How to break a weight loss plateau is something everyone interested in losing weight should know how to do. If you are just starting your weight loss journey, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration down the road if you have a grasp of how to break a weight loss plateau before you actually experience one.
And I’m here to help.
Let’s Back Up
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how to break a weight loss plateau, let’s first make sure you get off on the right foot with your diet as, oftentimes, people are not in the correct calorie deficit when they start their journey.
Here is a bullet list of what needs to happen and what you need to consider:
Set your starting calories at 10-12 calories per pound of your CURRENT body weight (higher if you are leaner and lower if you are currently overweight/obese)
Track your calorie intake-honestly, accurately, and precisely-for 2 straight weeks. Everything that goes into your mouth-whole food, liquids, condiments, oils, etc.-needs to be accounted for and weighed/measured using a food scale.
As you track, do NOT exceed the calorie limit you established in bullet point one. Use an app like My Fitness Pal or (my favorite) Nutritionix TRACK.
Again...you are going to do this for 2 solid weeks. No off plan days or cheat meals.
After 2 weeks, gauge your responsiveness
If you are starting out lighter/leaner, good responsiveness would be losing .5% of your starting body weight per week. For example, if you start out at 150 lbs., losing about 1.5 lbs. over two weeks would be considered good responsiveness.
If you are starting out heavier/overweight/obese, good responsivness would be losing around 1% of your starting body weight per week. For example, if you are starting out at 300 lbs., losing about 6 pounds over 2 weeks would be very nice responsiveness.
If you TRULY were 100% with your nutrition in that first 2 week period, you tracked and measured everything with surgical precision, and you did not see the type of responsiveness, described above, lower your target calories by 10% and repeat.
For example, if started out at 150 lbs. eating 1800 (12 calories/lb. of bodyweight) and did not lose at least .5% per week your first 2 weeks, lower your target down to 1620 calories (10.8 calories/lb. of bodyweight). More than likely, and assuming you are moderately active and working out 3-4 times/week, this decrease will get your fat loss moving.
If you fell within a good range of responsiveness (.5-1% per week), you do not need to adjust your calories for the time being. You are “good to go” and should continue.
How To Break a Weight Loss Plateau
Inevitably, you will hit a weight loss plateau, and this is where most people drop the ball because they have no idea what to do about it.This is the point where most people give up (and start eating like crap), and think their diet doesn’t work anymore...that’s NOT the case.
You just need to make some simple adjustments.
For example, if you started your fat loss phase at 200 lbs. eating 2400 calories (12x bodyweight), and you’ve lost 20 lbs., you must understand what worked very well and consistently at 200 lbs. is not going to work as well at 180 lbs (now you are at over 13 calories per pound of body weight which is closer to weight maintenance calories).
There is less of you. Your energy needs are different. You’ll, at some point, outgrow your calorie deficit and weight loss will slow down (outside the range of responsiveness I outlined above) or stop completely.
If you find yourself at a point where you are at least 90% compliant to your daily calories (meaning 27+ days out of each month) and the scale has not moved in 4 weeks, you need an adjustment. This can either be in the form of decreased calories (most efficient) or increased activity (least efficient) or both.
Going back to what I said above in the bullet list in regards to setting initial fat loss calories, to get things moving again, you’d take the same approach: drop your current calories by 10%.
Going back to the 200 lb. example above, if 2400 calories caused you to drop to 180 lbs., but things have slowed down or stalled, you’d take your calories down to 2160 and continue on. This 10% drop puts you back at 12x bodyweight, which is generally considered to be at the high end of fat loss calories.
*(You can apply this same approach and formula to ANY bodyweight or situation)
So that’s the formula: 4 weeks without a drop AND super high compliance...drop calories by 10%.
The Importance of Compliance
Look, you don’t need to know how to break a #weightlossplateau if your dietary compliance is crap. In fact, most PERCEIVED weight loss plateaus are just that: inadequate compliance.
If you are not AT LEAST 80-90% compliant to your daily calorie limit, you are likely not experiencing a weight loss plateau. You are simply eating more than you think and have loosened up too much.
This is a common occurrence with people who diet. They start out like gangbusters, they are accounting for everything, tracking everything, etc. and then they start to ease up.
They start eating a few handfuls of things here and there throughout the day that they were not previously and are not accounting for it in their daily calories.
They finish off their kids’ chicken fingers.
They are spot on Monday-Friday but start binge eating on the weekends.
They start pouring on condiments, or are eating a ton of vegetables and not accounting for those calories, incorrectly thinking “those calories don’t really count.”
They do :)
So, before you determine you are in a true weight loss plateau, do a hard audit of your tracking and consider some of the things I just pointed out above. You may find the current number of calories you (think) are consuming is probably just fine and will facilitate more weight loss if you tighten it back up.
Weight Loss Plateaus Vs. Fat Loss Plateaus
Before I wrap this up, it is important we differentiate between a WEIGHT LOSS plateau and a FAT loss plateau.
You should be more concerned with the latter and not the former.
The goal of fat loss phase, as the name implies, is to lose BODY FAT...NOT just “weight”. The objective is to improve your body composition (fat mass vs. lean mass)
If you are using the scale as your sole indicator of progress, you are making a big mistake.
The scale, while relevant and a good tool, does not tell the entire story about your progress.
That’s why it’s important to have SEVERAL metrics and tools to gauge your progress...NOT just the scale.
I have my private coaching clients monitor and use all of the following:
Measurements (hips, waist, thighs...all can easily be done by oneself)
Tight clothing test: pull on a pair of tight slacks or jeans every couple weeks and subjectively gauge how they feel.
It is entirely possible to be making progress without the scale moving. If you get on the scale one week, weigh 150 lbs., and, 2 weeks later you weigh 151 lbs. BUT you’ve dropped ½ inch off your waist...THAT’S FAT LOSS!
Your scale weight may have plateaued or regressed, BUT you’ve lost girth and are tighter. In this case, you should NOT drop your calories.
If, again, after 4 weeks, you see no change in either scale weight, measurements, or clothing fit (or changes in pictures) AND you’ve been deadly compliant...THEN AND ONLY then should you cut calories (or increase activity).
The scale is very fickle folks. To a large extent...you can’t really control it. There are a half dozen or more factors which can influence your scale weight on a daily basis having nothing to do with true fat loss progress. For most, even with great compliance and while being in a calorie deficit, scale weight will fluctuate 3-5 lbs. during the week.
Stepping on the scale is a lot like playing Russian roulette...except there is only one empty chamber and you hope you fall on that one. It’s much better to weigh in daily, get an average, and then compare the averages week to week. This is going to be far more representative of what’s truly going on with your weight.
And that does it.
Weight loss plateaus are inevitable. They are going to happen. But you are now armed with the knowledge, strategies, and perspective to know how to break a weight loss plateau when it happens.
Remember, fat loss/weight loss is a journey, and it’s never linear...it’s very jagged. You will have to course correct. Stay patient, stay consistent, and make the necessary tweaks using this information.
If you want someone to take your weight loss journey over for you and serve as your GPS, I’m taking on new coaching clients. If you are interested, click HERE for an overview of how my coaching program works and all it entails.