How to Get Off a Weight Loss Plateau

Learn what to do when you stop losing weight, why you may not lose weight with exercise, and how to get off a weight loss plateau.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #32

It’s funny how that tiny scale on the bathroom floor can make grown men and women quake with fear and break out into a cold sweat. Will it move? Will it not move? What strange forces influence the mystical movements of the body weight scale? And more importantly, why does it sometimes not budge no matter how hard you exercise? In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to exercise when you stop losing weight, why you may not lose weight with exercise, and how to exercise to get off a weight loss plateau.

Why You Stop Losing Weight

When it comes to exercise, there are generally 3 reasons why you stop losing weight:

Reason 1: Your body becomes accustomed to the demands you’re placing on it. When you perform a motion over and over again, you become more efficient at that motion, which means that you burn fewer calories doing it. For example, when you first step onto an elliptical trainer at the gym, you might huff and puff and barely make it through 10 minutes. But 8 weeks later, you can be cruising through a 45 minute elliptical trainer workout. The reason for this is that your muscles learn how to move in a way that introduces the least possible resistance to movement.

Though this would be quite handy if you were fighting for survival and in the wilderness chopping wood, it’s not so handy when you’re trying shed a quick 5 pounds and need to burn all the calories you possibly can. Whether your body is getting used to how much weight is on the barbell, how fast you’re walking, or how many times you bicycle during the week, physical adaptation is one of the top reasons for a plateau.

Excessive training and improper recovery can often cause a weight loss plateau.

Reason #2: You’re stressed. If you watch the Biggest Loser, you may have heard trainer Jillian Michaels mutter that someone isn’t losing weight because they’re “retaining fluids.” Both physical and emotional stress can play a role in fluid retention. From a physical standpoint, an increase in estrogen, decrease in progesterone, decrease in testosterone, or overstimulation of adrenal glands can cause fluid retention. In the article “How to Recover After A Workout”, I mention that excessive training and improper recovery can cause a weight loss plateau. That is because excessive training and improper recovery cause all those physical consequences I just mentioned. Furthermore, lack of sleep, soreness, tension and constant focus on exercise can also result in those same physical consequences.

Reason #3: Your diet is not ideal. As you probably know, there are a myriad of dietary and nutritional complexities that you must consider when attempting to lose weight. So I’ll keep this simple and leave the rest up to the Nutrition Diva: no amount of running on a treadmill is going to help you lose weight if you’re using it as an excuse to eat whatever you want. When it comes to your weight loss suddenly stopping, there’s just as much chance that diet is involved as there is a chance that exercise is involved.


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.

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