Think you’re stuck in a weight loss plateau?
If you hop on the scale and can’t seem to budge the number, despite your efforts to eat healthy foods and work out consistently, we understand how you feel.
As annoying, frustrating, and confusing as this situation is, it’s totally common and completely fixable!
You may actually be on the right track and just need more time and patience to get to your goal. Or you could be stuck and in need of a little extra push.
Before you learn how to break through a weight loss plateau, you should first make sure that’s what you’re really dealing with.
Step #1: Are You Sure You’re in a Plateau?
Healthy and sustainable weight loss typically averages about 1lb per week. You might lose it faster at first, but so long as you’re still averaging 1lb per week, you are not actually in a plateau. Keep it up!
If the scale hasn’t moved for a week or two, this also isn’t considered a plateau. An annoyance – yes, but not a plateau. A true plateau means no changes for 3-4 weeks. When this happens, your first inclination may be to keep weighing yourself.
Though this may show you’re neither gaining nor losing weight, it doesn’t give you a complete picture of whether you’re making progress.
That’s why your weight shouldn’t be the only measure of whether you’re in a plateau.
It is, however, a great place to start unraveling the mystery.
If you’ve been the same weight for months, answer these questions:
#1. How do your clothes fit?
If your clothes feel less tight around your legs or midsection, don’t ignore this win just because the scale hasn’t moved.
As your body fat starts decreasing and you build more lean muscle, your clothes will fit better and that won’t change the number on the scale. Fun fact: this is because a pound of muscle is much smaller in size than a pound of fat.
#2. Have you taken before-and-after photos or measurements?
No one’s asking you to post your before photos on Instagram, but you should have a few around to remind you of where you started.
If you didn’t take any before photos, look for an older photo of yourself wearing clothes you still own. Now try them on and take a picture to compare.
Though you may not weigh less, you may notice changes in your after photo that weren’t visible until you put your before-and-after self side-by-side.
Having measurements taken a few months apart — which you can do at home — is another helpful gauge for true progress even when the scale doesn’t cooperate.
If you haven’t already, consider taking body measurements every three months or so to see how you’re progressing. You may be pleasantly surprised to see your results!
Those two assessments may be enough to convince yourself you’re making actual progress. If that’s the case, keep up the good work and have patience. You will reach your goals!
Now, if your clothes fit just the same (or a little tighter), your measurements haven’t moved a millimeter, and the scale has been stuck for months, you may be in a plateau.
This doesn’t mean you’ve failed your diet and exercise goals or that your goals were unattainable.
In reality, a plateau is a good sign your body has adapted to your new regime and is ready for its next challenge.
Unfortunately, many people see this next step as needing to restrict their daily calories or increase the intensity of their workouts to burn more calories. But that doesn’t always work.
Most times it’s a recipe for burnout and causes unnecessary spikes in your hormone levels, especially cortisol. And that can make it easier for stubborn belly fat to stick around, which is the exact opposite of what you want.
So how do get yourself out of a weight loss plateau?
Intermittent fasting may be your secret weapon.
Step #2: Understand What Intermittent Fasting Can and Can’t Do for Weight Loss
As we talked about in our guide on using intermittent fasting (IF) for weight loss, this incredible tool may be able to help you:
Burn body fat. Fasting helps lower your insulin levels so much it turns on your body’s ability to burn body fat for energy (1). This process is known as being fat adapted.
By using intermittent fasting, you may be able to target unwanted belly fat and other fat-storage prone areas once and for all.
Eat fewer calories without feeling starved or deprived. If you’re someone who hates tracking every bite you eat — which, we don’t blame you there — you may want to start tracking when you eat instead.
On an IF schedule, you’ll typically eat within a certain period of time and then you’ll stop and fast around that schedule.
A typical schedule could be eating between 12 pm and 8 pm, with fasting before and after that period. Another could be following a sunrise to sunset schedule and only eating during daylight hours.
The easiest way to begin fasting is to start the night before. Stop eating around 6 pm or 7 pm at night, wake up and skip breakfast, and then start your day and break your fast by eating lunch in the afternoon. Then repeat the process.
This set time helps you naturally lower your daily calories by limiting how many hours of the day you spend eating.
And by skipping either dinner or breakfast, depending on the schedule you choose, you’ll shave off a meal’s worth of calories you would have normally added to your daily macros.
If you’re someone who likes to mindlessly eat after a long day at work and just before bed, you can get rid of this habit by ‘closing the kitchen’ sharply at 7 pm (or whatever time you choose).
This will help you stop eating calories you don’t really need, especially if you’re just going to sleep.
End unnecessary snacking. Intermittent fasting can also reduce your snacking, which many people don’t realize could be ruining their hard work.
If you constantly snack throughout the day, you’re not giving your body enough time to digest and use the foods you eat as energy before more food gets added to your system.
This could be why your energy fluctuates so much and why you may find yourself storing calories instead of using them.
On the other hand, by eating two larger meals and eliminating snacking during your IF feeding window, you’ll give your body the proper chance to break down the food and actually extract the energy from it.
By forcing your body to tap into your stores of energy (i.e., reserved glucose or fat stores), you’ll always have a source of fuel to use. And that should help stabilize and improve your energy levels.
With greater energy, you’ll then be able to power through all your tough days and have enough leftover to work out or spend time with your family.
IF does have its limits, though, and it’s not a quick fix for all your problems.
While it’s not as likely, it is still possible to overeat within your IF feeding window.
If you’re using this time to binge on junk food and have ‘Last Supper’ type meals where you indulge to the point of feeling uncomfortable and stuffed, you won’t break through your plateau. Your eating window is not meant to be a time where you “make up for” the meals you missed while fasting. Eat normally!
IF also doesn’t work if you’re eating a few calories here and there while you’re fasting.
Fasting literally means no eating or drinking.
So when you are fasting, it’s important to be diligent about this and only drink non-caloric beverages like water and unsweetened teas or black coffee. You might want to check out our article about what is and isn’t safe to drink while fasting.
If you drink your tea or coffee with a sweet creamer — even if it’s only 35 calories or so per serving — you’re actually breaking your fast and won’t reap the benefits of IF.
As soon as you introduce food or drinks with calories into your system, even if it’s a small amount, you’ll turn off the benefits of using IF since you’ll trigger your body to release insulin.
And that will cause your body to feel more hungry and you’ll start craving sugary foods to fill the void. Bad idea.
If you avoid all calories during your fast and you’re still in a weight loss plateau, you can move on to this final troubleshooting step.
Step #3: Use Intermittent Fasting to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau
As your body gets used to IF, it will become more efficient at it. And eventually, even this could create a situation where you struggle to budge the scale.
If you saw awesome results with IF, don’t give it up.
Try one of these five troubleshooting strategies to kickstart success again:
#1: Adjust Your Intermittent Fasting Schedule
It’s easy to become a creature of habit.
After all, routines help us stay sane, productive, and minimize the number of decisions we have to make each day.
But when it comes to your body, which is a machine that easily adapts over time, sometimes change is exactly what it needs.
So try switching up your fasting schedule to give your body a wake-up.
If you normally fast from 6 pm to 10 am with no problem, consider shrinking your eating window by an hour (thus increasing your fasting by an hour) to see if that changes anything.
For beginners, just increasing your window of fasting by an hour is enough to see real weight loss results.
Or maybe 6 pm is too late for you to be eating. Adjust your end-time to be an hour earlier and see if that helps.
Another way to change things up if you’ve been fasting is to reverse your fasting window.
So you may decide to eat earlier in the day, let’s say at 7am instead of noon, but your eating window will then end at 3 pm.
That should give your body plenty of extra time to recharge and achieve autophagy.
Are you a fasting pro? If you’ve been cleared by your doctor to do fasts that are 24hrs or longer, check out our chart to help you figure out which way to adjust your current fasting schedule:
No matter which IF schedule you choose, keep this next tip in mind as you break your fasts.
#2: Eat Within Reason, Not to the Point of Being Stuffed
Your feeding window is just as important as your fasting window and it’s essential to treat it as such.
Rather than use this precious time as a buffet and free-for-all, aim to eat proper portions, chew your food slowly, and stick to healthy, whole, unprocessed foods.
Remember that it takes about 15 minutes for your stomach to send the “I’m full” signal to your brain. If you’re still eating when you finally feel full, you’ve been eating for 15 min too long!
And just because you fasted doesn’t mean you have a free pass to eat junk food — it’s the exact opposite.
If you like to break your fast with a meal at a restaurant or on-the-go, it’s crucial to be mindful about portion sizes.
Meals out are often 2-3 portions worth of calories. If you’re hungry from fasting all those hours, you may be tempted to overeat more than what your body can handle at once.
Don’t make this mistake if you’re trying to bust through a weight loss plateau.
You may find tracking your food intake for a few weeks helpful for learning what a true portion size looks like so you don’t have to guess.
Portion control makes an excellent option if you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to be working.
And it’s not something you’ll have to do forever.
You can run on autopilot once you understand what your body needs and what serving sizes look like.
To get to that point though, consider downloading one of the many health apps — available in the app store on your phone, which can track everything from your heart rate, calories, water intake, and even your sleep.
Use one of these apps for a few weeks until you get the hang of what your body needs and the portions that are right for you.
After that, there’s one more huge point to consider when using IF to break through plateaus:
#3: Don’t Ignore Other Important Factors
Your sleep, stress, and daily activity levels also play a role in how effective IF is for weight loss.
If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, fasting will become much more difficult to stick to and your body will end up craving quick sources of energy, such as sugar and carbs, to get through your day.
Being stressed is also a recipe for overeating and holding onto the fat stores you’re trying to get rid of.
So even if you’re using IF and changing up your schedule, if you’re overly stressed and not getting enough sleep, IF won’t be your magic bullet to fixing these problems.
IF may help you sleep better since your body won’t be busy digesting food so late but it won’t turn off an anxious mind before bed.
For this, you may need to journal, practice meditation or yoga, or see someone to talk about what’s going on.
You should do these activities even if you don’t feel like anything’s wrong since they are so beneficial for your mental well being.
On top of these key factors, it’s also smart to track how much movement you’re getting.
If you go to the gym for an hour a day, it may not be enough for weight loss if you’re sedentary for the other 15 hours you’re awake.
Try to track your steps and see if you can hit 10,000 to 12,000 steps each day.
This may sound like a lot at first but over time it will become second nature and something your body craves.
Rack up all those steps and you’ll have no trouble breaking through a plateau.
Give Intermittent Fasting a Try if You’re Stuck In a Weight Loss Plateau
If you now realize you’re in a weight loss plateau, don’t sweat it!
There are plenty of ways you can remedy this situation without giving up your goals.
If you’re an IF beginner, check out this guide next so you can get started on the right foot.
And if you’re an IF veteran, don’t be afraid to switch up your eating and fasting windows.
Your body is probably used to being on this efficient schedule and may need a slight tweak to get the gears in motion again.
No matter which option you try from this guide, remember to be patient and kind with yourself. This is a slow and steady process that should be enjoyable, not painful.
Give it some time and your consistency and hard work will pay off soon!