just never seem to get those last 10 pounds off. In these situations cranking up the intensity on all fronts (diet and training) for a set amount of time is a great way to blast through a weight loss plateau. With this method we are basically shocking your system out of homeostasis. This is a great situation for Warp Speed Fat Loss (and one of the reason’s we developed it.)

3. Change Your Training Program

Sticking to the same training program for too long used to be a very common problem. Now with all the training resources on the Internet, being on a program for too long isn’t an issue for many people (but it may be for you). You need to be switching up your program (set, reps, exercises, how many days a week you train, etc) every 4-6 weeks. If you do need a new program we have a large archive of 4 week fat loss workouts and a new one every month in the Faster Fat Loss Zone.

4. Reduce Your Carbs

-This tip is the opposite of the first one, but works just as well. Dropping your carbs down to a ketogenic level  will strongarm your system into using fat as its primary fuel source.

This metabolic fuel switch works best if your carbs aren’t too low already (>100g/d). To further enhance the effect of this technique use the ketogenic diet induction protocol where you eat 20g/d of carbs or less for 2 weeks.

Weight loss plateaus are frustrating but don’t let them discourage you or stop you from reaching your goal. If you have truly reached a plateau pick one of the techniques above and put it into action. When you hit another plateau, pick another one. Continue doing this until you have reached your goal. Remember that for the most part weight loss is not a linear process. Plateaus are a normal physiological occurrence but using the strategies in this article you can beat homeostasis and achieve the body you want.

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9 Responses to How to Break A Weight Loss Plateau

  1. nancy February 25, 2009 at 5:25 pm #

    Breaking the weight loss plateau has been difficult for me. I lost 80 pounds a year ago and have kept it off. But the last 20 pounds have been very difficult. I’ll try your 4 new ideas and see how I do.

    Do diet drinks affect weight loss?

  2. AubreyM February 25, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

    I’m definitely going to suggest these to my partner, Dave Balmaiin. He was complaining about this weeks ago leading up to a Buck’s party (hmm…hope he had just planned to impress his friends!!) WIll let you know how he goes.

  3. Lincoln Bryden February 26, 2009 at 5:03 am #

    This is great advice and a great article, which I will definitely pass on to my mailing list. I know a lot of people in the group exercise field, where I specialize have trouble with weight loss plateaus and articles like this are vital for changing people’s perceptions of fat loss.

  4. Todd I. Stark February 26, 2009 at 6:54 am #

    Great tips. I think with regard to homeostasis, you are not “breaking” it, you are utilizing it. Only you are trying to get your body to maintain itself around a *different setpoint.* All weight loss is ultimately self-limiting (or you’d disappear eventually, *poof*. So you do get to a point where you need to maintain rather than change.

    My experience has been that if someonw has a lot of weight to lose, a stepwise approach often works better in the long run anyway. Lose a few percent, maintain for a while, lose a few percent, maintain for a while. This leverages your tips above to shift back to the loss periods while expecting and making best use of the plateaus as well to learn what is needed to maintain at a stable given point. The habits for weight maintenance I think are a little different from the habits for weight loss.

    Thanks!

    Todd

  5. Jeff February 26, 2009 at 7:53 am #

    Cool tips Mike. Keep it coming. :-)

  6. Acai February 26, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    This is great advice and a great article, which I will definitely pass on to my mailing list. I know a lot of people in the group exercise field, where I specialize have trouble with weight loss plateaus and articles like this are vital for changing people’s perceptions of fat loss.

  7. Tyron February 26, 2009 at 7:26 pm #

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks for the tips and for the video on Ketogenic diets, it’s good to know what actually constitutes this diet.

  8. vlastas February 26, 2009 at 8:23 pm #

    Thanks for the info/definition. My frustrating experience has been that once I ‘go for it’ – eat better/healthier/lower cals, work out more, etc., the weight not only does not drop, but usually starts inching UP! And, no, it isn’t muscle weight I’m gaining. This pattern almost always causes me to go back to my ‘old ways’ – eating what I want. And, by the way, I give it two or three weeks to at least lose a SINGLE pound!!
    Any thoughts other than “Patience”. Thanks, Mike V

    • Todd Stark February 27, 2009 at 2:27 pm #

      “My frustrating experience has been that once I ‘go for it’ – eat better/healthier/lower cals, work out more, etc., the weight not only does not drop, but usually starts inching UP! And, no, it isn’t muscle weight I’m gaining. This pattern almost always causes me to go back to my ‘old ways’ – eating what I want. And, by the way, I give it two or three weeks to at least lose a SINGLE pound!!”

      My experience is that you have to start from a stable weight to apply weight loss programs. If your weight is actually increasing, then it is not stable and you have to stabilize it first. You can often do that with reasonable activity (if you aren’t already active) and by making tiny little adjustments to your eating habits. Once you are stable, you can begin trying to lose weight by making further adjustments to your eating habits a little at a time. The same process, only now if you have been stable for a while, you can treat it as a “plateau” and try to shake things up with your metabolism as well. And since your habits are now stable, you will know better when you have made the right changes.

      IMO, you can’t get away from the need for patience if you want to make long term change. But here are some thoughts.

      Even the best strategy sometimes needs a little fine tuning. There’s a calibration process that many people go through when they learn how nutrition affects weight control. One procedure that always works when you do it faithfully is to establish a reasonable strategy, and then track what you’re eating and what results you’re getting. You don’t judge by daily fluctuations because weight can vary by several pounds in a day due to hydration and dehydration, especially when you change your eating patterns. Either track the change using a moving average, or track it weekly rather than daily. Then when you are sure that you are going in the wrong direction, you calibrate. That means troubleshooting your strategy by making small changes and checking the results. There is software available to help if this seems like too much work or too complicated.

      So you figure out from your log where the energy is coming from and why, and you gradually replace the most energy dense items with nutritional and satisfying but less energy dense choices. Now you are still eating a filling, varied, nutritional diet that is very sustainable, but taking in less calories, and consequently losing weight.

      There are many programs and web sites that are helpful resources for this. After a couple of weeks you can roughly calculate your resting metabolism, determine where your intake needs to change, and then make small iterative changes in your habits until you get the results you want without doing anything crazy. It may take up to a month or so to get it all right, but it literally cannot fail unless you just can’t carry out the steps or can’t even temporarily change bad habits.

      You only need to adjust a few hundred calories one way or the other to create a measureable weekly change, and that very often means *adding* something more nutritious but less calorie dense rather than just stripping away things you like until you can’t sustain the diet.

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