Weight Loss Plateau: It happens to the best of us: embarking on a new lifestyle routine to achieve our fitness goals, only to find our results hit a wall. After losing the initial 5 or 10 pounds (or putting on some muscle), we start to feel good, and then everything comes to a halt. Today we explore weight loss plateaus and how to keep progressing towards our goals.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
What is a Weight Loss Plateau?
A weight-loss plateau (also known as weight loss resistance) is simply the point at which, despite your continuing efforts to lose weight, the progress stops. Someone may be doing exactly what they have been doing that led them to lose the first 5 or 10 pounds, but suddenly the very same habits yield no more results. In some cases, the same practices that led to an initial weight loss can even lead to regressed results (putting back on some weight).
What Causes a Weight Loss Plateau?
The causes of weight loss plateaus vary wildly from person to person. One common reason is the implementation of rigid, unchanging habits 1. For example, pursuing strict caloric restriction for many months at a time, or doing the same type of workout day in and day out, without variation. Our bodies adapt very quickly to habits. In self-preservation efforts, we will down-regulate things like metabolism because the body believes that low calories (for example) are the new norm.
This adaptation is brilliant for survival; it means the body keeps hold of body fat when famine comes (or in some cases, caloric restriction is so intense the body believes that the famine time has already arrived).
Other reasons include hormonal irregularities, autoimmune conditions, toxicity, trauma, and excessive stress.
How to Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau?
Since the reasons for weight loss plateaus varies, understanding precisely what is blocking your body from losing more weight can require a little investigation. This list, however, encompasses tools to help you achieve more significant states of health, both physical and mental. In applying these principles, you will be able to break through weight-loss plateaus and achieve a more balanced and sustainable healthy lifestyle.
One of the most foundational tools to overcome a weight loss plateau is a healthy mindset. The concepts of placebo (and nocebo) are generally known, whereby an individual’s beliefs about the outcome of a situation will influence the outcome, whether the intervention itself does or does not promote the outcome 2.
In other words: your beliefs play a crucial role in generating actual physical outcomes. In this case, views like “I’ll never lose weight” or “it will just come back like it always does” or “this is too hard” will influence your ability to lose and keep off weight successfully.
Other aspects of mindset that can take a negative toll on your goals are beliefs of low self-worth. It is crucial to embark on a weight loss journey from a place of self-acceptance and self-love. Exercising out of punishment or restricting diets pursued out of fear of eating will take a toll on your mental health and not promote healthy, sustainable lifestyle choices.
Cultivating a healthy mindset when it comes to food can require time, so be patient with yourself. Consider working with a qualified therapist, doing lots of self-reflection in journals and talking openly with friends about your emotions, or reading books on the power of the mind-body connection can help improve this relationship.
2. Stress Management
Stress is one of the biggest roadblocks when you are having a weight loss plateau. This is due predominantly to the release of the hormone cortisol into the body during periods of stress. Chronically elevated cortisol levels are associated with various disease models and promote insulin resistance linked to obesity and diabetes 3.
High cortisol levels from stress can also trigger cravings and encourage comfort eating. Emotional eating is often a learned behavior from childhood. It can also respond to increased hunger hormones and hormonal response to craving hyper-palatable foods (high in fat and sugar) 4.
Stress comes in chemical, physical, and emotional forms. Chemical stress is found in toxins like home cleaning agents, body care products, artificial perfumes, environmental toxins like pesticides and herbicides, and air pollution.
Physical stress can come in the form of too much or too little movement. Although a sedentary lifestyle is understood to be ‘unhealthy,’ many people who work out every single day can still be considered sedentary! If you’re working out 1 hour a day but spend the other 23 sitting down or sleeping, you technically qualify as sedentary.
On the flip side, those who obsessively exercise and move all day long can also cause too much stress on the body, not giving it enough time to recover. The key to movement is consistency and balance. Incorporating a few days of high-intensity exercise is a great way to boost weight loss. One study highlights that short bursts of high-intensity activity yield better results than other methods of exercise 5.
Mental (or perceived stress) is often overlooked because it remains relatively abstract, but it does play a massive role in generating genuine physical outcomes. One study highlights two obese groups, one of which was given lifestyle advice and participated in a stress management program, while the second group only received lifestyle advice. The first group demonstrated a significantly higher drop in BMI than the second group 6.
Techniques that can help reduce stress include:
- Meditation (and guided meditations)
- Diaphragmatic (deep belly) breathing
- Tension, Stress and Trauma Release (TRE)
- Qi Gong
- Tai Chi
- Gentle yoga
- Time in nature
3. Healing from Trauma
This point is linked to stress management and mindset. Healing from trauma, however, addresses an often more subconscious type of stress or operating system. Trauma creates coping mechanisms that can bring on stressful behaviors (like self-sabotage) and thoughts (like low self-worth), perpetuating stress and the aforementioned negative consequences on your body 7.
The body is known to hold trauma memories in the physical body 7. This occurs whether you are aware of it or not, and for many people, how we store trauma is not conscious.
It is estimated that 80-90% of our decisions come from the subconscious, which is why it’s important to actively seek out and heal from the experiences from our life that may have been traumatic 8. In doing so, you can reduce stress, improve your mindset, and break self-limiting beliefs that may be holding you back from achieving not only your weight loss goals but any kind of goal in life.
Some modalities that may help explore and heal from trauma include:
- Somatic Experiencing (SE)
- Tension, Stress and Trauma Release (TRE)
- Depth psychotherapy
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
Tracking can be a touchy subject for weight loss because over-tracking can lead to unhealthy and obsessive habits. The benefits of tracking certain aspects of your body and habits can also help you see what’s going on.
When we generalize or guess statistics and habits, we tend to get the situation wrong. For example, many people may think they eat three times a day when in reality, the average American eats 17-21 times a day. The misreporting is because most people forget that snacks and beverages add up, too 9. We forget the handful of nuts we had after our shower, the muffin that Kathy brought into the office for us, the afternoon pick-me-up crackers we had on the way to the meeting, or the chips we snacked on while watching TV after dinner.
Studies suggest that one of the primary reasons for failed goals is a failure to adhere to the plan correctly 10. Although individuals believed they were adhering completely, they simply were not.
Our unconscious habits tend to skew in assuming we’re “better” or “worse” than we are and can also lead to things like under-eating or over-exercising.
By keeping track of some aspects of our weight-loss journey, we can start to see what’s real, and then from there, aim to minimize our reliance on tracking metrics (as not to get too obsessed with the numbers). The goal is, of course, to develop sustainable habits that are a part of a healthier lifestyle; to cultivate habits that can eventually come naturally.
5. Don’t Eat Less, Eat Less Often (Intermittent Fasting)
Although many people equate caloric restriction to weight loss, the reality is that prolonged caloric restriction downregulates metabolism, leading to a weight loss plateau 11. Continuing to cut calories more and more eventually leads to an unsustainable and dangerously low caloric intake, promoting metabolic damage and compromising the immune system 12.
What does promote weight loss, on the other hand, is eating less often. Intermittent fasting is simply the act of restricting your daily feeding window. The results are well studied, and they suggest that those who eat the same amount of calories but within a limited time frame yield better weight loss results. Intermittent fasting boosts your metabolism and has also been shown to reduce hunger levels 13.
There are various ways to implement it, which include:
- Daily intermittent fasting: the restricted feeding window of 4-12 hours
- Weekly intermittent fasting: one 24-hour weekly fast
- Alternate day fasting: eat every other day.
- Monthly fasting/ fasting-mimicking diet: implementing a five-day caloric restriction each month
6. Diet Variation
Along with intermittent fasting, implementing diet variation principles helps ensure that the body adapts without ever hitting a plateau. Instead of restricting carbohydrates long term (a strict keto diet), including higher carb days every so often helps remind the body that there is no famine, so it can continue to be a fat-burning machine.
Diet variation can look a few different ways:
- Weekly variation: 1-2 high carb days per week, and one fasting day per week on an otherwise ketogenic diet
- Monthly variation: one week of high-carb refeed per month
- Seasonal variation: higher carb during the summers (where there is naturally more fruit available) and low carb winters
The key is finding a sustainable practice that works for you and your lifestyle. Keeping the body adapting and guessing will ultimately reduce the likelihood that it will ever plateau (adapt) to a stagnant routine.
Many products promote toxicity in the body, which can lead to a weight loss plateau. Toxins create inflammation in the body and disrupt the endocrine system. This can lead to leptin and insulin resistance 14.
Leptin helps regulate hunger levels, so interfering with this signaling can lead to cravings and feelings of constant hunger, leading to overeating. Insulin plays a role in balancing blood sugar, managing inflammation, and promoting healthy weight.
Toxins also interfere with circadian rhythm, mitochondrial function, and liver function: all required for achieving a healthy weight 14.
Safe and effective detox requires a safe and effective method that targets toxicity at the cellular level. The 5R approach addresses toxicity back to the root and opens up the detox pathways so that the toxins can get them out of the body 15.
8. Sleep Quality
Overcoming weight loss resistance is essentially impossible without addressing sleep quality. This is because quality sleep plays into every point mentioned above. Sleep impacts our mental and physical health in so many ways that it should be a priority for any individual looking to get or stay healthy.
Not getting enough sleep downregulates metabolic rate and interferes with hormone levels to drive appetite and promote fat storage 16-18. Although things like exercise are essential for overall wellbeing and health, getting quality sleep is more important for weight loss 19. Indeed, you could literally sleep your way to weight loss!
Weight loss plateaus occur when tactics that help an individual lose weight no longer provide any more weight loss benefits. The causes are varied but are often rooted in a lack of variety in the diet and exercise routine. Other aspects that often need to be addressed are mental and emotional factors, like stress management, healing trauma, and achieving a healthy balanced mindset.
Your body is resilient and able to adapt to tough situations… To a point. Unfortunately, your organ systems can only take so much when it comes to toxins in the environment, processed foods, and harmful personal care products.
Over the years, toxins can build up in your system, creating inflammation and disrupting your endocrine system. And that leads to stubborn weight gain that has nothing to do with how clean you eat… If you’re suffering from unwanted weight gain, your first line of defense isn’t another expensive stationary bike… It’s safe and effective cellular detox.
CytoDetox is a gentle, yet highly effective way to target toxins at a cellular level. Support the removal of toxins like heavy metals, pesticides, and biotoxins —all without the painful detox symptoms of some harsher supplements.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is based upon the opinions of Dr. Daniel Pompa. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Pompa and his associates. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD for accuracy of the information provided, but Dr. Pompa encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
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