How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau

Shake it up to lose those last 5 pounds. Nutrition Diva has the scoop on calorie cycling.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #148

In fact, you could even try alternating higher and lower intake days without reducing the total number of calories for the week —alternating 2000-calorie days with 1600-calorie days, for example. Even without a net reduction in calories, the switch-up might be enough to knock you out of a metabolic slow-down.

Calorie Cycling is Not for Everyone

Calorie cycling clearly isn't for everyone, and I'd encourage anyone considering it to check in with their doctor or nutrition professional first. Those with diabetes, hypoglycemia, who are pregnant, or have a history or risk of eating disorders are not good candidates for this technique.

Aside from health issues, some people may simply prefer a more traditional approach. And, honestly, as long as what you're doing continues to work, I'd stick with that. But should you hit a plateau, calorie cycling might be something to try.

Tip #2: Mix Up Your Workouts

Although you can lose weight without exercising, exercise can help those pounds come off more quickly. However, when it comes to exercise, that darned lizard brain thwarts us once again.  If you do the same workout routine over and over again, your muscles will learn to perform those motions using less energy--and you'll burn fewer calories. (And, by the way, the "calories burned" displays on gym cardio equipment are notoriously inaccurate!)

To maximize the benefit from your exercise sessions, you want to mix it up. Try some new classes, a different cardio machine, or even a different program on your favorite cardio equipment. (Best program for fat-burning? Interval training!) If you prefer low-tech exercise, like walking or jogging, try to find a new route that involves some extra hills, or work some 60-second sprints into your routine.

For more on making your workouts do more for you, check out Get-Fit Guy’s fantastic podcast.

See also: What to Eat Before and After Exercise

Tip 3#:  Slow Down

My final tip isn’t so much about changing the speed at which you’re losing weight as it is about reframing how you look at it. The closer you get to your goal weight, the slower the weight tends to come off. If you’re thinking of your goal weight as a finish line, this is supremely frustrating. Then again, if you lose those last pounds quickly, chances are good that they’ll come right back the minute you relax your efforts.

Rather than trying to sprint across the finish line, think of the last 5 pounds as your cool down.  By losing the last of the weight more slowly, you're actually making a gradual transition—both mentally and physically—into your long-term maintenance phase. If it takes you 6 months to lose the final pounds, that’s 6 more months of healthy eating habits under your belt. And that greatly increases your chances of maintaining a healthy weight for the long term.

See also: What’s the Best Diet?

Keep in Touch

Something tells me that this topic is going to spur a lot of comments.  I’m eager to hear your thoughts, so please post them below. We’ll also be continuing the conversation on the Nutrition Diva Facebook Page. If you’re not already a subscriber, be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter, which includes more tips, recipes, and answers to listener questions.

Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!


Need to Lose Weight? Try Fasting (U.S. News and World Report)
Short Term Modified Alternate Day Fasting (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition)



About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.