When you’re working hard to change your body, running into the dreaded weight loss plateau is crazy frustrating. I’ve been there personally and my clients have been there as well. The good news is that there are specific steps you can take to beat the weight loss plateau and I’m going to teach you 7 of them today…
In a perfect world, you would lose one to two pounds a week, week after week after week. It would just sort of melt off, never to be seen again. You could get on the scale every single day and the number would be another fraction of a pound lower.
That’s how most people see the game playing out, so they launch themselves into this “goal weight or bust!” mindset. The weight starts ticking down. Week one. Month one. Month two. So far so good.
And then…a crisis. A big crisis that requires immediately attention.
Code fucking blue! My weight loss stalled out!
Panic sets in. You jump on your computer and start Googling to figure out what’s wrong. You second guess everything you’ve been doing up to this point.
And then you find Rebooted Body. You find this article. And you take a deep breath.
No, seriously, take a deep breath.
All is well in the world. You’re going to smash this plateau and you’re going to ride off into the sunset. But there are some important things we need to talk about before that happens.
“I hit a weight loss plateau! What’s wrong with me? No, wait, what’s wrong with your program?”
Scale addicts are always the first to frantically report in: “Three days have gone by and…nothing! Nothing! Am I broken? What happened? I’ve been so good! Your program doesn’t work!”
“I thought I told you to get rid of your scale,” I reply.
But even if you’re using a useful tool like a tape measure, as opposed to a scale which is mostly not useful (seriously, ditch that thing), there will come a time when getting that tape out just results in goose egg deja vu.
And that’s where this article changes your life.
Take a look at the chart below. It’s a 240-day weight loss tracking chart. From far away, it appears that this guy or girl is pretty well within the realm of daisies, unicorns, and rainbows – aka the land of great success.
That’s a pretty successful journey, wouldn’t you say?
Not so fast.
If you take a closer look you’ll see that this chart contains more than a dozen plateau periods. Not only that, it contains periods of weight gain and some of those periods are up to two weeks long.
Why? Two reasons.
- Tracking weight is a fool’s errand. Weight loss can plateau even when fat loss is still happening.
- Plateau periods are a normal part of weight loss.
Let’s take a closer look…
Tracking Weight is a Fool’s Errand – Weight Loss Can Plateau Even When Fat Loss is Still Happening
You can’t believe how many people get frustrated and throw in the towel…while they’re making amazing progress!
It’s true, but why? Well, it’s because they don’t realize they’re making progress. They’re tracking weight with a scale, which is the absolute worst way to track your progress.
Want to know an insider secret? Most plateau periods aren’t really plateau periods. Sure, the scale stopped moving, but your body fat percentage is still going down. You just don’t know it’s still going down because you’re not tracking it.
“But Kevin, why would the scale not move when I’m losing body fat?”
Great question. There are many reasons, but here are three as proof that it can easily happen:
- You ate some salty foods yesterday and you’re retaining more water than you were when you weighed the day before.
- You “took the browns to the superbowl” before the last weigh in, but not this weigh in.
- You’ve been adding some muscle mass and it’s offsetting the fat loss.
There are more beyond that, but the point is that people are routinely fooled by the scale. And this scale foolery ends up causing frustration and failure in people who are actually succeeding and doing great. That’s why I say that tracking weight is a fool’s errand.
Plateau Periods are a Normal Part of Healthy Weight Loss!
So, not all plateau periods are real plateau periods, but that doesn’t mean plateau periods don’t exist.
You will absolutely experience plateau periods throughout your weight loss journey. Why? Because they’re a normal part of healthy weight loss!
It’s crazy-making that people expect to drop 50 pounds of excess fat without their body pausing and chilling at any point. If you have a significant amount of weight to lose, you need to go into the journey knowing and understanding that there are going to be plateaus.
There’s no reason to get frustrated if you know it’s a normal part of the process, right?
Your body has a body fat “set point” that it works hard to defend. If you’ve been overweight for a long time, your set point has continued to climb higher and higher. This is one of the key causes of the plateau periods – your body is trying to hang on to that body fat for survival. It can’t just let it melt away effortlessly, because if this was a real survival situation that would mean death to you.
This is yet another reason why I say that patience and grace are the two most important ingredients in the recipe of success. People who are constantly in the “race to lose” mindset aren’t able to deal with these perfectly natural plateau periods in a healthy, graceful manner. They aren’t able to massage the process. They jump ship and drown – happens all the time.
Don’t be that person.
7 Strategies, Tactics, and Tips for Smashing Through Your Weight Loss Plateau
Okay, now that I’ve gotten your mindset right around the idea of plateau periods, I want to provide you with some action steps for how to smash through them when they occur.
Tip #1: Make the Plateau Emotionally Powerless Over You
Healthy weight loss is a downward trend, not a perfect decline. To beat the plateaus (there will be many of them), you have to refuse to give it power over you.
If you want to achieve weight loss in sustainable fashion, your goal has to be to trend downward. It’s not about always decreasing weight. It’s normal to level off. It’s even normal for weight to go up at certain times.
This process is similar to hiking down a mountain. There’s going to be crappy terrain. You have to ignore the fact that sometimes you have to go sideways and sometimes you have to climb back up a little bit.
If you freak out during these plateaus or periods of slight gain, it will derail you. Go back and look at the chart I posted above. The first plateau occurred at the 30-day mark. What if this person had given up hope at that point? They’d be back over 300 pounds instead of closing in on 240.
Day-to-day fluctuations in weight or measurements are meaningless. Week to week fluctuations can also be meaningless. The only thing that matters is how you’re trending over months. You have to play the long game.
Tip #2: Indulge Your Body and Brain With a Re-Feed
If you’ve been more restrictive than necessary as of late, either with calories or your choices in general, it might be time for a re-feed.
A re-feed is not a binge. I don’t want you to go crazy eating boxes of donuts, stacks of pancakes, or anything like that. In other words, stay away from what the Rock is cookin’…
A re-feed is where you purposefully let off any restrictions, allow for a solid increase in calories, and for those of you who are generally pretty low carb, purposefully alter your macros.
A re-feed isn’t really the time for adhering to the ANTI food strategy or anything like that. Be very loose with it. Nothing you eat for one day is going to kill you.
With that said, if you have any food allergies or intolerances or anything like that, it’s best to continue avoiding those foods. You don’t want to trash your body – that’s not the goal here.
And to explain this with a little more context, the reason I’m suggesting you ignore the ANTI model on a re-feed day is because a lot of you, honestly, would not do a proper re-feed if I told you to simply increase the amount of real food you’re eating.
I know how fanatical people get and how avoidant you might be of eating too many calories. I want you to eat “whatever” because that’ll ensure that you’re actually packing in a nice calorie increase.
While it seems counterintuitive, a lot of people notice their progress accelerate after a re-feed day if they haven’t had one in a while. This is because the re-feed helps the metabolism kick back up a notch.
Tip #3: Stop Snacking
The health and fitness and dieting industries are in love with the idea of “healthy snacks.” One of their favorite health dogma narratives is “you need to eat six small meals a day to keep your metabolism up.”
It’s nonsense. The meal > snack > meal > snack > meal > snack approach is crazy-making. All it does is make you obsess over food all day long and ensure that you need to count calories to keep your eating in check.
People who have a functional metabolism only need to eat once or twice a day. People who are ready to pass out if they don’t eat every couple hours are metabolically fragile (there are other issues with snacking, too).
Most days, I eat three meals. Often, though, I’ll only eat two. It really depends on how I feel and what I’m doing that day. The point is that it doesn’t matter either way.
If you’re plateaued, it can be super helpful to get back to basics. Stop snacking altogether. Eat 3 square meals and eat enough at each meal to get you from one meal to the next without crazy hunger. You still want to be hungry as the next meal approaches, just not crazy hungry.
Give this a shot for at least 2 weeks.
Tip #4: Fix Your Sleep
If you aren’t aware, sleep is critical to your success. Not only will your body struggle to burn fat when you’re sleep deprived, but it’ll make your eating inconsistent, too.
The main culprit here is hormone dysregulation. Poor sleep screws up your leptin, ghrelin, insulin, and cortisol production. The end result is that you’re going to be hungrier, less able to feel full, less able to keep your blood sugar stable, and more prone to storing body fat (especially belly fat).
How important is sleep? I’ve seen people who are doing *everything* right fail to make progress simply because their sleep was whacked out. I’m talking 6 or less hours of quality sleep per night.
That’s an important point. It’s not just about quantity, it’s about quality. I don’t care how long you’re in bed for, I care about how long you’re sleeping for and how deep that sleep is. A lot of people will be in bed for 8 hours and only get 5 hours of quality sleep. That’s not good enough.
Fix your sleep and you’ll break through your plateau. I have a guide called “REM Rehab: Reboot Your Sleep, Feel Amazing, and Light Your Productivity on Fire” available as a bonus inside my Total Body Reboot program. Enroll in that program and you can reboot everything at once.
Tip #5: Incorporate Intermittent Fasting Two or Three Times a Week
Sometimes people are scared by the word “fasting.” I can assure you, it’s nothing to be afraid of in this context.
Remember when I said that people with a functional, healthy metabolism can easily confine their eating to two meals a day? Well, that’s basically what intermittent fasting is.
The simplest approach is what’s referred to as a 16:8 approach. You fast for 16 hours and then you confine all your eating into an 8-hour window.
Does that sound difficult? Well, it’s not difficult when you factor in that you’ll be sleeping for half of that fasting window.
Here’s what it looks like in practicality:
- Don’t eat after 9p.
- Don’t eat again until 1p.
Said another way, “don’t eat breakfast.”
Heed those two points and you’re doing intermittent fasting. Head the “said another way” advice and you’re loosely doing intermittent fasting. Point being: you don’t have to do it perfectly to get results.
This isn’t just a great way to break a plateau, by the way, it’s a great way to tame your cravings and tame your hunger. It’s also a great way to think *less* about food throughout the day. Fewer meals means less planning and consideration.
Tip #6: Incorporate High-Intensity Interval Training At Least Once a Week
A lot of the people who hit plateaus aren’t doing enough on the exercise front. I’m not talking about quantity, mind you, I’m talking about quality.
The first way people tend to lack in exercise quality is by avoiding high-intensity work. Now, this isn’t something you have to do many times a week, but it’s something you should incorporate consistently (at least once a week is good).
The human body has a physiological need for high intensity movement. It creates benefits that can’t really be achieved by other means.
The most effective way to incorporate high intensity interval training is with tabata sprinting. You can also do random sprint intervals when you’re on a walk. Try to incorporate 6 to 9 sprints (of varying distances) during any walk.
That’s one of my favorite ways to incorporate sprints because I’m already investing the time in walking and I’m in such good shape that my body craves something more beyond the walk.
Final tip: If you’re new to sprinting and want to incorporate sprints into your walks, only sprint on inclines. You’ll get the same kind of output while limiting your top speed. This makes the sprints safer as you’ll be less likely to trip, hit a speed your feet can’t keep up with, etc.
Tip #7: Incorporate Heavier Resistance Training at Least Two Times a Week
The second way that people are failing to give their body what it needs on the exercise front is by not lifting heavy things. And when I say “lift heavy things” I mean pretty heavy things.
Here’s the basic scale that I follow:
- A light weight is a weight that you can do 12+ reps with.
- A medium weight is a weight that you can only do 7 to 11 reps with.
- A heavy weight is a weight that you can only do 3 to 6 reps with.
You must understand this, though: When you start to incorporate heavy lifting, you’re going to add lean muscle mass. So, if you’re tracking progress with a scale, you’re not going to see a break in your plateau. In fact, you might see a weight increase.
This is not a reason to avoid resistance training, it’s a reason to ditch your stupid scale. Resistance training is one of the most effective forms of exercise for shedding body fat and can do wonders for breaking plateau periods.
Stop Racing, It’s Killing Your Chances of Success
Every piece of weight loss marketing out there promises to get you a “beach body” in “as little as [fill in a timeline that sounds so super duper amazingly doable here].”
It’s all bullshit.
You’re going to get to your destination, but not overnight. And you’re only going to get there if you can calm down with all the comparison traps, scale abuse, racing to nowhere, negative self-talk, and unhelpful mind games.
Go read this book. You’ve probably read it before but you might need a reminder.
Your worst enemy isn’t sugar, processed carbs, or vegetable oils. Often, your worst enemy is your impatience and your desire for perfection. Your worst enemy is your horrible track record with defining failure because those failures desperately try to inform your current behavior. That leaves you operating from a place of fear.
Be the tortoise, not the hare: confident, patient, determined.
Alright, you should be pretty well-equipped to deal with any weight loss plateaus you come across now. Let’s quickly recap the things you should keep top of mind:
- Plateau periods are a normal part of healthy weight loss.
- Weight loss can plateau even when fat loss is still happening (ditch your scale).
- You need to make plateau periods emotionally powerless over you.
- It can be helpful to reboot your metabolism and your brain with a re-feed.
- You may want to nix the snacking, even if your snacking is healthy.
- You need to Reboot your sleep.
- You should experiment with intermittent fasting.
- You should make sure you’re doing high-intensity interval training at least once a week.
- You should make sure you’re doing heavy resistance training a couple times a week.
If you have any questions – and if these tips help you break your plateau – let me know in the comments.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.