4 Strategies to Surpass Weight Loss Plateaus

Person looking at mountain before climbing it.

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you may know that it’s possible to hit a weight loss plateau. Perhaps it’s because you’ve grown weary of dieting and just want to eat whatever. Or maybe it’s because you’ve thrown in the towel and feel there’s no point in even trying to lose weight anymore.

If you’re truly committed to shedding those pounds, it’s important to stay positive and not subscribe to this type of thinking. Let’s discover why weight loss is not as hard as it seems once you understand what’s actually going on with your body.

How to Prevent Weight Loss Plateaus

One of the experiences you might encounter on a weight loss journey is making good progress, only to eventually plateau and stop losing weight. Unfortunately, what often follows is a quest for answers. You may turn to Google, latch on to something that aligns with your suspicions, and end up feeling deflated. 

There’s a ton of misinformation out there about losing weight, and unfortunately, we often fall prey to myths that make us believe we’re stuck in a rut. We become obstinate and develop an apathetic attitude toward weight loss. It’s crucial to know how to fight this by arming ourselves with accurate information about what’s true and what’s not.

1. Understand Caloric Intake

Ever heard of the term “calories in, calories out”? This is one of those weight loss myths that can prevent us from getting out of a weight loss plateau. In reality, there are three components of the calories you eat: quality, quantity, and timing.

Chart of the 3 components of calories

Having quality calories involves consuming healthy foods that are rich in nutrients, like protein. While some people believe in protein-exclusive diets, others embrace vegan and vegetarian diets, which prioritize abundant fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind that obtaining adequate protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet can be challenging, just as maintaining balanced nutrition on a carnivore diet can be difficult. Therefore, finding a middle ground between these extremes can be a practical approach when selecting the right diet plan.

The quantity of calories consumed is important, but it also varies depending on the type of diet you choose. For instance, a ketogenic diet is not primarily concerned with the quantity of food but with the carb content. The goal of a ketogenic diet is to induce ketosis, a metabolic state where the body uses fat as its primary fuel source. Therefore, the focus is on limiting carb intake to encourage your body to use the fat cells as a source of energy.

Timing your calorie intake is all about when you start and finish eating. Unless you’re practicing intermittent fasting, it’s beneficial to begin eating earlier in the day and finish earlier too. If you consume a small amount in the morning, then make up the calories by eating late into the night, you’re likely to gain weight because you are down regulating your metabolism. Ultimately, the best thing to do is eat right when you wake up and continue eating every three hours until no later than seven or eight o’clock.

2. Navigate the Potential Pitfalls of Exercise

Exercise can sometimes interfere with weight loss. What does this mean? Essentially, you must balance your exercise with your caloric intake or within the parameters of your diet plan in order to sustain weight loss. You don’t get to eat 500 calories simply because you burned that amount. People who make this mistake often become disheartened and abandon their weight loss plan altogether. (These numbers are often grossly exaggerated–cut them in half and you have a more accurate calculation). 

Exercise can also increase appetite. If your hunger spikes when you work out aggressively, you may consume the very calories you intended to burn for weight loss, essentially undermining your efforts. Therefore, don’t overemphasize the role of exercise in the early stages of your weight loss journey.

Exercise is a very important piece of maintaining weight loss. The key is to gradually increase it as you get closer to your goal. In the beginning, it is all about the food. 

3. Know the Role of Metabolism and Hormones

It’s important to understand that when you lose weight, two things happen that can lead to a plateau. The first is losing muscle. Consider this–when you lose 50 pounds, you’re not carrying around that weight anymore. As a result, you no longer need as much muscle mass as you would if you were still 50 pounds heavier. Therefore, as you lose muscle, your metabolism actually slows down. This can provide some insight into why weight loss happens more rapidly in the beginning, and becomes increasingly slower over time.

The second thing that happens involves the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which comes from your stomach and increases hunger. When you get that tummy-rumbling hunger, it’s ghrelin signaling your brain that you need to eat. As you lose weight, your ghrelin levels increase. Therefore, when you reach your goal weight, your ghrelin levels are higher than they were at the start of your weight loss journey. Our bodies are continually trying to protect us from starvation, so they naturally resist changes by striving to maintain a set point weight and fight back against the ghrelin that makes us hungrier. 

Other hormones that make you feel like GLP-1, Insulin, CCK, Leptin and many others actually have the opposite effect and decrease as you lose weight. Not fair, I know!

The bottom line is that as you lose weight, your metabolism slows down, your hunger hormones increase, and your ability to feel satiated decreases. Therefore, you’ll need to adjust your strategy as you approach your goal. Weight loss may become slower unless you introduce elements into your lifestyle and diet plan that counter these effects.

4. Recognize the Impact of Sleep and Stress

What happens to your weight when you don’t get enough sleep or when you’re excessively stressed? While sleep and stress are completely different mechanisms, both can influence your weight loss efforts. Sleep restores your serotonin levels but if you’re not sleeping enough and your serotonin is low, you may be tempted to find serotonin in food. Substances like carbohydrates, sugar, and chocolate can elevate serotonin levels and we tend to consume more sugar and carbs when we’re sleep-deprived. Therefore, if your serotonin is low and you’re craving sugars and carbs, take it as a sign that it’s time to get some sleep!

The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline do more than just drive the “fight or flight” aspect of our lives. When these hormones trigger panic, we tend to gravitate toward foods that provide comfort. Consequently, we might seek calming sustenance like chocolate, carbohydrates, or alcohol because they soothe us and elevate our mood. However, these choices can work against us. Therefore, it’s essential to find better ways to mitigate that stress.

Revamp Your Plan to Overcome Plateaus

A crucial aspect of understanding weight loss plateaus is acknowledging that your body may resist certain plans over time. When this happens, it’s beneficial to pause and assess your actions honestly. You might ask, “Am I truly adhering to the plan as much as I believe I am?” It’s not uncommon to discover that people claiming to do everything right have room for improvement. In these instances, it’s necessary to either modify your approach or implement a new strategy.

One of the best tools that I have found for this is going back to documenting your food. We find that recognizing this is the first step to overcoming these hurdles and progressing toward your weight loss goals. Another trick is to look at what you were eating when you were successful (usually at the beginning of a diet) and follow that plan again. 

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