Physical 

How to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau

February 09, 2021 5 min read

Healthy fruits and vegetables in a grocery basket

You've been exercising for months and minding your nutrition all the same when suddenly, you notice you've hit a wall. Your progress has come to a standstill, even though you're following the same routine. This is called a weight-loss plateau—a frustrating experience that can trigger a return to old, unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Fortunately, there are ways you can break through a weight loss plateau. These include dietary changes, stress management, and switching up your exercise routine. Read on for tips to help you break through any weight-loss plateau hindering your progress. 

Why do plateaus happen?

Research indicates that weight-loss plateaus tend to occur after following a low-calorie diet for approximately six months. These lulls can arise for several reasons, the most prominent of which are:

  • The body naturally defends itself against additional weight loss once it's adapted to an existing regimen
  • Strict diet plans are unsustainable for long periods
  • Rapid weight loss tends to slow metabolism

Although metabolism tends to fluctuate in response to weight loss, researchers do not believe this alone explains why plateaus occur. Instead, they think it happens because people loosen up on their diet or fitness regimens. Small, mindless variations in your daily caloric intake can result in an early weight-loss plateau.

How to break through a weight-loss plateau

Although a plateau is bound to occur after following a weight-loss routine for some time, there are ways you can break through it and stay on track towards achieving your health goals.

1. Increase the frequency or intensity of exercise

Exercise helps you build muscle and maintain a healthy weight, which tends to improve metabolism. The amount of exercise a person requires depends on various factors, such as age and weight. 

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should perform a minimum of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. Those who engage in more than 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week stand to gain additional benefits.

Once you start exercising and dieting, your fitness levels are bound to improve. As time goes on, those increased fitness levels should gradually empower you to elevate your workouts to a higher frequency and intensity. 

Throughout your weight loss journey, be sure to scale up the intensity of your workout accordingly. The introduction of small yet progressive changes in your fitness plan can help you prevent or break through a weight-loss plateau.

Woman doing yoga for weight loss and stress management

2. Reduce your stress levels

A recent study revealed that reducing stress levels can drastically help with weight loss. In the study, one group was advised on healthy lifestyle choices and instructed to participate in a stress management program. The control group only received the lifestyle advice. 

After some time, the stress management group saw a more notable reduction in BMI compared to those in the control group. The stress management program included strategies such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided visualization, and diaphragmatic breathing.

More often than not, a primary hormone out of balance in individuals with obesity happens to be cortisol—a hormone our bodies produce in response to stress. Dysregulated cortisol levels can wreak havoc in terms of sleep loss, depletion of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and an increased fat storage rate, especially in the abdominal region. Moreover, high cortisol levels contribute to food addiction, depression, and sugar cravings.

The leading cause of cortisol imbalance is typically the dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates vital hormones in the body. An upregulated (or overactive) HPA leads to elevated cortisol levels, resulting in fatigue, irritability, rapid weight gain, and depression. If left untreated, the HPA can burn out and become downregulated. This downregulation often leads to fatigue, depression, decreased immune function, and thyroid problems.

In studying the science, we understand that stress can be detrimental to weight loss efforts. To break through a weight-loss plateau, try incorporating stress-management techniques into your daily routine to promote healthy cortisol levels in your body.

3. Eat more fiber

Research shows that Americans consume only about 50% of the daily fiber recommendation. For those following a low-carbohydrate diet, that figure is even lower. 

A fiber-rich diet ensures smooth functioning of the digestive system and regular bowel movements, both of which can assist in your weight loss journey. 

Vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains are all loaded with fiber. Making simple changes to your diet, such as replacing your daily glass of juice with whole fruit, can significantly increase your fiber intake over time.

4. Consume more fruits and vegetables

Vegetables are low-calorie foods that can help reduce your daily caloric intake. Thanks to their high fiber content, vegetables also promote satiety to keep your hunger at bay.

One review published in Nutrients concluded that eating more vegetables significantly reduced the risk of obesity and weight gain. This is because vegetables are rich in water and fiber content, so they keep you satiated longer, decrease sugar cravings, and reduce the urge to overeat. 

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can also lower your susceptibility to preventable diseases.

Woman cutting a green apple for fiber

Consider supplements to fuel your weight loss

When paired with a healthy lifestyle and dietary habits, supplements can help supercharge your weight loss efforts. 

A balanced diet is likely to fulfill most of your nutritional needs. However, some helpful supplements can provide that extra boost that you need to stay on track with your weight loss goals. These vitamins include:

B vitamins

B vitamins are crucial for a properly functioning metabolism. Their primary function is to help your body break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to use the energy stored in food.

Iron

Iron plays a significant role in helping your body generate energy from nutrients. Iron is needed to transport oxygen to all the tissues in your body, including your muscles, which helps them burn fat. 

Iron deficiency (i.e., anemia) is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies around the globe. Symptoms of anemia include weakness, fatigue, and low energy levels. Low levels of iron also affect physical endurance and athletic performance. 

Women who experience heavy blood flow during their period and people who frequently donate blood are more susceptible to iron deficiency and should talk to their doctor about an iron supplement.

Magnesium

Magnesium is necessary for generating energy from nutrients. This mineral acts as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes in the body. These enzymes are responsible for various functions, including regulating blood glucose levels, maintaining bone strength, aiding with nervous system functioning, and regulating blood pressure.

Probiotics

Research on probiotics and weight loss in subjects tackling obesity reveals that probiotics can help with weight loss. In particular, research has found that certain Lactobacillus species may help you lose belly fat. One study concluded that eating yogurt with Lactobacillus amylovorus or Lactobacillus fermentumcan reduce body fat by 3-4% over six weeks.

Get your hormones checked

If you've followed all the tips above and nothing has worked, you might consider checking up on your hormone levels as the source of your plateau. 

Insulin resistance, a thyroid disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome, or other conditions might be the reason your body is holding onto pounds. Visit an endocrinologist and explore your concerns with a healthcare professional who can guide you accordingly.

Key takeaways

Weight-loss plateaus tend to arise after following a weight-loss regimen for about six months. They occur once the body adapts to caloric restriction and prevents further weight loss by slowing the metabolism. To break through this plateau, you need to increase the frequency or intensity of exercise, reduce stress levels, and make some dietary changes like upping your fiber intake.

If you don’t notice improvements after implementing these changes, consider talking with your doctor about hormonal imbalances or other related factors that might be hindering your weight loss efforts. 

Noor ul Huda - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice