Making Willpower When Your Weight Loss Plateaus (Excuse #3)

Weight Loss Plateau Girl Who is Angry

Have you ever had a week where you’ve put in a serious effort towards your weight loss goals and not seen any results? You’re busting your butt at the gym and perfecting portion control, but nothing’s happening. Perhaps you even saw a plus on the scale. Weight loss plateaus are a reality for anyone trying to lose those last few pounds, or even just starting out. Why do they happen, and what can we do about them?

What are Weight Loss Plateaus?

Weight loss plateaus happen mainly when the body reduces its metabolism in an attempt to conserve fat and energy. Progress slows, then moves forward, then maybe even stops for a bit. In the end, it’s very discouraging. Plateauing can lead to negative thoughts and actions, including more restrictive dieting or even quitting altogether.

As you lose more weight and get closer to your goals, hitting a weight loss plateau becomes more likely. In shows like The Biggest Loser, some contestants lose upward of 30 pounds in their first week of eating well and exercising. As the episodes progress, these same contestants are struggling to lose a pound or 2, and even end up gaining.

Weight comes off quickly when first starting a weight loss plan due to:

  • Having a higher base calorie expenditure due to one’s size
  • Burning more calories carrying around a heavier body
  • Eliminating water weight brought on by poor food choices
  • Burning through your glycogen stores, which releases a lot of stored water in the body

What Causes Weight Loss Plateaus?

Eating too much is a likely suspect when a plateau happens. Sometimes, we convince ourselves we’re eating healthy when the foods we’ve been eating are actually loaded in calories and added sugar. Think yogurt, salad dressings and granola bars. Our metabolism also gets lower as we get smaller. The food that was causing us to lose weight before, may now be too much.

Lack of sleep has a negative effect on our weight loss in many ways. Not getting enough sleep can cause stress, which increases cortisol levels and causes you to store more fat around your abdomen. Sleep deprivation can also slow your metabolism and mess with your hormones leptin and ghrelin, making you feel hungrier.

Eating too little can also trigger a weight loss plateau. If you’re sticking to a very low daily calorie intake (I’m looking at you less than 1200 calories a day people) your metabolism can slow down to match your expenditure.

Lastly, you’re not working out, or more specifically, you’re not incorporating weight training. Your body is sneaky when it comes to losing weight, and instead of burning fat, it may try to metabolize muscle instead. The less muscle you have, the lower your metabolism.

Trouble with weight loss can also be caused by medical conditions like hypothyroidism and certain medications. Consult your doctor if you think this could be affecting you.

How to Avoid a Weight Loss Plateau

While avoiding a plateau is never a guarantee, there’s a lot you can do to discourage them from happening. Re-evaluate your diet to see if you’ve been eating enough fruits, vegetables and protein, and reduce foods high in sugar and calories. Watch what you’re putting in drinks and limit “extras” like sauces and dips. The goal isn’t to restrict anything, but to find out how much is “too much.”

Get adequate sleep (7-9 hours) each night and incorporate resistance training into your workouts. Remember to mix up your workouts so that you’re exercising different muscles. If you can, remain active throughout the day. You can burn more calories simply by walking around, taking stairs instead of elevators, and doing chores.

Strategies like calorie cycling can provide a solution when you’re plateauing. Alternate the amounts of calories eaten and the type of exercise each day to trick your body into keeping a higher metabolism. Having days where you don’t restrict as much will remind your body that it’s not going to starve.

This can be as simple as throwing on an extra 250 calories by snacking on your favourite chocolate bar. Bet you didn’t think a weight loss site would be telling you to do that (ha). If you have any health conditions like diabetes, consult your doctor to make sure a calorie cycling routine is suitable for you.

Another point I’d like to make is to keep reasonable goals. Just because you lost 5 pounds in your first week does not mean you’ll lose 5 pounds every week. Only losing 1 pound a week does not mean you’re plateauing. This kind of thinking is only going to set you up for disappointment. Aiming to lose 1-2 pounds a week is much more realistic.

Why Plateaus Make Us Give Up

Weight loss plateaus can turn into an excuse to quit and start over. After putting in the hard work over weeks or even months, not seeing any results can be beyond frustrating. It feels like your body is working against you. In the end, you may want to give up because you think you’re not meant to be in shape.

I personally have an excuse I’ve come up with, just for plateauing. I’ll convince myself to take some time off from eating well and exercising to “jog” my metabolism. This has typically happened when I’ve plateaued and I’m looking for some reason to binge eat. Then I would tell myself it would only last a day, but end up getting into a binge eating cycle once more. All the while I keep saying I’m going to start again…tomorrow.

We all want to start off with a clean slate. But remind yourself, getting started is the hardest part. Teaching myself to indulge without quitting is the best thing I’ve ever learned, in regards to my health.

“Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners.” – William Shakespeare, Othello Click To Tweet

When to Not Focus on Your Weight

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do. You’re going to plateau even if you’ve done everything totally right. In this case, the best course of action is to wait it out. And, let me tell you, it’s worth the wait. I’ve had 2 weeks when I’ve lost no weight and carried on to find out the 3rd week my weight is down 3 pounds. I aim for around one pound of weight loss each week, so my body decided to catch up.

Our weight can fluctuate from day to day, throughout the day, and at certain times of the month. It can be easy to fall into the trap of weighing yourself often, but don’t get too concerned over the number that you see. When our fat is burned it becomes carbon dioxide and water. It can take time for this water to be flushed from our bodies. Then suddenly, whoosh, it’s gone!

Also, if you’re focusing on resistance training, remember that muscle weighs more than fat. You could be getting smaller, but your weight can remain the same. Consider if your goal is really to lose weight, or get smaller and in shape.

A scale that measures body fat percentage can save your sanity by showing you your real progress. If you’re considering picking up a reasonably priced bathroom scale, click here for one that measures body fat and connects to your smartphone. You can use it to track your progress in connection with much more than just your weight.

What to Focus on Instead

Another way to go is to get rid of your bathroom scale entirely and go by measurements. Get yourself a flexible measuring tape and measure your upper arms, chest, waist, hips and upper thigh. Write these down and retake your measurements every week. Congratulate yourself for each centimeter you lose, or how loose your old pants feel. Reaching non-weight goals can be very satisfying because you know these results are visible!

Watch your success with health indicators like blood pressure, blood glucose levels and cholesterol levels. Other improvements can also be considered, like reduced joint pain, better mental health and increased energy. Anything that can motivate you to stay on track is valuable and should be celebrated!

In Summary

Weight loss plateaus are when your weight loss slows or even stops entirely. They happen when your body lowers its metabolism to hold on to fat. While not completely avoidable, you can deter a plateau by ensuring you are getting adequate sleep, exercise, and the right amount of food. This sometimes takes a bit of trial and error.

Hitting a plateau may discourage you, but it shows that some progress has happened. You’re not at the start anymore! This means you’re on the right track and you should be excited! If you wait it out and still see no results you may need to make a few tweaks to get yourself going again. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Starting over is never fun, and you’ll be proud of yourself for sticking it out.

Have you had to deal with a frustrating weight loss plateau before? Let me know in the comments!

Plateau in Distance Weight Loss Plateau
The only kind of plateau I like

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Excuse #1: Perfection

Excuse #2: Special Occasions

Ang Signoff Heart

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