It’s a familiar story. You made the decision to adopt healthier habits with a goal of losing weight, and — at first — the pounds seemed to fall off. Then suddenly progress slows, and the inevitable weight-loss plateau rears its ugly head. This leads to frustration and confusion as to why what was once working no longer is. For many, the result is a backslide into old habits and, in turn, weight gain. It’s a vicious cycle.
“Interestingly, in the beginning of a weight-loss plan, people often lose more weight making fewer changes, like limiting portions and cutting out certain food and beverages,” explains Samantha Tinsley, an Indianapolis-based clinical dietitian. “But once they’ve lost usually around 10% of body weight, that weight loss slows down.”
Since this is an all-too-common phenomenon, experts have devised strategies to help those committed to healthier habits stay devoted even when weight loss levels off. There’s no doubt that if you can stay the course and make the proper adjustments, you will eventually see progress again. Here are six strategies for pushing past that plateau and sticking to your weight-loss plan through thick and thin:
1. Mind the (energy) gap.
One of the conundrums of weight loss: As you trim down, you actually need to further restrict your calorie intake or increase your energy expenditure. This is a result of the fact that you’re carrying around less mass. If you hope to continue shedding pounds, you have to continually crunch the numbers to figure out your energy needs.
“It’s estimated that for every pound you lose, you need to reduce your food intake by eight calories,” explains Tinsley. “So for someone who has lost 30 pounds, she now needs to eat 240 fewer calories or burn more through exercising — that’s called the energy gap.”
2. Reframe goals.
While weight loss may seem like it’s all about the numbers on the scale, considering the other benefits of adopting a healthier lifestyle can help you push past a plateau.
“Shift your focus to thinking about non-scale victories,” advises Glennis Coursey, coaching lead at MyFitnessPal. “Ask yourself: What are some of the positive things that are happening in my life based on my weight loss — maybe you got a hug from your kid and they could put their arms all the way around you, or you went on the farthest run you’ve ever done.”
There are plenty of benefits to getting healthy that are harder to quantify but are just as important as weight loss. When you take the time to celebrate those achievements during a plateau, you’re more likely to stay motivated even when the scale isn’t moving.
3. Reassess your diet.
Simply reducing portion sizes is often enough to prompt weight loss for many people. Unfortunately, a more strategic overhaul of your diet is usually necessary as the pounds come off.
“Eating smaller portions is a good start to get that initial weight loss, but after awhile, it’s hard to follow a lower-calorie diet without choosing lower-calorie foods,” says Tinsley.
That means if you are still eating a lot of macaroni and cheese or fatty meats, you’re going to have trouble feeling full on a reduced-calorie diet. When you choose foods rich in fiber and lean protein, you’ll feel fuller for longer, even when you’re cutting calories.
4. Plan ahead.
Setting a course for your week can go a long way in keeping you on track with healthy habits and weight loss. “If you can anticipate challenges you may encounter, they are going to be much easier to get through,” says Coursey. “Maybe you’re planning on going to the gym five times this week — that means you need to look at your calendar beforehand to see when you can go.”
Tinsley adds that the same approach applies to diet: “People who are really successful with weight loss have a plan to go to the grocery store. They know what they will eat for lunch and the healthy snacks they’ll have at work.”
5. Move more.
While changes in diet may be enough in the beginning, if you hope to continue losing weight, you’re going to have to increase the amount of exercise you get each day.
“Studies have shown that people who keep the weight off are active for upwards of an hour each day,” says Tinsley. “By finding activities that increase your energy expenditure, you don’t have to be as strict with your calories.”
Coursey emphasizes that moving more doesn’t mean only getting structured exercise like hopping on a treadmill or going for a bike ride. Everyday activities burn calories, too. This can include everything from mowing the lawn to vacuuming the house. “It’s important to shift your focus and also pay attention to activity throughout the day,” she adds.
6. Stay positive.
For many, it can be demoralizing when weight loss levels off. There’s plenty of evidence out there, however, to suggest that if you can stick with your weight-loss plan, the pounds will come off. This is why remaining positive is so important to keep you on track.
“You need to say to yourself, ‘I’m feeling frustrated, but I’m working hard and I have to find the motivation to keep going,’ ” says Tinsley. “You can feel frustrated without hating yourself. Rather than focusing on the numbers, think about how you’re feeling overall since you started this journey.”