Moving Past the Plateau: What to do When Weight Loss Stops

Things have been going great. You’ve managed to muscle through your diet long enough to see the weight start flying off. Every morning you step on the scale and the weight continues to go down. Until it doesn’t.

You become frustrated and impatient. You figure that you just need to diet harder, cut more calories, do more cardio. But nothing changes, and you become exponentially frustrated. You made it so far with sheer will and determination, but now that’s not working and you don’t know what to do. You feel confused and powerless.

Sound familiar? Anyone who has made huge progress in their weight loss journey is likely to hit this point. It usually happens when you are around the 10-15 lbs away from your target weight. While this junction is tricky, it’s not insurmountable, it just requires rethinking the way you approach weight loss. First let’s discuss why this plateau happens, then we will discuss some approaches and strategies to break through it and move forward.

The plateau happens for a few reasons, some physiological, but many are psychological. First let’s talk about the physical reasons for weight loss plateaus.

The heavier you are, the faster your metabolism. This may seem surprising as it’s a common misconception that skinny people have faster metabolisms than non-skinny people. However, The more weight you’re moving around the more calories your body needs. A bigger car needs more fuel, regardless of make and model. The more weight someone gains, the more calories they will be able to consume without gaining additional weight.

The inverse is also true in that the leaner you get, the more difficult it is to continue losing weight. You simply cannot maintain as large a caloric deficit in a safe, productive fashion. This is because there is less weight to lose. 5 lbs means different things to a 110 lbs person and a 200 lbs person. A person with a daily caloric intake of 4000 calories can cut 1000 calories a day safely, and the weight will fly off. If that same person loses a bunch of weight and now needs only 2000 calories a day, it’s going to be extremely tough and downright dangerous to cut 1000 calories a day.

Let’s say a pound of fat is worth about 3500 calories*. You will reach that number pretty quickly with a daily deficit of 1000 calories(That means you will lose 2 lbs a week!). As you get leaner and your daily caloric need decreases, your daily deficit will have to decrease in kind. This means that it will take longer to reach the 3500 calorie mark.

*Note: this number isn’t entirely accurate and is meant to demonstrate a concept, not provide the reader with concrete data or guidelines.

Now, we have the science and math behind the plateau. While this may be enough info for some folks to move forward, there are some huge psychological roadblocks that I find are much more difficult to works past.

Anytime things slow down, we get impatient. The fact that weight loss must slow down as a law of physics and biology, is enough to cause frustration. Furthermore, a completely different mindset and approach is required because of the slower rate of progress. Shit just gets all sorts of crazy at this point

Here I’ll outline a few traps that plateau dwellers often fall into.

The “good enough” trap

The good enough trap means you periodically assume a state of complacency and consequently sabotage your progress. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be happy with where you’re at and the progress you’ve made; I’m not here to tell you what your goals are, or should be. Remember, the context for this post is that you aren’t quite at the weight where you want to be. It’s good to acknowledge how far you’ve come, but it’s also easy to use that as a justification for choices that won’t bring you toward your goal.

This hurdle is easy to trip over because it’s true–you HAVE made huge strides. However, it’s important to remember that you don’t DESERVE the extra slice of cake, at least not any more than at any other point in your past or future. Food shouldn’t be used as a punishment or reward for behaviors. If you want the cake, eat the damn cake, but be honest with yourself about where it lies in the context of your goal.

The “all or nothing” a.k.a. either I’m dieting or I’m eating like a 14 year old stoner with a crippling world of warcraft addiction a.k.a. either I’m “on” or “off” a.k.a. I hate you, moderation! you’re not my real father!

This can work in the initial stages of weight loss. However, as your weight lessens and your daily caloric need decreases, the “go hard or go home” mentality stops working. This is because of the slower nature of weight loss at this point.

At the later stages of weight loss it becomes more about the long game, about achieving a deficit over the span of months, not days or weeks. When you attempt to go “all in” it’s not sustainable for the length of time necessary to see further gains. You can’t just cut out 1000 calories a day anymore. Your body and brain will fight back with cravings for “off limits” foods. Willpower, while necessary at times, is not reliable on it’s own. Using willpower constantly for months on end is a pretty futile endeavor and inevitably leads to bingeing at some point.

Furthermore, nutrition isn’t so black and white as, “diets are either good or bad”. There are plenty of areas in between these extreme labels. I’m a big fan of diets that are “pretty good”, meaning they are mostly good, but allow for the occasional indulgence in moderation.

Because the “all or nothing” mentality worked really well in the past, it can be hard to get rid of. That said, if something isn’t working anymore, why continue to do it?

To break through this plateau you need to devise a weight loss strategy that is sustainable, one that you can adhere to in the long term. This can be done a million different ways, however my favorite method is through building habits. Many of our behaviors regarding food are driven by subconscious habits. This strategy takes a lot of the thinking out of weight loss and often doesn’t feel like dieting, so it’s pretty awesome. You can read more about this here

Whatever path you take, it should be easy and enjoyable. If you are miserable on your weight loss plan, it’s going to be tough to have the consistency required to lose weight at this stage.

I’m currently accepting online coaching clients and I would love to help you lose weight and feel better. Online coaching offers the same results as in person coaching, but for a lot less ca$h and with a lot more flexibility.

Curious about how it works? Fill out a super brief form here and let’s set something up!


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