Throughout the first few weeks or months of your health journey, the quick progress you may experience on the scale can provide a lot of motivation to keep you going. But one day you may notice that the number on the scale isn’t budging, and it may stay that way for weeks. You’re probably wondering what you are doing wrong – you’re in a calorie deficit, you’re physically active, and you’re doing all the “right” things. But don’t throw in the towel or fall into the trap of negative self-talk. Weight loss plateaus are completely normal, and most individuals seeking weight loss will experience at least one along their journey. Let’s discuss why your body is going through this and ways to overcome while sustaining your motivation to keep those positive health behaviors going.
1. Understand and monitor your energy balance
Let’s start off with the basics of energy balance. Energy is another word for calories. We consume calories in the foods and beverages we eat and drink throughout the day, and we burn calories through exercise, daily movements, and bodily processes. Weight loss occurs when the calories consumed are less than the calories you expend. Read to learn about some of the myths and truths you may not have known about a calorie deficit.
At the beginning stage of your weight loss journey, your often follow a meal plan or program that provides a calorie deficit, allowing you to lose weight. But as you continue losing weight, your body will burn fewer calories at rest and during exercise because of your smaller body mass, compared to your starting weight. This is when a plateau can happen, or in other words, the calories you consume equal the calories you burn. But don’t go changing your diet just yet (check out this blog for more info). This is generally a time for your body to adjust to the changes it is going through. Take a moment to reflect on your “why” and reset your expectations.
Weight loss is rarely linear and will most likely look like a stair-step (up, down, and maintenance). A progress plateau, although challenging, is a time when you should stay patient and trust that your nutrition, activity, and lifestyle changes are still positively impacting your health and progress.
2. Modify your diet and exercise routine
Another common cause of a weight loss plateau is underreporting energy intake. We tend to think we eat less than we actually do. Whether that’s from mindless grazing or underestimating portion size. But rather than monitoring every calorie consumed, build balanced meals and snacks with mindful portions of lean protein, nutritious fat, and plenty of non-starchy vegetables. Make sure you’re staying adequately hydrated as well. Another practice that can be helpful is mindful eating, which is a skill that brings awareness to your hunger and fullness cues.
Also take note of your physical activity routine. You may be spending an hour at the gym, but how much of that time is dedicated to specific exercises? The good news is, you don’t need to increase the amount of time you’re at the gym, just work on being more intentional with your routine. Changing up the type of exercise is also a great way to fire up different types of muscles and positively impact your metabolism. Consider adding in new exercises, particularly ones that promote muscle-strengthening, or adding in more frequent, small bursts of activity into your daily routine.
3. Accept your positive health behavior changes
Sustaining motivation when progress plateaus arise can be difficult, especially if we only see the scale as a source of progress. So, let’s change the narrative that the only outcome of setting out on a health journey is your weight or pant size. Celebrate the non-scale victories you’re experiencing, along with your internal motivators, and allow yourself the opportunity to reflect back on why you started.
When our “why”, values, and internal motivations are aligned, health behavior changes are much more sustainable. Research also shows that when we’re more kind and compassionate to ourselves, we engage in health behaviors longer (check out our free guide on self-compassion). Celebrate all that you have accomplished, the new habits you’ve implemented, and the changes and progress you’ve sustained. There is so much more to your health journey than the number on the scale!