14 Tips to Overcoming Weight Plateaus

Whether you’ve been on a weight loss journey for one day, one week, or one year, when the expectations of weight loss don’t match up to real life, it can feel incredibly frustrating.
Having been on the diet train for a number of years myself before I ever experienced any measurable success, I definitely went through several diets, failures, and falling deeper into the pit of obesity and other related health issues.

Regardless of what brings you here, you want to know that your efforts are going to pay off.  So when you’re not losing weight quickly enough (or at all), you want to know why. Here are 14 reasons why your weight loss might not be taking off the way you want it to.

1. You aren’t exercising or being regularly active.

couch-potato

This kind of goes without saying, but you can’t really expect to lose weight steadily or extensively if you are sitting on your couch. Even if you’re really watching what you eat, if you’re not doing something to move your body, you can’t really expect your body to just kick the extra pounds off on its own. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to CrossFit, run a marathon, or bike 10 miles a day—but you do need to do something, and you need to do it consistently. Walking is often a very effective way to shed pounds, even if you’re only walking a few miles per week. The key is to do something, and do it often, even if you don’t do it for long amounts of time. Daily 15 minute walks will be more effective for consistent weight loss than one hour-long walk each week. But really, you need to find some regular manner of movement that works for your body, your lifestyle, your schedule, and that makes you happy. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re way more likely to stick with it.

2. You’re exercising too much or your activity level isn’t meeting your physical or health needs.

try-something-newMaybe you started your weight loss journey by doing cardio 5 times a week, or maybe you’ve been used to running or doing other high-intensity workouts, but the fact is, your body can become so accustomed to forms of exercise that it ceases to have a dramatic effect on your metabolism or the overall scale. Conversely, maybe your workout program is too intense for your overall wellness, and instead of burning calories, you’re creating inflammation within your body that is actually causing a weight plateau or (gasp) even weight gain. The body is way more complex than calories in, calories out, and even the best workout program can fall short of these broader considerations. If you’re not seeing the results you want, try doing something that’s different from your norm. If running is your thing, switch to Pilates or yoga. If long walks are not cutting it, try a cardio class or a HIIT program. If you’re worried about inflammation due to chronic health issues, arthritis, or other similar conditions, considering taking up swimming, light yoga, or even T-Tapp—all forms of gentle exercise that can be very restorative.

3. You’re actually gaining muscle, which weighs more than fat.

measurements-are-importantIf you’ve been eating well and you’ve been active, and you’ve even changed up your workout routine and that scale is still not budging, consider that perhaps you’re losing inches and gaining muscle. Fat takes up more space on our bodies but weighs less, whereas muscle is leaner and more dense. If you haven’t been tracking measurements, now’s the time to start so that you can track progress in another way.

4. You’re eating too much.

portion-controlThis is probably the most common of all the answers because even people with the most pristine fitness plans will still gain weight or have trouble losing it if they’re consuming way too much food, especially if that food is sugar and refined carbs. Drinking large amounts of calories in the form of soda, sugary beverages, and coffee drinks can also
contribute to this calorie overload, many times without people being aware of it. The best way to get an idea of how much you’re eating is to track your food, something that is done easily now with the convenience of tracking apps on smart phones. The old-fashioned way of pen-to-paper works, too. Regardless of the method, tracking your food for a week can be eye-opening and can give you some easy ways to trim your caloric intake. While weight loss and health is far more than just how many calories you’re consuming, it is a basic truth that if you’re eating too much, your body will most likely reflect that.

5. You’re eating too little.

not-enough-to eatIt’s so easy for people who are trying to lose weight to under-eat. The problem with this is that when you dip below a certain level of expected caloric intake, your body assumes you’re starving and goes into fat-storage mode. The body is so intelligent that it can conserve energy when needed, but you can’t simply convey that you’re eating less to weigh less. The best way to make sure you’re eating enough is track your food. An adult man needs more than 1,000 calories a day, as does an adult woman. Even though thousand-calorie-a-day diets seem appealing, they’re actually just going to prolong your overall weight loss journey because weight loss on a highly restrictive diet will be weight that is easily regained when you increase your food consumption.

6. You’re stressed.

stress level meterYou would think that if you’re stressed, you actually burn more calories, and for some people that’s true. But when your body is in a state of stress, it’s in a state of constant inflammation, and inflammation is not a friend of weight loss. In fact, because of the way that our nervous system works, when we are under constant stress, the body assumes
you’re about to be faced with life-threatening circumstances and conserves as much energy as you might need. This means storage, which translates to a slowed metabolism. If you
battle constant stress, you’re going to need to find a healthy way to address it, not just for your weight loss goals, but for your overall health. Whether it’s a therapeutic form of
exercise (like yoga) or therapy, only you can know what will reduce your stress levels. But regular stress release is as important as regular exercise, so don’t push it to the bottom of
your to do list!

7. You aren’t sleeping.

losing-sleepSadly, we live in a culture that is sleep-deprived, primarily due to our constant busyness and stress. If you’re pursuing outlets for managing your stress, you’ll probably notice that your sleep quality improves. There are other reasons for sleep disturbances, however, such as being the parents of small children, working third shift, or suffering from sleep related conditions like sleep apnea. If these or other conditions or situations are affecting your sleep quality—and consequently, your waistline—it’ll be worth your while to consider some alternate solutions. Obviously, having an infant who interrupts sleep isn’t as easily remedied as seeking treatment for sleep apnea, but there are ways to boost your sleep quality as well as quantity, even if you have a baby. Ensuring that your sleep environment is ideal can help (no blue light, no distractions), but also don’t underestimate the potency of power naps! Even if you can only grab an extra 10-20 minutes of sleep sometime during the day, make the most of it. That little bit of refreshment could mean a huge payoff in quality of life, mood, and in achieving health goals.

8. You aren’t drinking (enough) water.

drinking-enough-waterEvery time I talk to clients, they’re always shocked at how much water I think they should be drinking. Most Americans don’t get enough water because they’re also drinking nonhydrating beverages, like coffee and soda. So while they’re sipping on something at all times, it isn’t working toward hydrating their cells. I always start with the suggestion that clients looking to lose weight should drink half their body weight in ounces as a baseline. It’s also a great idea to add an electrolyte supplement, like Trace Minerals 40,000 Volts, to
water once a day to help ensure that the cells are actually getting the benefit of that water you’re drinking. If you sweat excessively, are lactating, or have various other health conditions, you might need even more water, but half your body weight is a good starting point, and more than the average person achieves on a daily basis.

9. You have unrealistic expectations.

reality-checkWhether you think you need to lose more weight than you actually need to, or whether you expect to lose a large amount of weight in a small amount of time, most humans are guilty of setting unrealistic expectations at one time or another. Never is it easier to do so when weight loss goals are on the line. This is where it can be helpful to seek the guidance of a professional, who can help you ascertain a realistic time frame for your goals. Generally speaking, you could expect to lose 1-2 pounds per week, but even this isn’t realistic for
many people. Some will lose weight very rapidly at first and then expect that they will keep pace with that until they reach their goal, but that rarely, if ever, happens.

10. You don’t have any goals.

what-are-your-goalsOn the flip side, having no goals can also result in poor weight loss. While it’s important not to set unrealistic expectations, it’s equally as important to have some goal in place. If there is no clear direction, progress will be hindered, and it’ll be too easy to be sidetracked by any amount of things that can sabotage weight and health goals. You don’t have to set a lofty goal to be successful, either. Whether it’s to lose 5 pounds in a month, or isn’t weight-related (like drinking enough water each day, or being active 4 times a week), your goals
will help to steer you in the right direction. The best part about goals is that they can be tweaked along the way to keep pace with your achievements.

11. Your digestion is impaired.

woman-digestionWe live in a culture that stuffs itself on processed food, void of natural vitamins and nutrients. The digestive system isn’t immune to this, and many of us at one time or another will struggle with a digestive system that’s not working efficiently. This can come in different forms. Sometimes your body doesn’t absorb nutrients from food, other times it
stores more than it should, and others result in chronic constipation or diarrhea. Whatever the case, when your digestive system is not working at its best, the whole body suffers. Optimizing your digestion can have a dramatic effect on weight loss goals. This can be done by taking digestive enzymes with each meal, adding a daily probiotic supplement, and choosing to eat better quality foods—less processed, more fresh.

12. You’re overloading on carbs.

carb-eatingYou can be eating the best quality food in the world, but if your diet is still primarily carbs, this isn’t most efficient for losing weight. When your body gets the carbs it needs for fueling purposes, it stores the rest for later. But when there’s lots of extra stored for later that just gets converted into extra body fat. Carbs aren’t bad, and they certainly have their place in your diet, but make sure that you’re also getting good amounts of both fat and protein, which provide various forms of fuel and balance out how carbs are used and stored in your body.

13. You’re loading up on diet junk food.

right-vs-wrong-dinnerIt seems logical that if you want to lose weight, you should go buy some of the many diet food products available on the market. After all, those are created to help the body drop weight, so why wouldn’t they work? Sadly, the weight loss industry is mostly about money, and certainly rarely about real food. You can eat all the diet bars, drink all the slimming
shakes, and wrap all the wraps around your gut, but if you aren’t fueling your body with quality food and if you aren’t moving your body, addressing your stress, sleeping well, and any of the various other issues we’ve talked about here, you’re not going to have lasting success by buying into the diet industry’s shiny products. I know from personal experience, as I bounced around various weight loss gimmicks and diets before I was so fed up that I just started eating real food. None of the expensive bars, drinks, or programs worked, but the simplicity of whole food and drinking water did. Overcomplicating things is probably something that humans are best at, but when it comes to weight loss and health? Keep it simple, for real.

14. Your hormones are out of whack.

crazy-hormonesOh hormones, those little chemical messengers that cause chaos in the body. They’re actually supposed to make the body work efficiently, but because we live in such a stressed
out, chemically overloaded society, hormone imbalances may well be one of the top causes for weight issues. Whether it’s your thyroid (which regulates your body’s metabolism),
reproductive hormones (which can cause issues in both men and women for numerous reasons), or adrenal glands (which produce stress hormones, sex hormones, and various
others), there are any number of possible combinations of hormone issues that can leave you sick, tired, stressed, and overweight. While women are more prone to thyroid issues
than men, men certainly aren’t exempt, and adrenal overload due to stress isn’t gender specific on any level. If your scale isn’t budging and you’ve tried virtually everything on this list, get your hormones tested. Better yet, see a nutritionist or medical professional who is familiar with hormones and how to address them. Hormones respond very well to balance in the body, which starts on many levels with your digestive system.

Attempting to decipher weight loss issues can feel like trying to simultaneously learn three foreign languages while juggling knives, but it doesn’t have to be that complex. I lost 80
pounds after I finally transitioned to a Paleo lifestyle, and I’ve kept that off for eight years (and counting). It’s easy to get lost in the noise of the weight loss industry, trying to figure
out what program or doctor or bestselling author has the right answer for you. But when you boil down a lot of the successful programs, they have some basic things in common: eat real food, listen to your body, don’t give up.

By the way, if you still feel baffled and want some professional help, we (the nutritionists here at Paleo Plan) offer one-on-one coaching that can help get you on the right track.
Maybe you need that, maybe not, but either way, it can be done. I promise.

aimee-before-after

Comments

  1. How do i get out of the habit of eating bread as i have to have bread for rest of family. Was good to start with but just of late keep going back. Any suggestions please.

    1. Hi Janice,

      From one former bread addict, I can tell you this: it gets easier. And I always lived in a house with someone who had bread, so I had to learn to avoid from willpower alone. Here is what I did:

      I always kept my blood sugar balanced. My bread cravings really only kicked in when I was hungry or when my blood sugar was low, so I always kept protein and fatty snacks on hand to turn to.

      I always ate a big breakfast. This meant initially training my body to WANT a breakfast, since prior to becoming Paleo I always skipped it. I would eat 3 eggs, several slices of bacon, and some form of veggie, maybe even some berries. I found that on days when I didn’t have enough food for breakfast, my cravings went through the roof.

      I made myself bread I could eat. Paleo bread takes some effort to make, but Paleo bread made with cashew butter actually tastes very much like REAL bread, and that helped to calm down my cravings when they got really bad.

      I made sure I stayed hydrated. This meant drinking more water than I really wanted, and using sea salt, as well as taking magnesium, to keep electrolytes balanced. I always could tell when I was borderline dehydrated, because I always craved bread and non-Paleo carbs.

      I hope some of these suggestions help you! Feel free to shoot me an email if you have additional questions!

      Aimee McNew, MNT, Certified Nutritionist
      aimee@paleoplan.com

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