It’s common to experience a plateau after losing weight consistently. Breaking past the plateau is important to ensure you reach your health and fitness goals. Here’s how you can do it.
Firstly let’s address why weight loss plateaus occur. When you initially calculate your basal metabolic rate (BMR), as mentioned in an earlier section, it’s based on a number of factors including most importantly - your current weight. Your BMR is used to calculate your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), from which to base your caloric targets.
So if you’re looking to lose weight at 160 lbs you may calculate that you need to consume 1,800 calories per day. However, when your weight drops to 140, so does your BMR. This is because your body uses less energy to perform daily tasks due to the reduction in your total body weight.
It’s also likely that your weight loss is comprised of fat mass as well as fat free mass, i.e. muscle. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism is because muscles require energy for mass to be retained. So if you lose muscle mass as a component of your weight loss, which is extremely likely, your metabolism naturally decreases. This is supported in nutrition and exercise research, as in a 2006 study published in Sports Medicine.
So based on a decreased total body weight and a slower metabolism, you need to adjust your caloric targets in order to keep losing weight.
This is the main reason for a weight loss plateau. When you stop losing weight, your body is signalling that it’s caloric needs have changed. So re-calculate your BMR and TDEE and adjust accordingly.
If you have done this and are still plateaued, weigh your food intake and track your macros for a week and see if your caloric intake is accurate. Often, underreporting on food intake (like that 400 calorie Starbucks coffee you forgot to include) is one of the underlying reasons for weight loss plateaus; as explored in a 2000 study by Goris et al.
Alongside these changes, switch up your workouts. It’s a myth that your body needs to be ‘shocked’ every once in a while with exercise; but there is some truth in the fact that you need to be implementing progressive overload during exercise.
Progressive overload refers to increasing exercise intensity to stimulate a muscle and metabolic response. For example, if you’re losing weight from lifting weights but you’re not increasing the size of the weights; it’s no longer going to be a sufficient exercise stimulus to cause an adaptation response.
Progressive overload may include increasing the size of weights, decreasing rest time between sets, doing more sets or reps, increasing workout frequency or adjusting the tempo of exercises.
If your weight loss has plateaued, try these tips to get the ball rolling again toward your goal weight.