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How to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau

July 16, 2014


Every man and woman's fear when it comes to losing weight? The inevitable plateau. Most people will experience this, especially if one has a significant amount of weight they want to lose. When you find yourself staggering on dropping fat and pounds, it's time extensively reevaluate your habits and routines. Breaking through a weight loss plateau is not easy. It requires honesty and an escalated work effort. If you find yourself in this position, it means that it's time to change things up. Choices and actions need to become different. Often times people are resistant to change, but that is how we learn and grow-- change in weight loss is no different.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself entering a weight plateau. I lost 55 pounds in a 7 month period. To some, that may seem slow and not great, but to me, it was. I felt fantastic because 7 months ago I was in a bad state with my life: I was very obese, I ate my feelings, and I lost my passion for the gym. By one day deciding I had enough of feeling sluggish and tired, I changed my life. Through hard work, clean eating, and exercise, I dropped weight - all on my own. I wanted to average 1-2 pounds a week. By not losing weight so fast, I could eliminate sagging skin and really embed good eating and exercises habits into my life. The longer I stay on my weight loss journey, the more it would become a part of me and my daily routine. 

For the first 7 months, it went great. I was steadily dropping every single week. However, it is important to remember, the bigger and more body fat a person has, the faster weight will start to drop. Once a person becomes thinner and thinner, the body does not drop fat and weight as fast. I knew going into this that eventually the 3-5 pounds a week would slow down. It still hurt when it happened though. 

Over the past 2 weeks, I have been pushing through my plateau and hit the 60 pound loss mark this past Friday. When I started this past November, I estimated that my weight loss journey would take a year. My goal is a 80-85 pound loss, which I hope to hit sometime in October instead of November. If I want to do that, it's important that I keep busting through any plateaus I encounter and not get "too comfortable". 


Being honest with yourself is the absolute first step in breaking through a plateau. When I was personal training, a lot of times my clients would come up to me frustrated and mad because they weren't losing weight. They stated that they were following my nutrition and training regimen verbatim, but were not seeing results. However, when we sit down to extensively go over their schedule and actions from the prior week, we found that was not the case. I would hear "Oh yeah, I did have a few drinks with dinner that night", "Oh, I forgot we went out for ice-cream that night". "My daughter was sick so I missed the gym 2 days that week", etc. Those little things eventually add up. If you are encountering a plateau, grab a notebook or your laptop and write down ways you have been slipping and not following your plan. If you cannot be brutally honest with yourself, you are not going to grow and make any positive changes.

What I did in my case: I was cheating a little more than normal. I still have a good amount of weight I want to lose, so I am not at the more lax "maintaining" stage where my nutrition is more flexible. Like I started above, the little treats, even a cookie or two, everyday, were adding up. Because I have been trying so hard for well over half a year now to lose weight, I was growing a tired of being so strict. I would say "I have done so well, so eating this be OK". However, those words are what led me down a path of destruction last year, so I immediately shut off that way of thinking.  

It was important to me to understand why I am at this plateau. Why was I craving bad foods more? Why am I giving in and derailing off of my plan more and more? I needed to be brutally honest. I was becoming overwhelmed with stress. I pushed myself to my breaking point. Working long hours, training hard at the gym, blogging, writing a book, keeping up with my apartment, running errands and life necessities, car problems, and traveling back and fourth to my hometown a lot more than normal because of family issues made me crash and burn. I am very active and extremely high energy, but it was becoming too much. I let all of this continue on until it broke me. When it broke me, that is when my behavior and coping mechanism with food would start to creep in. That is also when negative feelings over my breakup from many months ago started to surface. It was like Pandora's box opened when I cracked from all of the work and stress. Then I had to determine if I was really sad over the situation or was I sad because I was mentally exhausted?

I was honest with myself, understood my feelings that led to these actions and circumstances, then got to work on overcoming them.


This is probably the biggest component to break through a weight loss plateau. Which in my opinion, sucks. Jump start and recharge your body by eating natures treats. It's simple. Get back to the basics. One can never have too many dark green vegetables-- add those whenever you can. Smoothies, side dishes, casseroles-- the possibilities are endless. Spinach, kale, broccoli, zucchini are some of my favorite items. Also, add raw fruit - no canned or extra sugary juices with them. Fruits are great sources of energy, vitamins, and craving crushers. Do not deprive yourself from them. Limit carbohydrate intake to complex and fiber. Complex carbs are used by your body, not stored as fat or turned into sugar. Fiber is absolutely essential to well-being and weight loss, and studies show that most adults do not get enough. Click here for complex carbohydrate food choices. Stay hydrated and consume enough water. Sometimes you may think you are hungry, when in actuality you have not drank enough water. Ensure you are eating enough lean protein. Protein is what keeps a person full, aids in growing and recovery muscle, and a great energy source. If I am hitting a plateau, my main source of foods are lean proteins, fruits, and lots of green vegetables. 

What I did in my case: I add more vegetables whenever I can. If I am making eggs, I would add spinach and kale. If I was making a protein smoothie, I would add spinach and kale. I would have broccoli as a side.  I used zucchini as a "noodle replacement" for spaghetti. I would add extra lean protein such a chicken or turkey to my meals. I drank a lot of water and Powerade Zero for taste and a craving crusher. I always eat 6 small meals a days; which keep me from getting too hungry and keep me "satisfied" when I eat. I do not get overly full and if I still feel slightly hungry after I eat, I would just tell myself that I am eating again in another 2-3 hours, so I would be fine. I cut all alcohol except maybe 1 cocktail a week. 

Other tips:
  • Do not use iceberg lettuce for salads, it basically has no nutritional value. Spinach is a much better "leaf" to use as a salad base. 
  • Always add a vegetable as a side with a meal.
  • Walnuts and almonds are fantastic sources of essential fats and energy! I love almonds for an afternoon "pick me up".
  • Use spices and herbs for taste NOT dressings or oils.
  • Cut sweet cravings with fresh fruit, sugar free flavored gums (there are a plethora of flavors available now), and sugar free flavored water options-- my personal favorite is Powerade Zero which has electrolytes. 
  • Mix vegetables in your dishes if you do not like consuming them as they are. I do this if I am making eggs, healthy pasta and dip recipes, protein smoothies, and even breads. You can really add vegetables to anything! 

This is another must! must! must! to break one's plateau. I even have to state, that the importance of this is trailing right up behind your diet. I love the concept of "muscle confusion" and wholeheartedly believe in it because I have seen and felt it work. Do you ever notice how sore you after you engage in an activity that you have either never done before or haven't in a long time? That is because you are working muscles in a way they aren't used too. Which in turn burns a lot of calories because the body is working so hard. 

Even if you do exercise on a regular basis, this still heavily applies to you. One can go to the gym day after day, become content in their regular routine, and not push themselves as hard. It's understandable. The gym may be a part of your everyday routine and you're comfortable. That is when you need to switch things up- make your body push harder, the workouts more challenging, and add more variety. 

What I did in my case: I love to exercise. It is my favorite hobby. I workout 6 days a week, almost all of that being at my gym. It becomes routine and almost robotic going to the gym everyday after work. 

Sometimes I would have those life changing workouts where I felt I could take on the world, then sometimes I would have those workouts where I walked away saying "at least I went". I was becoming content and comfortable. I knew my body needed to be pushed more. I decided to change my workouts and up the intensity and resistance. 
  • When lifting weights, I increased the weight. For example: I normally do dumbbell curls with 15 pounds. For the first two sets, I would still use that weight, but then the last set would be 17.5 pounds. Even adding weight to your last set for each different exercise can make a big impact on your muscles.
  • I upped the resistance on all of my cardio. I normally "worked" at 85 SPM on the StairMill, so I made it 90. I normally set the resistance at 10 on the Elliptical so I bumped it up to 11. I would push myself to work at a faster speed as well. 
  • I changed my workouts: I did Bikram yoga last week and I am going boxing tomorrow. I also went hiking Sunday as well. After hiking for the first time in 4 weeks on Sunday, I couldn't walk Monday. Now my legs feel fantastic.

It is irrefutable that being strong mentally is the key to lose weight, live healthy, and change your life. Your body will do whatever your mind tells it. Your mind is the source of motivation. Are you hitting a plateau because you're not happy? Are you too stressed? Are you exhausted? Are you suppressing feelings? Are you overworked? Make sure you understand how you're feeling internally because you could be burning yourself out. If a person becomes too stressed, the body will cling onto fat.

What I did in my case: This was huge for me because I know part of my plateau was stemming from being emotionally drained and mentally exhausted. I was keeping myself too busy. I could not sleep at night because my mind would not turn off. I was suppressing feelings that I wanted to ignore by keeping myself overly active, and if you pretend or ignore issues that need to be addressed or resolved, you are going to eventually break.

That is when I decided to take a step back. I took time off from blogging, I went to bed 1-2 hours earlier, I did things that brought me peace like meditating, reading, and playing the guitar. I slowed down with tasks, errands, and plans that I made for myself. I allowed myself to mentally and emotionally heal so I could feel happy and strong again. It was the hardest "funk" I have ever had to pull myself out of, but with a strong will, it can happen. I am still amazed that I am not waking up in tears. I was becoming numb and accustom to it. 
  • Get plenty of sleep each night. Rest is essential to repair your body and mind.
  • Relax before bed so you're able to sleep better; read a book, meditate, drink a decaffeinated hot sea, take a hot bubble bath, solve a crossword puzzle, etc.
  • Address any problems or stress in your life. Stress will add more fat and weight to your body than you realize. If you mentally in a bad place, nothing will do right. 

If you want something, you will make time for it. It is just that simple. Do not dismiss the power and good of writing in a journal and documenting your nutrition and workouts. The best I have ever done with losing weight was when I would journal. By doing this, your evidence is in front of you. If something is not adding up, you always have notes to look back on. Keep track of your cheats - you may see that you accidentally slipped 3 days in a row and that caused you to not lose any weight that week. You can see that one day you did 45 minutes of cardio but the next two, you only did 20. Keeping a journal will keep you on track. Plus it gives you the ability to look back and see just how far you have come. To me, it became a challenge. I noticed on Monday, I did a resistance of 10, so Tuesday I wanted to do a higher resistance. I became my own competition. 

What I did in my case: I planned my meals complete with their nutritional content, as well as writing my training regimen in detail. I knew I needed to keep my intensity up, and putting it on paper and admitting if I did or did not really helped. It kept me accountable. If I ate bad, I had to write it. This way I monitored my behavior and habits. This kept me within my daily caloric range and organized so I was always ready. 
  • Write your meal plan and grocery list in a notebook, phone, tablet, etc.
  • Record your daily caloric intake as well as your foods
  • Plan your workouts - write if you achieved them as you set out to.
  • Write your proud moment of the day. If you feel accomplished about something, write it down so you always have that feeling to look back on and remember.
  • Write your challenges -- what held you back that day? What brought you down? How are you going to overcome it? What can you do to be better? 
I am still a work in progress, but I can tell you, I have implemented these 5 tips immensely over the past 2 weeks and I lost 5 pounds. It was 5 pounds of pure fat too-- which is the best feeling in the world. It can hard to push through a plateau, but also quite fun. Because a plateau just means that you are getting stronger and you body wants to become more challenged. Challenges make us grow... challenges make us better.


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15 comments

  1. I run everyday but I dont do anything else really, I have been between 143-147 depending on my stupid scale for 4 months. I started running for an hour rather than 30 minutes but still nothing, eating clean and nothing but I think I figured out I am sabotaging everything on the weekends. I think thats why I am maintaining.

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  2. Great post, Liz! Awesome tips. I especially loved the one about being honest with yourself. I think a LOT of "plateaus" aren't real, but rather people getting a bit lax with their diet and exercise.

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  3. Wow! This is a great post. Thank you for sharing. This is my first time reading your blog and I'm so glad I found it last night. I'm struggling so bad right now with losing weight, but thank you for your inspiration and motivation. It's wonderful!!

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  4. These are all really good times. Being honest with how much you cheat is the biggest one I think. A little cookie here or there, a bag of chips add up to gaining instead of losing. You are looking good girl!

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  5. Great post gal! Totally keeping these tips in mind when I hit the dreaded plateau!

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  6. As small as it seems, sugar free gums really do help cut a sweet craving! I read your entire post and just had to say good job on picking up those small details :)

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  7. You look great, I can't imagine you loosing 60lbs, glad you feel great, don't give up, i'm in my mid 50's and I still hit the walking trails and the gym 6 days a week, I feel great and wouldn't change my routine for a million bucks... well maybe:)

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  8. Some great advice :) and congrats on breaking through!

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  9. I love this post! You look great!! I love all the tips because they are so true! Anytime I feel like I am on a downward spiral I notice I am no longer documenting my food and exercise as well as cheating way to much! You are such an inspiration :)

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  10. All great tips! I lost about 20lbs in the beginning of this year. I would love to lose 40 more. I have a full time office job, and a side events business. We just bought our first home, and things have been insane! Most days I eat very well. Of course not ery'day, but enough that I haven't gained back any weight, you know? BUT I haven't kept up working out to lose. I just signed up for another 5k to motivate myself to get back OFF my ass. I needed this post today. Congrats on busting through the plateau and hitting 60lbs!

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  11. Yay! congratulations for getting through it. I'm so happy to see you moving back toward a positive state!

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  12. Congrats! I was about to skip adding my calories for the day and just go indulge but you've inspired me to keep logging and not to overcheat today! Although a cheat here and there is fine as long as I do not go overboard.. I have been in plateau for the past 2 months.. I have probably lost about 2 pounds in those months, but at least I am not gaining any weight ;P

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  13. Yay, congrats on the 60-pound mark! I can't wait to be there. I'm pinning this for when I inevitably need it; I'm not looking forward to the eventual slowdown in weight loss, but this will totally help!

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  14. Way to go! It's fantastic that you were able to identify the areas that needed work and fixed them! Way to go on the 60lb mark!

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  15. If losing weight is your goal, then make this a priority that you focus on completely. This means you'll have to arrange your schedule to be sure you have time to get proper sleep, nutrition, and exercise. In cruisecontroldiet.com site I found a very potent and effective to achieve your ideal body. They offer a simple technique but gives a tremendous effect.

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