Let’s say you started out on your health journey a few months ago. You set the goal to lose a certain number of pounds and you’ve been exercising more, eating better, and making healthier choices for yourself. At first you were seeing great progress. You dropped in weight, lost some inches, and gained some strength. But lately, despite continuing with the same habits, you seem to have stalled out. The scale seems to be stuck, you’re not noticing changes as quickly as you did before, and your progress has slowed down. You’re putting in the work, but you’ve hit a plateau. So what do you do?
Rather than spiraling you into either a pit of disappointment that leaves you feeling like a failure, or a frenzied attempt to work yourself harder and exhaust yourself further, I first want to assure you that this is normal. Everyone experiences some kind of plateau at some point in their weight-loss or health journey. So let’s chat about some things you can do to try to push past it when you hit yours.
1. Adjust Your Expectations
When first starting on your health journey, it’s very common to see big changes in your body right out the gate - especially if you have a lot of weight to lose, or if you’ve made big adjustments to your lifestyle and habits. But rapid weight loss can only go so far, especially if you are trying to do it in a healthy way. At some point, your initial efforts will work themselves to a point where they slow down, or simply maintain, your results. You often won’t see the big losses in weight, or gains in strength, that you experienced early on. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing something wrong, it just means that if you want to keep seeing results, you’ll have to make some adjustments to keep supporting progress. Our health can be very elusive - there’s no one-size-fits-all method that ensures the same results for everybody. It’s a constant state of learning and relearning what our bodies need as they adapt throughout life. So take the pressure off of your body to always produce a certain output.
2. Redefine Your Measures Of Progress
It can affect us all a little differently, but oftentimes many of us let the scale have a louder say in our lives than it should. Just because a number isn’t changing does not mean your progress has stopped. Find victories in places other than the scale. Are your clothes fitting better? Are you sleeping better? Are your energy levels up? Are you able to more easily do an activity that used to be a challenge for you? Are you getting stronger? There are numerous ways to track progress that don’t involve a number, so why not break up with the hunk of plastic once and for all and celebrate all the other victories you might have overlooked.
3. Reassess Your Nutrition
Oftentimes when the calories we burn are equal to the calories we eat, the end result is a plateau. So, you can address one end of the equation or the other (or both). If you address the calories you are intaking, consider honestly what your nutrition habits are. I say ‘honestly,’ because it can be easy to deceive ourselves into thinking we’re nailing it when really we are still allowing ourselves to have one too many indulgences. I know I can be guilty of that. I’ll consider the fruit and veggie smoothie I had for breakfast, the lean protein snacks, the balanced lunch and dinner, but I’ll conveniently forget about the bowl of ice cream I attacked before bed. So be honest with yourself to see if there are any empty calories you are putting in your body that may be contributing to your plateau.
For some people, it can also be beneficial to track your food for a short period to get a better understanding of what you are eating. Whether you log your food on a piece of paper to hold you accountable or you use an app to track your calories, you may be able to notice if there is anything you can change or eliminate.
I know nutrition can be a guessing game for many, so if there is any question in your mind about what is the right move for you to make, I would love to chat with you. We can review your nutrition and I can provide feedback and guidance, and help you form a plan moving forward. Simply send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to reach out!
4. Challenge Yourself More In Workouts
The other end of that equation mentioned before is to consider the calories you burn. This is where exercise and movement come in. Perhaps the level of exercise you’ve been putting forth is no longer getting the job done. You can address this two ways:
One is to consider if it’s time to add in another workout. At Worth the Work Fitness, we aim for four 30-minute HIIT workouts every week. Are you getting all four in? If not, make it your goal to add in another day of exercise. If you are, you can consider either adding in a bonus workout, or start supplementing your workouts with some long walks or lighter activity between your workouts throughout the week.
The other option is to consider your level of intensity of workouts. Maybe you can start pushing yourself to exert more effort into some movements you’ve been getting used to. Maybe it’s time to challenge yourself to level up from a modification that has been helpful for you. Strength often comes from challenging ourselves, so be sure that you are giving it your all and trying hard things when it feels right.
5. Alleviate Stress
Stress not only affects us mentally, it also impacts us physically. It can promote comfort eating or drinking. It can trigger cravings for foods that aren’t going to make you feel the best. And perhaps most significantly to your plateau, it releases cortisol in the body, which holds on to belly fat. Producing too much cortisol can make weight loss extremely difficult. To help alleviate your stress, try activities like working out, going on a walk, reading, listening to a podcast, or meditating - whatever brings you joy. For more information on how stress affects the body, and how to better manage it, check out our post on Exercise and Stress Management here.
6. Consider Your Alcohol Intake
While many of us enjoy our adult beverages, alcohol can be a big culprit in causing a weight loss plateau. Real talk: alcohol can trigger cravings and is basically empty calories that bring no nutritional value to the table. Alcohol has even been shown in many studies to suppress fat burning. So to get through a plateau, take a look at how often you are drinking and either cut it out completely for a time, or limit it to special occasions in small amounts.
7. Reshape Your Mindset
Here’s some real truth for you: you do not always have to be losing weight or gaining strength. Stop for just a moment and take the scale out of the equation. Are you happy with how you feel, how you’re eating, or how you’re sleeping? If so, let yourself be content with that! That’s ultimately what matters more anyways. If you want to keep feeling good, keep up the habits you’ve been doing that make you feel that way, and celebrate the feel good instead of the weight loss.
8. Whatever You Do, Don’t Give Up!
The biggest issue with people feeling like they’ve hit a plateau is that they don’t feel like there is room for more growth, so they stop putting in the work for their health. But, what happens when you stop? Your progress is going to start going the other way, and you may find yourself back where you were when you first began. So remind yourself of your ‘why’ and keep showing up. You may have to adjust your methods, but the work is still worth it. YOU are still worth it.
I hope these tips were helpful. We’ve all been there when it comes to discouragement with our progress. Whether we’re not losing weight like we want to, or we’re not gaining the strength we desire, we all have goals, and we all experience stagnance at some point or another on the journeys towards them.
But when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
So let’s get going!