How can I break a weight-loss plateau?

When it comes to losing weight, you can hit a plateau for various reasons. In order to break through this plateau, you will need to look at your nutrition, activity, and stress levels. If you know how many calories you are consuming a day, then that will be very helpful. If you do not know how many calories you eat a day, then you should record every calorie you eat each day for a week. Once you know your weekly average of calories consumed each day, then you can try to cut back on some of your calories. If you have been eating 1,600 calories a day, then you can cut back to 1,250 calories a day. The scale will move again! As you lose weight your body does not burn as many calories because you are not moving around as much mass. Imagine you have a back pack on with a 30 pound weight in it. You would feel much more tired at the end of the day than normal.

If you know you are on track with the nutrition, then you would also need to take a look at your resistance training. Meaning, are you lifting weights three times a week? If you are dieting and doing cardio only to lose weight, you are losing lean body mass. When you lose lean body mass you no longer burn as many calories each day. A pound of lean body mass at rest burns 30 to 50 percent more calories than a pound of fat at rest. So make sure you are getting your weight lifting in.

Another key factor in breaking a plateau is changing your cardio and weight lifting routine. Every month you need to change a variable of your exercise routine. For example, if you have been doing two sets of 15 reps. in you weight lifting for longer than a month, then your muscles have adapeted to that stimulus. Challenge your muscles by learning a new exercise routine every 4 tp 6 weeks. This will allow you to burn more calories, and stimulate your body to build lean body mass. If you don't know how to redesign your exercise routine, don't be afraid to as for professional help. I like to design three different routines for my clients to do on their own. Every 4 to 6 weeks my clients come back to get their measurments and body fat retested, and also start learning three new weight lifting routines.

Kirsi Bhasin
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The key to breaking a weight loss plateau is changing things up. First, try changing up your workout. If your go-to workout is an elliptical session, try it mixing up by heading for the treadmill, or playing a sport. After a while, your body learns what to expect from your workout and it stops working as well. Mix up your exercise routine a few times a week to keep your body on its toes, as it were, and keep your workouts interesting. Another tactic to incorporate into your workout routine is weight training. Even if you’re not looking to get big and buff, your body takes a lot of calories to build muscle, so even incorporating weight training into your workout a couple days a week will help give you an extra calorie burn and help totally change your body’s shape.

You should also try mixing up your eating schedule. If you’ve hit a weight loss plateau, try mixing up your meal patterns to eat six small meals a day. Keeping your body fed smaller portions spaced closer together will help keep your metabolism going throughout the day, which will help with weight loss. 

It’s also good to change up the kinds of foods you eat. Stay away from processed carbohydrates and refined sugars and instead go for whole grains (in moderation) and protein. Protein is fantastic on low-calorie and low-carb diets because it helps keep you fuller longer, and gives you the energy you need for a great workout. In addition, there are actually a ton of really yummy foods out there that help boost your metabolism and curb your cravings. Chocolate, when eaten in moderation, is a great way to boost your metabolism and curb your sweet cravings. Try eating three or four one-ounce servings of 70% dark chocolate a week and you’ll see a difference for sure. The antioxidant reservatrol is also a great metabolism-boosting compound found naturally in wine, grapes, blueberries, cranberries, and peanuts. Studies have shown that reservatrol helps your muscles use oxygen more efficiently, allowing you to have a longer and more intense workout. So add a half a cup of blueberries to your breakfast in the morning, and it’s ok to have a glass of wine after dinner a few nights a week. It may be helping your metabolism!

There’s a lot you can do to help get yourself out of a weight loss rut. Mixing up your diet and exercise plans will not only help you break that weight loss plateau, but it’ll also keep things interesting for the future. 

You've lost weight, hit a snag, but still have that upward attitude about sending your weight downward. Rejoice in the other signs that show that your body is changing. Do your clothes fit better? Do you feel stronger? Yes means you’re swapping out fat for lean muscle and building your cardiovascular fitness, even if you're not dropping a pound.

There are some ways to unstick your stuck scale. You may need to challenge your body more, which means you'll have to work a little harder. No, it's not fair. But the less you weigh, the fewer calories you burn doing the same thing. Here's how to up the ante:

  • Walk a little longer. If you’re walking 30 minutes a day, add 5-minute increases over a couple of weeks.
  • Walk a little harder. Throw in some hills, or kick up the incline on that treadmill. Add a few bursts of high-speed walking or jogging; the intensity helps burn fat.
  • Get a little stronger. Increase your strength training to one session every other day. No more, though; the in-between days are when you build muscle.
  • Choose smaller plates. Portion sizes will be smaller, and that makes your waist smaller.

It can be very common to hit a plateau with your weight loss. This usually occurs after you have been on your program for a period of time and your body is simply getting used to the regime it is on. The human body adapts very quickly, so when a plateau is reached it is a signal it is time to take a closer look at your program and possibly make some changes.

The first place to look is nutrition. If you are not doing so already, start logging your food and measuring your portions for a week. It is easy to underestimate what you are actually eating and those extra calories may be stalling your weight loss. Make sure you are consuming the proper amount of calories to help create the calorie deficit you need each day to reach your goal. A deficit of 500 calories per day will enable you to lose one pound per week.

You may need to adjust your workouts as well. It’s usually recommended that you change or adjust your routine every 4 weeks. If your exercise program is getting easier it may be time to add more repetitions to your strength training workouts, increase the weights or change the exercises altogether. Adding more cardio and increasing the amounts of steps you are taking per day (track with a pedometer) will also help you break through that plateau.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

A month into a diet or weight loss plan, the body can hit a plateau. Learn ways to break through the weight loss plateau in this video by Dr. Oz and Dr. Rovenia Brock.

Kat Barefield, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Breaking a weight loss plateau comes down to two things: 1) moving more and/or 2) eating fewer calories. As you lose weight, your body burns fewer calories because you're not carrying around that extra weight anymore. Also, as you get more fit, your body gets more efficient at exercise and you don't burn as much as you used to when you first started. In order for you to keep losing, you have to keep burning more than you eat. You can do this by:

  • Adding movement into your daily routine by incorporating short walks, pacing and standing instead of sitting, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and just moving whenever you can. All movement burns calories no matter how you do it. I work on a treadmill desk the majority of the day so I burn ~200 calories an hour versus 70 while sitting at a regular desk.
  • Geting a pedometer to track steps or a body sensing device like the exerspy ( to track steps and calories burned. Set a weekly goal to increase your steps. A good goal is at least 10,000 steps a day.
  • Keeping your exercise routine fresh by changing it up every few weeks.
  • Using interval training - a minute or so of higher intensity exercise (jogging) followed by lower intensity exercise (walking)
  • Cutting out "extra" calories from high fat foods, juice, soda, candy and processed snack foods. When you treat yourself, be sure to control the portion. One "cheat" meal or cheat day can wipe out a whole week's worth of progress.
  • Replacing some of your carbs from pasta/rice/bread with salad, veggies and fruit. This will give you more food for fewer calories.
  • Using a food scale and measuring cups to ensure you're not eating extra calories without realizing it.
  • Eating regular meals (every 3-4 hours) so you don't become overly hungry. This inevitably leads to poor food choices and overeating.
  • Replacing 1-2 meals/snacks with a meal replacement shake or bar to control portion size and calories. This helps prevent overeating.

Pick a few of the above strategies that you feel confident you can do for the rest of your life and set a goal every week to make these changes until they become second nature. That way, once you lose the weight, it stays off for good.

A plateau will occur when your body adapts to what you have been asking it to do. Plateaus are very common, but they can be avoided. Your body is a very complex and adaptive machine. It will work very hard once a new stress or stimulus is placed on it (this stress will be in the form of exercise). If the exercise is never changed, then your body will adapt to the demands and your results will level off. The key to avoiding a plateau is through periodization. Periodization occurs when you set up an exercise program which has small phases or stages which progress overtime. Another factor which may need to be considered is that once you lose weight, your metabolic rate will also decrease (there is less body to maintain) and you may need to readjust your caloric intake. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you take in. If you are burning fewer calories during your body's resting state, then you will need to consumer fewer calories to continue to lose weight. Try the following to help break your weight-loss plateau:

  • Add “accidental exercise” to your daily routine, such as parking in the furthest parking space, taking the stairs, and pacing while on the phone.
  • Log your food consumption. This will make you aware of how many calories you’re consuming and unnecessary calories that may be sabotaging your weight loss.
  • Replace processed foods (chips, cookies, white bread) with healthy fruits and vegetables
  • Strive for 10,000 steps per day.
  • Strive for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week.
Natasha Turner, ND
Alternative & Complementary Medicine Specialist

The two most important steps to breaking past a plateau are altering your eating habits and changing your exercise program in ways that challenge your body and shake things up (I recommend following the detox and exercise guidelines outlined in The Hormone Diet or The Carb Sensitivity Program). You must also evaluate your lifestyle (honestly) and any negative symptoms you may be experiencing to determine your sources of interference.

In addition, here are a few ideas to help you power past a plateau: Add in 1,000 mg of tyrosine each morning on an empty stomach (avoid if you have high blood pressure), increase your activity level, add in regular weight training sessions to boost the number of calories your body burns daily, try cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, keep a food journal and have a nutritionist review it, and finally, drink plenty of water! Products such as green tea extract, high dose fish oil and CLA are also great additions to a fat loss program. Taking a non-psyllium fiber supplement twice daily in your smoothies or in a large glass of water will also keep your appetite at bay. Good luck!


Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Sometimes it takes time for your body to adjust to consuming fewer calories. If you have maintained for awhile and are ready to lose some more weight then increase your physical activity. If you are consistently walking one mile every day that will help you lose ten pounds in a year. That means rain or shine.

Joan Roth, NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

We all get excited when the pounds and inches begin to fall off; we feel like we're making great progress and that nothing can stop us. Then, around week 5 or 6, things often start to slow down and we wonder what is going on? Is something different? Why am I not losing weight at the same pace?

A number of factors can be in play when you hit a plateau. So first, you need to take a truly honest look at what you are doing.

  1. Are you logging your food and being faithful to healthy eating?
  2. Have you gone back to any of the old habits that have sabotaged you in the past? i.e. portion control in check?
  3. Are you still exercising regularly?
  4. Has your health changed or do you have a condition that can be impacting your ability to lose weight?

Ok—let's assume you're doing everything right and really focusing on a change in lifestyle. Take a hard look at your workout. Our bodies are very adaptable. Every 4 to 6 weeks, you need to introduce variables of change to continue making progress—these variables can include frequency (how often), intensity (how hard), time (how long) as well as simply mixing up the routine with variations of exercises to target particular muscles/muscle groups. So trying circuit training or adding some metabolic training to your program are options for kicking it up a notch and challenging your body in a different way.

Here are some other ideas:

A crunch is just one way to work your abs. Have you tried:

  • ball crunch ..there are other variations you'll see on this page as well
  • plank
  • other options—check out this answer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine:

A squat is a terrific exercise for your legs and butt muscles but you can mix it up to create awesome variations. Have you tried:

  • single leg squat (and variations)
  • squat to overhead press 2 arms
  • lunge to balance (and other variations)

These are just a few ideas—there are so many ways to mix up your workout but you get the idea—you need to "confuse" the body by doing something unexpected and this will help you break through the plateau and continue to move forward. Keep pushing!

You must eat to loose weight! People hit a plateau for various reasons—but I have observed in my practice that it is most likely due to either and overestimation of the calories burned with exercsise or an under reporting of the foods eaten.

"Calories in against calories out" is not always a good model to follow because it doesnt take into account the bodys effect on certain types of nutrients and the timing of meals.

It has been shown in some studies that skipping breakfast can reduce your metabolic rate by up to 30 percent and if you wait to eat more than 4 hours between meals it can drop your metabolism by an additional 20 percent. So if you do some simple math and assume your basal metabolic rate is 1500 calories per day: not eating breakfast or waiting too long to eat can reduce your BMR by 300 to 450 additional calories . . . So when my patients state "Doctor, I hardly eat anything and i can't loose any weight" . . . this simple calculation can at least demonstate the importance of eating regularly.

So the bottom line is this: You must eat regularly to loose weight - but you also need to eat balanced meals to assist with proper fat burning too.

For my patients in a plateau—I insist on seeing their food logs and revisitng the balance of foods and the timing of their meals.

A weight-loss plateau occurs when you don't lose any weight for several weeks, even when you are conscientiously following a weight-loss program. Although plateaus are a natural part of the weight-loss process, they can be frustrating.

Most often weight-loss plateaus occur because people relax their weight-loss efforts. But plateaus can be due to physical reasons, too. For instance, losing weight can lower metabolism since a smaller body carries less lean muscle and burns fewer calories to move it around. Also, eating fewer calories means it takes fewer calories to digest and absorb food.

If there are no physical reasons for your  plateau, it may be an attitude plateau -- the point where the desire to lose weight is equal to the desire to eat more liberally or reduce activity. Your motivation to lose weight has dropped.

To break an attitude plateau, you may have to reevaluate your goals and reasons for losing weight. Trying to stick to a weight-loss plan on your own can be difficult, even daunting. Weight Watchers gives you a structured program that teaches you how to make the right choices to lose weight and keep it off, and gives you the skills to use them in every situation.

Weight Watchers offers a comprehensive approach to weight loss that can help you reach your goals.

Robert DeVito
Fitness Specialist

Proven plateau busters
Avoiding a plateau is a significant undertaking. Even with all of the preparation to avoid a plateau you will inevitably see your weight/fat loss slow or stop. Here are a few steps to minimize the effects.

  • Monitor body fat, not just scale weight

Remember, it’s not really about weight loss, but fat loss. The key to recognizing true plateaus is to carefully track both scale weight and body fat percentages. 

Start measuring and tracking body at percentages, as well as weight, and monitor the change in muscle to fat ratios. Take your body fat percentage measurements once per month. Ask a Trainer at your health club to perform the assessment. They most likely have the tools and experience to better assess your true body fat levels. As long as your body fat percentage is decreasing, you can be pretty sure that you haven’t hit a weight loss plateau.

If you have not lost any additional body fat in 2-3 weeks, then try one of the other weight loss plateau busters below.

  • Recalculate your calorie requirements

As people lose weight or fat or gain muscle, their daily calorie needs changes as well. This is especially important if you have lost a significant amount of body fat or weight since the last time you did this calculation. As your weight decreases, so can your daily calorie requirements.

This could mean that you are eating more food than you need for your new weight. This can lead to your fat and weight loss progress stalling.

It’s a good idea to recalculate your calorie requirements at least once every two months. Use this new number to adjust your daily calorie intake based on your goals. If you continue to experience a plateau, keep reading.

  • Get specific with your diet

When someone says they have hit a “weight loss plateau”, one of the first things I suggest is to take a close look at diet and portions.

We’re a Super-Size-Me nation and it’s hard for even the most disciplined person to get a true sense of portions, and more importantly, to sustain this over the long haul. You may think your diet and portions are the same as two months ago when you were shedding body fat like crazy, but is this really the case now? If your sense of servings has gradually increased, the extra calories will add up and that can mean you will lose body fat more slowly. Go back to using a food scale for a few days a week and recheck your internal portion controls.

This is a common problem with most people who want to lose weight. Many people see great weight loss drops in the beginning but like most people hit that plateau. Plateau usually hits when you keep on doing the same routine over and over again. So bottom line you are burning and eating the same amount of calories. One of the things to break this habit is changing up your program on a regular basis. Two you really need to track what you are buring during workouts along with what you are eating. Just keep challenging yourself and remember there is no finish line.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.