I assume you clicked this article to find out what to do when your weight loss plateaus right?
Everything was going great.
You were losing weight at a good rate.
Your diet and workouts were working like magic and the results were amazing.
Then things came to a screeching halt.
You aren’t losing anymore weight. Your diet and workouts seem to have lost the magic touch.
Don’t worry, you have come to the right place.
This article is going to clearly lay out exactly what to do when your weight loss plateaus.
My only ask of you is to make sure you read the entire article. I want you to leave this article confident in what you are going to do to keep progress going.
Sound good? Let’s dive in.
What To Do When Your Weight Loss Plateaus
How I am going to start this article off is by saying something you may already know but need to hear again.
The scale is not the end all be all when it comes to fat loss progress.
The scale can fluctuate for many reasons.
In fact, the scale is not the best indicator of fat loss progress at all. If you want to read more on that head HERE to article I wrote diving further in depth on this topic.
You have to also remember there is a difference between weight loss and fat loss.
Just because you lose weight, does not necessarily mean you have lost fat.
While the opposite is true as well, just because you have lost fat, won’t necessarily mean you lose weight on the scale.
You may be looking at me like I have 6 heads. If you want a further explanation on how this can be head to my YouTube video I did explaining this topic HERE.
All of this to say, you need to be tracking more than just the scale to determine if you are making progress or not.
I can tell you right now if you are solely basing your progress off the number on the scale, you are going about this all wrong.
So, what are some other ways you can track progress?
For every single one of my online coaching clients we follow the progress markers below :
- Daily weigh ins
- Bi weekly measurements (waist, glutes, thighs)
- Monthly progress pictures
By doing this you can get multiple forms of data to see if what you are doing is working or not.
So now that you have multiple forms of progress to let you know if what you are doing is working or not, let’s talk about what to do when your weight loss plateaus.
When To Make A Change?
Before you go assuming you are in a weight loss plateau, I want you to run through this checklist below.
- Are your measurements going down or progress pictures looking different?
If yes, then what you are doing is working, and you need to keep pushing. Do not, I repeat do NOT quit.
- Has it been at least 14-21 days since the scale has not gone down?
If no, then keep going. Remember, not losing weight for 5 days isn’t a weight loss plateau. That is simply apart of the journey.
- Have you been at least 90% consistent with your plan?
If no, then you are not in a plateau and you simply need to adhere to the plan better. You cannot tell if something is working or not working if you do not truly give it a chance.
Let me also say this. If you are that person that is thinking “I eat 1200 calories but don’t lose weight!”.
Remember this. If you are in a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. I would strongly suggest looking at how you count calories and make sure you are counting them correctly.
Head to one of the most helpful articles I have ever written HERE to ensure you are tracking your calories correctly.
If you got through this check list, you have been very honest with yourself, and you have determined you are truly in a plateau then keep on reading for what your options are next.
What To Do When Your Weight Loss Plateaus
Option #1 Decrease Calories
This is normally the most obvious and sought after option.
It takes the least amount of time and effort while usually being the easiest to adhere to.
How Many Calories To Decrease?
Assuming you are following the fat loss calorie calculator I give out for free on my YouTube channel which means you have your calories in a safe spot, there is a range of calories you could pull from.
Every time one of my online coaching clients weight loss progress has stalled usually anywhere from 75-150 calories a day from your current deficit should be enough to restart progress.
Where Should These Calories Come From?
These calories usually come in a reduction via carbohydrates.
You should never, I repeat again, never take away calories from protein.
Aim to keep your protein intake high, roughly .8-1 x per lb of bodyweight = grams of protein per day.
You also should be keeping your fats around .4 x per lb of bodyweight = grams of fat per day.
This means if those two things are in place, you can reduce calories via carbohydrates.
Does This Differ For Women And Men?
Great question, so glad you asked 😉 .
Yes, it can.
For women I would normally lean towards the lower end of the calorie range.
While men can usually lean towards the higher end of thats calorie range.
This is simply because first and foremost women are normally eating lower calories to begin with.
As well as a woman’s metabolism can take more of a hit when decreasing calories, so going slower and less aggressive is the more optimal approach for you ladies.
How Low Is Too Low In Calories?
Man, you have some good questions today don’t you?
The true answer to this question is my favorite answer ever, and that is, it depends.
It truly depends on your current calorie number, your previous diet history, your current training routine, your current sleeping schedule, to name a few.
So rather than giving you a certain number I am going to give you some questions to think about below :
- Is your workout performance / strength significantly decreasing week to week?
- Has your sleep completely been thrown off?
- Has your sex drive dipped down to next to none?
- Are your stress levels higher than normal?
- Are you constantly moody and or easily irritable?
If you answered yes to any of these I would say your current calorie intake is too low.
If you find yourself answering yes to any of these as you try to decrease calories then I would no longer decrease calories and head to another one of the options listed below.
What To Do If You Don’t Want To or Can’t Go Lower In Calories?
If you don’t want to go any lower in calories there are a still a few different options available to you, don’t worry.
Option #2 Increase Cardio
To be very clear, the priority of your exercise should be strength training and building muscle.
This will have much more impact on increasing your metabolism and calories burned long term.
If you aren’t currently strength training, feel free to head HERE for some totally free workouts I can give to you.
Beyond that, cardio can certainly be used as a tool to increase energy expenditure for the day to create a larger calorie deficit.
How Much Cardio To Add In?
The first thing I am going to recommend to you is something I have every single one of my online coaching clients do and that is simply ensure you get 8-12k steps a day.
There is nothing overly special about this number of steps, it is just a great goal to shoot for to increase your NEAT.
NEAT is just a fancy acronym for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
That fancy phrase just means how many calories your body burns throughout the day without any dedicated exercise.
For most of my clients, that is all the dedicated cardio they do. Therefore if you are not doing that currently I would absolutely start.
That being said if you are, or if that is not an option for you, keep on reading.
Your goal should be to do as little cardio as possible and still see results.
Why you ask?
A few reasons.
- Cardio takes significantly more time than making nutritional changes.
- The more your body gets used to doing cardio, the less calories it burns.
- Cardio can add stress to your body which can increase cortisol which can make it harder for you to lose weight
- Too much cardio can negatively impact your strength training, which can negatively impact your ability to speed up your metabolism
So how much should you do? Well, it would depend on what kind of cardio you are talking about.
There are two main forms of cardio, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and LISS ( Light Intensity Steady State).
Let’s talk about both and which is better for fat loss.
What Kind Of Cardio Is Best?
HIIT cardio can be useful for someone who does not have a ton of time on their hands and needs to make the most of every minute.
LISS cardio can be just as useful and is personally my favorite form of cardio.
The answer which is the best truly depends on the person.
If you are going to go the HIIT route, I would say 1-2 hrs a week of HIIT should be more than enough.
If you are going to go the LISS route, I would say 2-3hrs a week of LISS should be more than enough.
Remember, this is why doing as little cardio as possible in your weight loss journey is important.
If you are doing no cardio to start (besides walking 8-12k steps a day) and then you throw in 2-3 hrs of LISS, bam you will kick start things back up.
Yet if you are already doing 2-3 hrs of cardio, adding 2-3 more hours on top of that can become daunting.
This is why having a tactical, planned out approach from the beginning will serve you well.
Now if you don’t want to decrease calories or increase cardio there are other options.
Let’s dive into them now.
Option #3 Diet Break
This option is one most people do not think of but can serve huge benefits.
Listen, dieting is a stress on your body.
It is a stress mentally. You are always thinking about food, you are constantly thinking about making sure you hit your calorie deficit.
This can make sticking to your diet that much more difficult. This can cause your consistency to dwindle slowly but surely.
It is also a stress physically. If you are eating less calories than what your body burns for an extended period of time that is a physical stress on your body.
This causes your metabolism to down regulate.
Before you ask, No, Starvation Mode is not a real thing. Just no.
Have you ever seen a prisoner of war or a starving kid in Africa overweight? No? I rest my case.
Alright where were we.
Oh yea, stress on your body.
Taking a diet break can certainly be one of the options of what to do when your weight loss plateaus.
How Can A Diet Break Help Kickstart Your Weight Loss?
I mentioned above that being on a diet mentally and physically causes stress.
A diet break can mentally give you a break from the diet.
You can get a break from tracking your food so meticulously.
You mentally get time off from having to be so perfect and worrying about food 24/7.
This can do a few things. The two major ones would be decreasing cortisol while also increasing consistency and adherence.
You may take a diet break and see the scale drop down simply because you are less stressed out from the diet, which decreases cortisol, which decreases water weight. (More on this in option #4 reverse dieting — see below).
The second part of this is if you take a diet break you can increase your metabolism once again because you will be eating more calories, increasing your total energy expenditure for the day.
How Long To Take A Diet Break For & How Many Calories To Eat?
The answer would yet again be, it depends. This time it depends on how long you have been in a true calorie deficit.
I would say if you have been on a diet for 4-8 weeks and are experiencing weight loss plateaus then a 2-3 week diet break should be a good time length to see positive adaptation in your metabolism.
If you have been on a diet for 12+ weeks, normally a 3-6 week diet break is a good time length to see positive adaptation in your metabolism.
The next option would be something I mentioned above and that would be reverse dieting.
Option #4 Reverse Dieting
I will not cover reverse dieting too much here in this article, but that is only because I did an entire in depth YouTube video on it.
If you want to dive more in depth on reverse dieting, I strongly urge you to take some time to watch this video here below.
In layman’s terms, reverse dieting is simply the strategy of increasing calories to improve body composition.
This is more of a long term strategy rather than a short term fix.
This option would be right for you if you are currently already at a really low calorie number, you are doing hours of cardio, and you still cannot see results.
Like mentioned above, reverse dieting can help increase your total energy expenditure for the day, which is going to help speed up your metabolism.
Reverse dieting can also decrease cortisol that is present from dieting, which as a result can flush out some of the water weight your body may be holding onto.
Normally adding anywhere from 50-150 calories per week to your current calorie intake until you reach your maintenance calories is a great reverse dieting strategy.
If you want a sample of what reverse dieting may look like I strongly urge you to check out the YouTube video I mentioned above.
Now that we went over 4 solid options for what to do when your weight loss plateaus, let’s talk about the simple fact that losing weight may not be your best option right now.
What To Do When Your Weight Loss Plateaus
Time To Build Some Muscle
Whenever I ask new clients that potentially sign up with me I always ask them,
“What is your goal body weight?”.
They answer with some number.
My response always is
“Okay got it, so you aren’t going to be happy until you see that number? Or are you chasing more of a look rather than just a number on the scale?”.
Every single time they respond with
“Well I guess it is more of a look rather than just a number on the scale. I want to look a certain way”.
I am going to let you in on a secret. If you are reading this nodding your head like “yep me too!”, it may not be the fact that you need to lose anymore weight.
It may be that you need to spend some time building lean muscle mass.
How is building lean muscle mass going to help you?
Well first off that “look” is going to be attained through building lean muscle mass. Ever heard of the term “skinny fat”?
You aren’t that overweight, you are skinny, but you don’t really look the way you want to look?
This is because you don’t have the appropriate amount of muscle mass on your body.
Second is because it can increase your metabolism.
The more lean muscle mass you have the more calories your body has to burn throughout the day.
This in turn can
- Help with future weight loss
- Allow you to eat more food without gaining weight
How Do You Know When To Build Lean Muscle Mass?
You should always be training to build and or retain lean muscle mass for the reasons I mentioned above.
Beyond that, if you have lost a good amount of weight and it has stalled out for you, follow this guideline below.
For women, if you are 18-22% body fat, it may be time to go into a muscle definition phase.
For men, if you are 12-15% body fat, it may be time to go into a muscle definition phase.
The one thing I am going to make very clear is during a muscle definition phase you will gain some body fat, scale weight, or both.
This is totally normal, okay, and necessary.
Think of this as building the foundation of your overall health.
Your metabolic health will increase as well as you will be able to attain that look you are chasing.
If you are looking to gain as minimal body fat as possible, I would strongly suggest following the reverse diet video I included in this article.
Find your maintenance calories (which the video will tell you how to do), and then go 150-300 above maintenance calories.
So, Do You Now Know What To Do When Your Weight Loss Plateaus?
I truly hope this article equipped you with the information necessary to know what to do when your weight loss plateaus.
I know this weight loss game can be super frustrating and monotonous process at times.
My two cents to you would be to remember this:
No one ever got closer to their goals by quitting.
As long as you don’t quit, I promise you will do this.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Weight Loss Plateau Article”.
I am excited for you. Get to work!!