Fitness Expert Reveals How to Break Out of a Weight Loss Plateau

Try these simple tweaks to help your weight loss journey if you feel like you've hit a wall.

Giselle Castro-Sloboda Fitness and Nutrition Writer
I'm a Fitness & Nutrition writer for CNET who enjoys reviewing the latest fitness gadgets, testing out activewear and sneakers, as well as debunking wellness myths. On my spare time I enjoy cooking new recipes, going for a scenic run, hitting the weight room, or binge-watching many TV shows at once. I am a former personal trainer and still enjoy learning and brushing up on my training knowledge from time to time. I've had my wellness and lifestyle content published in various online publications such as: Women's Health, Shape, Healthline, Popsugar and more.
Expertise Fitness and Wellness
Giselle Castro-Sloboda
4 min read

Weight loss can come easily to some people but can be challenging for others. In some cases, you could be losing weight steadily and then suddenly notice the weight is no longer coming off. This is called a weight loss plateau, and it can make things more discouraging if you have yet to meet your weight loss goal. The good news is there are solutions for it, but it's important to find out why you hit a plateau in the first place. In some cases, the solution is simple, but in others, it may indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. 

We spoke with a dietitian to find out what you need to know about making it out of a weight loss plateau if you've been struggling to hit your goal weight. This is everything you need to know. 

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Why weight loss plateaus happen

Have you ever noticed that when you're intentionally losing weight, everything is going well, then, all of a sudden, your progress comes to a halt? Your body has probably hit a weight loss plateau. Before diving into a solution, it's important to understand why this happens. Lauren Mardeusz, a registered dietitian and owner of Salt and Honey Nutrition, says there are many reasons a plateau may occur. A plateau could mean that your body has adjusted to your current habits and needs a bit of a change. "The amount of time to consider it a plateau is unique to each person, since people will lose weight at different velocities depending on their individual metabolism, diet and exercise habits," says Mardeusz. 

In some cases, you may have lost too much, too soon in an unsafe manner by restricting calories too severely. "As a result, this may lower the resting metabolic rate, because the body is trying to compensate for the dramatic loss of calories," says Mardeusz. "This can result in weight stagnation or even weight gain."

If you are someone who menstruates, you should also be mindful of your cycle as it can also impact your weight. Mardeusz says that weight loss plateaus can also occur for women during their menstrual cycles or during perimenopause due to a fluctuation in hormones that affect fluid retention and metabolism.

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Another thing to consider is that maybe you're within your "set point" weight. The set point theory suggests that we have a predetermined weight that our bodies are biologically drawn to maintain, despite our efforts to lose or gain weight. There isn't enough evidence to prove that the set point theory is completely true, and some researchers would argue that this theory is too simplistic because of the different stages that our bodies go through that can affect these factors. 

How to break a weight loss plateau

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they hit a weight loss plateau is continuing to restrict their calorie intake. "This behavior does not facilitate further weight loss, and it causes people to experience symptoms like fatigue, increased cravings, mood swings, decreased immunity and hair loss," warns Mardeusz. 

Instead, she suggests a few better approaches for breaking out of your plateau. "Adjusting the type of physical activity you are doing, such as including some cardio if you are only focused on weight training, evaluating the stressors in your life and incorporating habits to promote stress reduction can also be supportive of coming off of a weight loss plateau," she says. Focusing on reducing stress can be beneficial because stress affects many of the hormones in our bodies, and chronic stress can influence how effectively your metabolism functions over time. 

Additionally, Mardeusz recommends working with a dietitian that can look at the nutrient distribution of your diet to determine a game plan to help you break out of a weight loss plateau. "A dietitian can help identify things that may be missing in your approach and put together an individualized plan with the right macronutrients along with education, so you may understand how it all goes together," she explains. Once you've reassessed your strategy, it's advised you give it about a month to see if it's working. Depending on how quickly or slowly you were losing weight before the plateau, this could vary a bit.

Signs that a weight loss plateau might be something more serious

Sometimes a weight loss plateau can signal other underlying issues. Hormonal issues, for example, can be drivers for a weight loss plateau. Symptoms that hormones may be to blame include irritability, fatigue, muscle weakness and hair loss. "These are also symptoms of someone who is undernourished due to calorie overrestriction," says Mardeusz. If you're uncertain about what may be causing your weight loss plateau, it's helpful to get an expert opinion. Mardeusz recommends seeing a dietitian or your primary care provider who can help ensure that your dietary habits are in line with other health goals you may have.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.