What to Know About Weight Loss Plateau

Medically Reviewed By Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, CSCS

A weight loss plateau is when your weight stops decreasing while aiming for weight loss. Plateaus can be common, but there are many solutions. Approaches such as adjusting your physical activity levels and eating enough protein may help. You may notice that weight loss happens fairly quickly at first. However, for some people, the rate of weight loss decreases over time.

Many approaches can help you move on from this plateau and maintain a moderate weight.

However, weight loss and diet are very personal. Sometimes a health condition may be responsible for difficulties losing weight. Talk with a doctor for personalized advice about weight.

Read on to learn more about how to overcome a weight loss plateau.

1. Track what you eat

Someone lifts two free weights while lying on a mat.
Mosuno/Stocksy United

Many people unknowingly underestimate Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source how many calories are in the meals, snacks, and drinks they consume. As a result, you may be taking in more energy than you mean to.

Consider tracking your food and drink intake with a diary, website, or app to stay aware.

However, some people may find calorie tracking difficult or stressful. If you would rather not track your calories, the following approaches may help:

  • eating when you feel hungry and stopping when you’re full
  • staying hydrated with water and tea rather than drinks with added sugars
  • eating a balanced diet with plenty of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • switching to low fat or fat-free dairy products
  • talking with a doctor or registered dietitian about plating, portion size, and visual hints, such as making sure fruits and vegetables make up half of your meal

Read more about why weight loss plateaus can occur even in a calorie deficit.

2. Take a break from strict low calorie diets

If you have been following a strict low calorie eating plan and are now experiencing a weight loss plateau, you may want to consider slightly increasing Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source your caloric intake again.

Severe calorie reductions can lead to changes that may slow down weight loss, including:

Also, many people Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source find it difficult to stick to highly restrictive diets, increasing the likelihood of eating more food later on.

As target calorie intake can vary, talk with a doctor or registered dietitian about the best food intake level for you. You can also use the National Institutes of Health (NIH) body weight planner to estimate target calorie intake.

3. Include carbohydrates

While cutting carbohydrates can be an effective way to lose weight initially, the effects are typically temporary Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source .

A 2018 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source indicated that increasing plant-based carbohydrates and dietary fiber combined with eating low fat foods helped reduce body weight and fat in people with overweight.

If you have been strictly cutting carbohydrates and your weight loss progress has stalled, consider adding some complex carbohydrates to your eating plan, such as:

  • fruits
  • legumes
  • high fiber vegetables like sweet potatoes
  • whole grain breads and pasta

The amount of carbohydrates you should include in your diet depends on personal factors, such as your age, current body mass, and underlying health. Talk with a doctor or registered dietitian for guidance.

Read more about complex carbohydrates and their sources.

4. Adjust exercise intensity

Your metabolic rate may slow Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source as you lose weight, but physical activity can help boost it again.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Trusted Source Department of Health and Human Services Governmental authority Go to source , losing more than 5% of your body weight typically requires more than 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or “cardio” each week. Alternatively, engaging in 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity each week can usually support the same weight loss goal.

Moderate intensity activities can include:

  • brisk walking
  • tennis
  • weightlifting
  • dancing
  • cycling

Vigorous intensity aerobic activities can include:

If you are already regularly physically active, you may want to consider:

  • gradually increasing your exercise intensity
  • including a variety Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of different activities
  • being active on more days of the week or incorporating activity throughout the day

5. Encourage muscle growth

While aerobic activity is key for weight loss, muscle-building activities may help reduce Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source metabolic adaptation, among other health benefits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source recommends muscle-building activities for all muscle groups twice a week, alongside your cardio.

Muscle-building activities include:

  • body weight movements, such as push-ups
  • weighted yoga or pilates
  • weightlifting
  • using resistance bands

6. Eat enough protein

Studies suggest Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source that protein can:

An older research review suggests eating around 1.2–1.6 grams Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of protein per kilogram of your body weight is optimal for weight loss. Alternatively, calculating your protein intake by making sure protein accounts for 25–30% of your daily food intake may be more helpful.

A registered dietitian can also advise on your recommended daily protein intake based on your needs.

See more about protein sources and recommended intakes.

7. Improve your sleep

Not getting enough good quality sleep can increase Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source the likelihood of weight gain.

Experts recommend getting 7–9 hours of sleep each night and sometimes slightly more if needed. 

Learn about how to improve your sleep health.

8. Manage stress

Stress may lead to Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source weight gain.

A 2018 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source involving participants with obesity showed that after following an 8-week stress management program, they had significant reductions in their body mass index (BMI), stress levels, and depression

Methods to help manage stress include:

  • meditation or deep breathing
  • physical activity
  • following a balanced eating plan
  • getting enough good quality sleep
  • counseling or psychotherapy

See more tips for stress management.

9. Consider intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting shows promise in helping with weight loss. It involves limiting eating to only a certain part of the day. For example, some people fast for 16 hours, including during sleep, and only eat during the remaining 8-hour window.

Researchers who conducted a 2020 review of studies Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source reported that participants with overweight or obesity lost weight ranging from 0.8–13% of baseline body weight while fasting.

However, more research is needed to confirm the safety and effectiveness of intermittent fasting for everyone.

Talk with a doctor or dietitian before trying intermittent fasting.

Read more about intermittent fasting, including how to fast safely and benefits.

10. Get enough fiber

Fiber can help Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source you feel full for longer and may help regulate your metabolism. High fiber foods also tend to be less calorie-dense Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , meaning they contain fewer calories for their volume than some other foods.

Foods high in fiber include:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • whole grains
  • oats, bran, barley
  • nuts and seeds

Read more about fiber and volume eating for weight loss.

11. Drink water, tea, or coffee

Staying hydrated is essential for general health.

If you are trying to lose weight, consider prioritizing the following drinks:

Try limiting drinks that contain added sugar, full fat creamer, or contain highly processed ingredients such as syrups.

Learn more about how coffee links to weight gain and loss.

12. Remember to look for other signs of progress 

Sometimes you may feel you’re at a plateau because your weight on a scale hasn’t decreased. However, weight measured by a scale is not the only way to measure progress.

If you follow a balanced diet and get regular physical activity, you may experience body recomposition, whereby you gain muscle at the same time as losing fat. Muscle is denser than fat, so your weight on the scales may stay the same or even rise. However, having more muscle and less fat is still good for health, so you may not need to change your approach.

Signs of body recomposition include:

  • looking leaner or having more visible muscle
  • looking smaller or having smaller body measurements, such as a smaller waist circumference
  • wearing smaller clothes

A healthcare professional can help measure your body composition.

Summary

Weight loss plateaus are common, but many approaches can help you progress and continue to lose body mass. Examples include:

  • varying your physical activity
  • trying intermittent fasting
  • managing stress
  • increasing fiber and protein intake
  • supporting your sleep health

However, each person’s nutrition and other health needs can vary widely, and some approaches may not be safe or effective for everyone.

Talk with a doctor if you have questions about weight loss or self-care.

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Medical Reviewer: Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, CSCS
Last Review Date: 2024 Apr 19
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.