How to Break Weight Loss Plateau

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD

Written by Lauren Panoff

Published 04/07/2024

You’ve been on the healthy weight loss train for a while, successfully chugging along toward your end goal. But an initially predictable game of subtracting one to two pounds a week has now slowed to crawl — or a complete stop. What gives? This is called a weight loss plateau.

Annoying as it may be, it’s a normal and very common aspect of weight loss. So what can you do to get past it? We have answers.

Let’s start by exploring why weight loss plateaus occur. Then we’ll go over how to break through a weight loss plateau and dig into how to get back on a more linear weight loss plane.

In nature, a plateau is an elevated piece of flat land that rises above the surrounding area and falls sharply on at least one side. Similarly, a weight loss plateau occurs when your weight loss progress stalls — and goes flat — despite continued efforts.

In the early stages of weight loss, you’ll typically experience significant changes in body composition, with a lowered body mass index (BMI), due to the combination of reduced caloric intake and increased physical activity.

However, over time, it’s not uncommon for the body to adapt to these changes by slowing down metabolism and conserving energy. This makes it harder to continue losing weight at the same pace.

Besides that, factors like hormone fluctuations, muscle building (a pound of muscle weighs more than a pound of fat) and water retention can contribute to a plateau.

Breaking through a weight loss plateau often requires reassessing dietary habits, modifying exercise routines and potentially seeking professional guidance to target other lifestyle adjustments for excess weight and obesity.

It may sound simple, but a weight loss plateau lasts for however long you maintain the same weight. If your weight — which was previously dropping due to a weight loss routine — stops dropping, you’re at a plateau. If you make changes and your weight starts going down again, you’ve broken out of that plateau.

Weight Loss Plateaus are Normal

Most people who’ve embarked on a long-term weight loss journey will tell you about the times their body weight stalled. So you’re not alone if you find yourself asking, “Why can’t I lose weight?” or “Why is my weight not going down?”

In fact, research suggests it’s common for plateaus to occur during a weight loss journey. A few months in, your initial weight loss strategy may no longer be effective, so you might have to switch things up to continue seeing results.

Don’t get derailed by all the purported quick fixes and theories for weight loss plateaus. A setback doesn’t mean you need to start taking weight loss medications or saving up for injections — though these can be worthwhile options for many.

Patience, persistence and a focus on overall health versus the number on the scale are essential for overcoming a weight loss plateau. So, try not to worry about losing weight slowly — in the end, slow weight loss is still weight loss.

When you hit a wall and aren’t losing weight, it’s understandable to go down the rabbit hole of potential reasons — especially if you’ve been diligent in your diet and exercise habits.

Though multiple factors could be at play, a couple of main theories are thought to contribute to weight loss plateaus.

Your Body Might Think It’s Starving

First is the concept of entering “starvation mode.” Prolonged calorie restriction can prompt your body to conserve energy and hinder further weight loss efforts until you feed it more.

When calorie intake is severely restricted for an extended period, your body may adapt by slowing down its metabolic rate. This response is a survival mechanism honed through evolution, designed to conserve energy during times of food scarcity.

That said, factors like genetics, age and initial body composition (your height and weight before attempting to shed pounds) can influence if, when and how your body transitions into starvation mode.

Your New Body Size Doesn’t Need to Burn as Many Calories

As your weight goes down and your body composition changes, it requires fewer calories to stay alive. This means the same reduced-calorie diet you were following for the beginning of your weight loss journey now matches your new body size and isn’t enough to continue your weight loss. To lose more, you have to reduce your daily calorie intake even more.

Of course, these aren’t the only two factors that can lead to a weight loss plateau. Other things like intermittently “falling off the wagon” of your nutrition and exercise routine can also play a part.

Prescribed online

Weight loss treatment that puts you first

The best approach to breaking a weight loss plateau combines examining your nutrition, moving your body more, trying different exercises, building your social support system, getting physical and mental rest and seeking professional guidance if needed.

Let’s dig into each of these a bit more.

14. Examine Your Diet

Nutrition is arguably the most critical aspect of weight loss, let alone overall health and wellness. So if you’re wondering how to break a plateau in weight loss, consider it a good time to examine (and potentially adjust) your diet.

Reevaluating your dietary habits involves scrutinizing not only the amount of food you’ve been eating, but the quality and nutrient composition of your meals, snacks and beverages.

You might start by keeping a food diary or tracking what you eat in a weight loss app. Some people find it helpful to get a bird’s eye view of things like portion sizes and macronutrient ratios (what percentage of your dietary intake is from carbs, fat and protein) in addition to their overall calorie intake.

You could find that you’ve been overindulging without realizing it. 

Additionally, the time of day you eat meals and snacks could be affecting your metabolism and ability to lose weight.

13. Bump Up Your Protein

Increasing your daily intake of lean meats, eggs and plant-based protein can help preserve muscle mass and support a healthy metabolism. Your body burns roughly twice as many calories digesting protein than it does carbs and fat.

12. Swap Ultra-Processed Junk for High-Fiber Foods

Reducing processed foods and refined sugars can help cut out secret sources of calories. Incorporating more fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains can enhance satiety (a feeling of fullness) and support digestive health.

11. Consider Limiting Carbs

Eating fewer carbohydrates or following a ketogenic diet can be an effective way to lose weight. However, low-carb diets aren’t for everyone, and they can be hard to implement into your lifestyle long term — and that’s completely okay.

10. Be Wary of Crash Diets

A little perspective and thoughtful adjustment to your eating habits could be just what you need to reignite your progress.

It might be tempting to try something like a celery juice diet for quick weight loss. But very restrictive diets lack the necessary nutrients to keep your energy levels up and maintain overall health, and generally, they aren’t sustainable in the long run.

9. Cut Out (or Limit) Alcohol

Alcohol could be stalling your weight loss efforts, even if you’re watching what you eat and exercising regularly. Research suggests that drinking less can help prevent overeating and support weight loss, especially for those who struggle with impulse control.

8. Drink More Water

Soda, juice and other sugary drinks can hinder your weight loss goals, as they’re high in calories. But drinking more water could have the opposite effect.

Guzzling two liters of water a day (about 68 ounces) might boost your metabolic rate by up to 30 percent. This means you’ll burn more calories and, hopefully, get back on track with losing weight.

7. Try Black Coffee or Unsweetened Tea

In addition to upping your water intake, you might try drinking black coffee or unsweetened tea (both of which only contain roughly two calories a cup). These natural sources of caffeine could provide the fat-burning boost your body needs to break through a weight loss plateau.

6. Move Your Body More (or Differently)

Like the system-shocking stimulation of a polar plunge, diversifying workouts and intensifying activity levels can shock your body out of complacency when you hit a plateau.

It’s easy to fall into a pattern of comfortable, repetitive activities that may have initially been helpful for weight loss. But if you keep doing the same things, your progress might slow to a stop.

At this point, it’s time to think about how you can move your body in new ways.

Achieving and maintaining weight loss goals for the long haul requires an exercise routine that goes above and beyond the minimum physical activity requirements for basic health (think 60 minutes most days rather than a half-hour five days a week).

Incorporating high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions or increasing the frequency and duration of cardio workouts can elevate the number of calories you burn and enhance fat burning.

Beyond that, strength-training exercises can help build and preserve lean muscle mass, which boosts your resting metabolic rate (the amount of calories you’re burning from simply being alive).

Cross-training (doing different activities or sports throughout the week) can also prevent workout monotony and challenge you both physically and mentally.

5. Prioritize Rest

Just as important as increasing and changing your exercise routine is incorporating intentional rest. Adequate recovery time between workouts helps prevent overtraining and allows for optimal muscle repair and growth.

Stagnation in weight loss can be frustrating, no doubt, but be kind to yourself. Fueling a weight loss plateau with self-criticism and increased pressures likely won’t yield the results you want. Instead, consider some areas where you can give yourself a break, physically and emotionally.

Intentional rest may not catapult you into the maximum calorie-burning zone, but it’s an essential component of long-term health.

4. Make Sleep a Priority

Can getting more shut-eye really help with weight loss? It might!

Research suggests that sleep deprivation can lead to elevated food cravings by messing with appetite-regulating hormones. Aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep a night may help you stick to a healthy diet.

3. Pair Up With a Buddy

Many things in life are better with the support, company and shared grumblings of friends — and weight loss is one of them. Social support and accountability can be vital for navigating and overcoming a weight loss plateau. 

When faced with stagnation in your weight loss efforts, having a strong support system can provide encouragement, motivation and perspective. Friends, family members or weight loss communities can offer empathy, practical advice and even humor during challenging times.

Not to mention, having people to share experiences and setbacks with can strengthen relationships and fight feelings of isolation. Whether in the form of an accountability coach or a friend on a similar weight loss journey, this kind of support can provide structure, reignite motivation and be an opportunity for personal reflection.

Maybe this looks like regular check-ins, sharing meal planning and prep duties or sweating it out at the gym together. In any case, social support can be a game-changer for getting past weight loss plateaus.

2. Find Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

High levels of stress can lead to unhealthy habits that promote weight gain and make it harder to get back on track.

Implementing stress-management practices might help you get out of a weight loss rut.

There are many ways to reign in your stress. Maybe it’s meditation, deep-breathing exercises, journaling, taking nature walks at lunch or becoming an amateur yogi.

1. Get Personalized Support

When you find yourself on a plateau and don’t know how to get off, it may be time to consult an expert.

While advice from friends and family can be helpful, there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for weight loss. Everyone’s body responds in different ways to diet and exercise routines.

Connecting with a healthcare professional, registered dietitian or certified personal trainer can offer new perspectives and techniques tailored to your needs. 

Such experts can conduct comprehensive assessments — including evaluating your dietary habits, metabolic rate and fitness levels — to devise strategies for overcoming plateaus effectively.

They may be able to help identify underlying habits getting in the way of your progress, such as mindless eating, overeating, emotional eating or hormonal imbalances. These obstacles can be hard to pinpoint when you’re in the middle of it.

Plus, paying for personalized support in a specific area, like a weight loss program, comes with a layer of accountability and motivation that may make all the difference.

Will a weight loss plateau go away on its own? It’s hard to say. But don’t be discouraged — there are plenty of things you can do to help move things along. 

When you find yourself struggling with weight loss or asking, “Why am I stuck at the same weight?” despite diligent diet and exercise habits:

  • Remember, it’s normal. Plateaus are a common and expected aspect of any weight loss journey. This doesn’t discount the frustration that comes with them — but instead of focusing on how to get past a weight loss plateau, remember you’re not alone, and weight loss is a long game.

  • Take a multi-faceted approach. Weight loss is a complex thing involving numerous factors. When you find yourself at a standstill, consider it an opportunity to reflect on your goals and habits. This includes your nutrition, exercise regimen, social support, stress management practices and whether professional guidance would be beneficial.

  • Be patient. Weight isn’t gained overnight — and it’s not going to come off quickly, either. At some point, weight loss will stall and things may need to be reevaluated. Be kind to yourself and trust that consistency is key. You’ve got this! 

If you’re looking for more support, we can help. Start by taking our free quiz.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Mike Bohl, MD

Dr. Mike Bohl is a licensed physician, a Medical Advisor at Hims & Hers, and the Director of Scientific & Medical Content at a stealth biotech startup, where he is involved in pharmaceutical drug development. Prior to joining Hims & Hers, Dr. Bohl spent several years working in digital health, focusing on patient education. He has also worked in medical journalism for The Dr. Oz Show (receiving recognition for contributions from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences when the show won Outstanding Informative Talk Show at the 2016–2017 Daytime Emmy® Awards) and at Sharecare. He is a Medical Expert Board Member at Eat This, Not That! and a Board Member at International Veterinary Outreach.

Dr. Bohl obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine from Brown University, his Master of Public Health from Columbia University, and his Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies—Journalism from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership at Cornell University. Dr. Bohl trained in internal medicine with a focus on community health at NYU Langone Health.

Dr. Bohl is Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, Medical Writer Certified by the American Medical Writers Association, a certified Editor in the Life Sciences by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs. He has graduate certificates in Digital Storytelling and Marketing Management & Digital Strategy from Harvard Extension School and certificates in Business Law and Corporate Governance from Cornell Law School.

In addition to his written work, Dr. Bohl has experience creating medical segments for radio and producing patient education videos. He has also spent time conducting orthopedic and biomaterial research at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and practicing clinically as a general practitioner on international medical aid projects with Medical Ministry International.

Dr. Bohl lives in Manhattan and enjoys biking, resistance training, sailing, scuba diving, skiing, tennis, and traveling. You can find Dr. Bohl on LinkedIn for more information.

Publications

  • Younesi, M., Knapik, D. M., Cumsky, J., Donmez, B. O., He, P., Islam, A., Learn, G., McClellan, P., Bohl, M., Gillespie, R. J., & Akkus, O. (2017). Effects of PDGF-BB delivery from heparinized collagen sutures on the healing of lacerated chicken flexor tendon in vivo. Acta biomaterialia, 63, 200–209. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1742706117305652?via%3Dihub

  • Gebhart, J. J., Weinberg, D. S., Bohl, M. S., & Liu, R. W. (2016). Relationship between pelvic incidence and osteoarthritis of the hip. Bone & joint research, 5(2), 66–72. https://boneandjoint.org.uk/Article/10.1302/2046-3758.52.2000552

  • Gebhart, J. J., Bohl, M. S., Weinberg, D. S., Cooperman, D. R., & Liu, R. W. (2015). Pelvic Incidence and Acetabular Version in Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis. Journal of pediatric orthopedics, 35(6), 565–570. https://journals.lww.com/pedorthopaedics/abstract/2015/09000/pelvic_incidence_and_acetabular_version_in_slipped.5.aspx

  • Islam, A., Bohl, M. S., Tsai, A. G., Younesi, M., Gillespie, R., & Akkus, O. (2015). Biomechanical evaluation of a novel suturing scheme for grafting load-bearing collagen scaffolds for rotator cuff repair. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 30(7), 669–675. https://www.clinbiomech.com/article/S0268-0033(15)00143-6/fulltext

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