It’s not something people like to admit, but we all get into ruts on occasion. From refusing to trade in giant 80’s bangs for a more modern style, to hanging around far too long with a no-good significant other, people just get stuck—despite their best efforts to move forward. We’re creatures of habit, no doubt about it, so it should come as no surprise that when we try to lose weight it’s no different. Sometimes the scale just stalls and we’re stuck. When this happens, you’ve hit what diet and exercise experts call a weight loss plateau.
This stall happens because our bodies are smart and extremely adaptable. After every workout, the body not only becomes stronger but also a more efficient calorie-burner. And after you start to lose weight, your body adjusts yet again, requiring fewer calories than it did before. It’s a constant game of Jenga to find the right balance. If you take a wrong step, everything can collapse, halting your flat belly progress.
Thankfully, there are a number of simple ways to boost your metabolism and nudge the scale in the right direction. Here are our top 20 strategies to break through a weight loss plateau.
10 Diet Tricks to Break a Weight Loss Plateau
As you likely already know, losing weight isn’t possible without a stellar diet, an ass-kicking workout plan and some major lifestyle changes. Though all three pillars of the weight loss equation are important, diet arguably has the strongest link to weight loss. That’s because it’s far easier to keep something out of your mouth than it is to burn it off by taking the stairs more often (2 Oreos = 21 flights of stairs) or hitting a weight training class.
Read on for some sneaky diet hacks that will trick your body into finally releasing those pounds in purgatory.
“In order to overcome a weight loss plateau, you’ll likely need to adjust your calorie intake,” registered dietitian Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDE, CDN tells us.
“As you lose weight, your body requires fewer calories for maintenance. If you’re taking in as many calories on day 60 of your diet as you did on day 1, you won’t be able to lose weight. Although you may have been losing weight previously on your current intake, you may need to eat less to achieve a larger caloric deficit.”
One way Kaufman recommends to predict exactly how many calories you need is by taking a metabolic test. This test “reveals your resting metabolic rate: the number of calories your body burns at rest. From this number we can determine how many calories you should consume to burn off pounds,” she explains. Many dietitian offices and high-end gyms offer this service.
If you don’t want to shell out the cash for the test, try cutting 100-200 calories a day from your diet and see how the scale reacts.
Why not more? Though it may seem counterintuitive, not eating enough can have the opposite effect on your waistline than you’re hoping for.
“When people diet, they tend to restrict calories, but if you go below 1,200 calories, you can slow down your metabolism, preventing weight loss,” warns registered dietitian Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD, CDN.
Have you heard? One of the best ways to fight fat is with fiber. “Emerging research shows that focusing on high-fiber foods can help you shed pounds after other diets have caused a plateau, likely because the nutrient is so filling,” says Dr. Sean M. Wells, the owner of Naples Personal Training.
“Shoot for at least 30 grams of fiber a day from fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” he adds.
Some of the best sources of fiber to defeat a weight plateau include:
- Oatmeal (rolled oats or steel-cut)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, flax, chia seeds)
- Berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)
- Beans (peas, black beans, chickpeas)
Still not convinced you should add more of filling fiber to your plate? A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that by making one change to your diet—which is aiming to eat 30 grams of fiber a day—can help you lose weight, reduce blood pressure, and increase sensitivity to insulin. Swapping cookies for berries and white rice for barley suddenly seems way more appealing, doesn’t it? We thought it might.
Your coffee habit may be stalling your weight loss progress. An Australian research team found that when mice consumed more than five cups of java a day, it led to increased belly fat storage. On the flip side, a different study found that subjects who combined 5 cups of green tea with 3 hours of exercise per week, lost 2 more pounds than their non-tea-drinking counterparts, The Daily News reports.
What makes green tea help with a diet plateau? It contains fat-blasting compounds called catechins, that chisel away at belly fat by revving the metabolism then speeding up the liver’s fat burning capacity. Making the switch from coffee to green tea may be just what your body needs to get back on track toward weight loss success—why not give it a go? You’ve got nothing to lose… But weight!
RELATED: Learn how to harness the power of tea to lose weight.
We don’t typically condone cheating, but when it comes to losing weight, breaking the rules may be the key to success. “When you hit a plateau, take a carb-rich free meal, otherwise known as a cheat meal or a refeed meal. After a few days, things should start to progress again,” says personal trainer and Co-Founder of Excelerate Wellness Victoria Viola.
“When we lose weight, we inevitability also lose fat. And the less fat you have, the less leptin (the ‘satiety hormone’) you’ll produce, which tells the brain to conserve calories to prevent starving. Research indicates that the best way to amp up leptin production is to eat more carbohydrates. Unlike fat and protein, the carbs tell your brain that you are not going to starve and to burn calories at a normal rate.”
Simply put, eat a slice of pizza or a burger and see what happens. It may trick your brain into increasing your calorie burn, resulting in weight loss.
Sometimes the scale isn’t tipping in your favor because your body is retaining water. Retention and bloat can happen for a number of reasons, however, the most common cause is consuming too much sodium-filled processed foods. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, more than 75 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from salt added to processed foods—not the salt shaker.
Water clings to sodium like a magnet, so you may hang onto extra fluid. And though it may not seem like it can influence the scale too drastically, just four cups of water weighs a whopping two pounds!
You can cut back on sodium to speed up weight loss in multiple ways:
- Dial back on processed foods like frozen dinners, canned soups, and boxed mac and cheese
- Swap deli meat sandwiches for salads
- Stay away from the drive-thru and cut back on fast food
- Don’t order salty restaurant desserts
Want to get more out of your weight loss workout? Fuel your session with almonds, one of the best proteins for weight loss. The tear-shaped nut is rich in the amino acid L-arginine, which can actually help you burn more fat and carbs during workouts, accelerating your weight loss wins, according to a Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition report.
Like picking a fight to test someone’s resolve in their own beliefs, eating regularly to lose weight may seem a bit counterintuitive—but it works. “Many people think that if they skip a meal it will help them lose weight, but that’s simply not true,” registered dietitian and personal trainer Jim White, RD, ACSM, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios tells us.
“Not only does skipping meals slow your metabolism, but it also causes blood sugar levels to plummet. This will leave you feeling famished, increasing the odds you’ll overeat and stalling weight loss progress.” Eating a combination of protein, carbs and fats every 4 hours will help keep your calorie-burn consistent throughout the day and ward off progress-derailing hunger.
“One of the most overlooked aspects of a weight loss plan is proper hydration,” says Kelvin Gary, Owner and Head Coach at Body Space Fitness in New York City. Not only can drinking water help to flush out excess salt hanging out in your system, but it can also keep hunger at bay and help you power through workouts more effectively, accelerating weight loss effects.
Keep a water bottle by your side on the reg so you’ll remember to sip throughout the day. If your urine is a dark yellow, you’re dehydrated and should start sipping.
And speaking of H2O, be sure to drink the stuff before meals, advises registered dietitian nutritionist Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN. “A glass or two before a meal can help you fill up and curb overall calorie intake.”
Science backs Zeid’s claim: According to research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, study subjects who sipped two cups of water before sitting down to a meal consumed 75 to 90 fewer calories. Over a 12-week period, dieters who followed the strategy three times per day lost about 5 pounds more than dieters who didn’t increase their water intake.
You’ve heard it a million times before: You need to eat protein if you want to lose weight. When you consider the nutrient’s stellar skill set, it makes sense: Protein can boost metabolism and even help the body retain its muscle while scorching fat. Protein-rich foods also suppress ghrelin which is a hormone secreted by the stomach that stimulates appetite, explains registered dietitian Gina Hassick, RD, LDN, CDE, who suggests including a lean source of the nutrient with each meal.
The reason: Those who stagger their protein consumption lost more weight and were more apt to maintain their new, fit figures than those who skimped on protein at certain meals, according to recent research. That means someone who is aiming for 60 grams of protein daily should consume 20 grams at each meal, which is about what you’d find in a 3-ounce chicken breast or a 7-ounce container of Greek yogurt.
To eat more protein to overcome a weight loss plateau, try a high-protein meal plan with at least 20 grams of protein at each meal:
Breakfast – 20 g protein: 5.3-ounce container Icelandic yogurt (15 g) + 1/3 cup protein granola (5 g) + 1/4 cup berries
Lunch – 23 g protein: Black bean “burrito bowl” salad, 1/2 cup black beans (7 g), 1/4 cup chicken (10 g), 1 ounce shredded cheddar cheese (6 g), fresh tomato salsa, 1 cup iceberg lettuce, cilantro-jalapeno dressing
Dinner – 28 g protein: 3-ounces teriyaki Atlantic salmon (22 g), 1/2 cup cooked broccoli (2 g), 1/2 cup quinoa (4 g)
4 Fitness Tips to Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau
Take your daily sweat session to the next level with the help of these fun, challenging, and invigorating fitness tips from some of the nation’s top weight loss experts.
Mix up your workout—or try a new physical activity like tennis, hiking, rock climbing, or boxing. “When you have a regular workout routine, your muscles become familiar with doing the same exercises regularly,” Hassick says. “Our bodies are smart. They learn how to do those exercises using fewer calories, making your regular exercise routine less effective for weight loss.”
If getting into a new type of activity isn’t your cup of tea, at least, vary your routine. If you typically do steady cardio, for example, incorporate intervals. If you typically do HIIT, log a few longer cardio sessions each week. And after you’re done working out, revitalize your muscles with the help of our go-to protein shake recipes.
Not only can befriending someone who’s fit (and willing to meet up with you for workouts) help you stick to your exercise routine, it can also push you to exert yourself a little harder, says White. Ask your fit sister-in-law if you can hit the weights with her, or ask your yoga-obsessed co-worker if you can tag along with him to a class. Befriending someone who’s hyper health-minded may be just what you need to kick-start your weight loss again.
Interval training is another great way to amp up your calorie burn and reach your body goals. “Interval training means accelerating your exercise speed for a short period of time and then resuming to your normal speed for a slightly longer period,” Wells explains. “Continue alternating between faster and slower speeds for the duration of your usual cardio routine.”
For a treadmill workout consider this routine:
Warm up: 5 minutes walking
All-out sprint: 1 minute
Break: 2 minutes walk
Repeat the pattern until you hit the 30-minute mark.
You can also vary the intensity by changing the incline. Run for two minutes on a 1% incline and then crank it up to 6% for two minutes.
When weight loss stalls, it’s a good indication that you’re body is no longer being challenged. Or in some rare cases, it may be a sign it’s being pushed too hard. If it’s the former, up your strength training to make sure you add or maintain lean muscle mass, suggests Gary.
“One of the first physiological adaptations to strength training is the increase of mitochondria in your muscle cells. This helps increase your body’s capacity to burn fat,” he explains. Simply put, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories and fat your body will burn at rest. Hitting a plateau can mean that you need to modify your resistance training, adds Wells. “Sticking with one weight lifting routine for too long will bog down your metabolism and possibly expose you to overtraining. I recommend using a periodized training program where you alter the type of movements, intensity, rest breaks, and amount lifted over several periods throughout the year,” Wells tells us.
Celebrity trainer Kit Rich agrees that muscle confusion is key to success, and suggests increasing your weights and performing fewer reps, but also lifting lighter weights and performing more reps.
6 Lifestyle Hacks to Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau
Every successful loser knows that shedding pounds isn’t just a result of what you do at the gym and what you spoon onto your plate. It’s about how you live your life as a whole. Eating and exercising only take up a fraction of the day, so why not utilize those other hours to your advantage, too? Read on to discover how.
—and be honest. You might have hit a dead end with your weight loss progress because you’re eating more than you think you are and moving less than you realize. “What goes in must go down (on paper or on your cell phone). Research shows that people who journal what they eat are more successful at weight loss,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Marisa Moore. “Use the journal to record every morsel of food and review it to see if there are certain triggers that lead you to eat more or less during the day. A journal can be an effective way to discover trends and uncover areas to improve, both with diet and lifestyle habits.”
Listen up, late-night Netflixers, your lack of sleep is killing your weight loss progress! More than one out of three American adults do not get enough sleep, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not only can your lack of zzz’s leave you feeling groggy it can have serious, long-term side effects and change your metabolism for the worse.
In fact, WebMD reveals that logging less than 6 hours of shut-eye can reduce fat loss by a shocking 55%—in part because when you’re sleepy you also feel hungrier. “Too little sleep can lead to increased levels of stress hormones, which have been shown to cause weight and fat gain, especially in your midsection,” adds Hassick.
And in that same vein, take a rest day or two each week. “Sometimes one of the best ways to overcome a weight loss plateau is to rest,” says personal trainer Ajia Cherry, ACE, CHC, CPT. “Oftentimes focusing too hard on a weight loss goal can have a negative effect on you. Giving your body and mind the appropriate time to recharge will not only put you back on track but will also give you a moment to reassess your diet and exercise regiment. It may be time to change up one or the other or both.” Taking a few days off from the gym can also ward off overtraining.
If you regularly hit the gym and keep your routine varied, build a little extra activity into your day to burn some extra calories.
- Do the dishes by hand
- Take the elevator instead of the stairs
- Take a walk around the block instead of grabbing a snack from the break room
While none of these things burn a ton of calories, every bit counts in your effort to get the scale moving again. For more fun ways to move more every day check out these ways to burn calories without a gym!
Sometimes when you hit a weight loss plateau, you just have to be patient and wait it out. Have faith that eventually you’ll start losing weight again because you will! Since it can be hard to maintain motivation when you’re not seeing results, reward yourself for healthy actions like sticking to a consistent workout routine and saying no to desserts throughout the workweek.
The trick, however, is to not reward yourself with food. Instead, try these non-food rewards:
- SoulCycle classes
- Night at the movies with your friends
Finally, consider looking beyond the numbers. “The way you feel, achieving greater endurance or intensity in your workouts, or simply looking better in your jeans are all reasons to celebrate that don’t require you to hit a specific number on a scale,” notes Moore.
Celebrity trainer and creator of Methodology X Dan Roberts agrees: “Focus on the process of being healthy, lean and mean rather than just the weight loss results. In my experience focusing on only weight loss can be negative and won’t lead to lifelong success.”