When it comes to losing weight and improving body composition, there is always one certainty: the plateau.
Moreover, plateaus are easily the number one reason many people abandon their weight loss attempts and never actually achieve the body they want.
Typically, weight loss at the beginning of a diet starts quickly but then the diet takes a turn for the worse once weight loss slows or even stops, leaving you confused and frustrated.
Despite this unfortunate truth, a plateau is simply the body’s adaptation to reduced calorie intake. This is a survival mechanism that just doesn’t care about your desire to rid your body of that last bit of cellulite.
All jokes aside, plateaus happen and you must arm yourself with different techniques to overcome them, if you ever hope to actually reach your goals.
In this article, I’ll touch on some of my favorite tips to help you bust through a plateau and continue achieving your dream physique.
Begin Keeping A Food Journal
In terms of weight loss, managing to create a negative energy balance by reducing calorie intake is imperative. However, if you aren’t tracking calories, it can often be difficult to know if you’re actually reducing calories sufficiently and by how much.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues people have with traditional, “clean eating” is that initial calorie reductions are either virtually non-existent or far too drastic.
In the latter condition, many people restrict far too many calories right from the start. Then, once they plateau, further weight loss becomes very difficult since there are less total calories they can reduce from.
By keeping a food journal or even using a food-tracking app, you can begin to understand just how many calories you are consuming and how that relates to your body weight. Once tracking calories and food regularly, you can then begin to make smart and calculated adjustments to your intake, allowing for continued progress.
If you’ve hit a plateau and don’t track calories, consider starting to track now. This will give you the quantitative information you need to take the appropriate steps to continue losing weight.
Begin Implementing Refeeds
A potential cause of metabolic adaptation and thus, plateau, is chronic restriction of calorie intake.
Your metabolic rate refers to how your body transforms energy (the amount of calories you’re consuming) to fuel your energy demands. This simply equates to metabolizing the food you’re eating to provide energy for the various daily activities you carry out.
When dieting, and once you begin restricting calories all of a sudden, the body needs to make up for the lack of energy (calories) you’re consuming, which means you then begin using your own body fat as a fuel source.
By periodically increasing the amount of food you’re eating, it’s possible to almost trick your metabolism into letting it know that it doesn’t need to adapt and lower. Theoretically, periodic refeeds may allow your metabolism to continue at a higher rate, rather than adapting.
It should be noted that refeeds are not cheat meals, but are controlled and pre-programmed periods of time where calories are increased to a normal maintenance level. A refeed is not a free-for-all to consume junk. Rather, it’s a controlled way to increase calories smartly, to continue losing weight.
I suggest after 4-6 weeks of chronic restriction, increase calories to maintenance for a couple of days while monitoring intake and body weight changes. After a couple days, return to restricting calories, noting any changes in body composition.
Alternatively, if you’ve been restricting calories for a long time, it may be in your best interest to take a break from dieting for a period of a month or more. Doing so may put you in a better position to continue losing weight, by giving your metabolism a break from restriction.
If you’ve been dieting for 6 months or more, it may be wise to take a break.
Begin Manipulating Your Macronutrient Ratios
In addition to tracking calories, an additional step you can take to bust through a plateau is to manipulate your macronutrients. Doing so means that you can increase the amount of protein and fiber that you’re consuming, which may prove beneficial for weight loss.
By increasing protein, a number of effects may occur. First, more protein will allow for better retention and even potentially growth of muscle, allowing for easier weight loss (2, 3, 4).
Second, protein is satiating which means that you’ll probably eat fewer calories afterwards. Not to mention, there is even evidence to suggest that protein can directly increase metabolic rate (5, 6)
Further, you can also begin to increase the amount of fiber you consume, leading to better control of appetite.
Additionally, it may be worth trying different forms of dieting such as high carb, low fat, high fat, low carb or some combination of both. Even though it is the calories themselves which are most important, each individual may work better by changing where those calories come from.
Manipulating your macros, such as increasing the amount of protein you eat or manipulating which macronutrients your calories come from may be the answer you’re looking for.
Begin Using HIIT In Your Exercise Program
High intensity interval training (HIIT) may be the plateau-buster that you’re looking for.
HIIT training incorporates high intensity activity for short durations with limited rest. Some research indicates that using this style of exercise can actually produce meaningful results in timeframes of just around 10-20 minutes per session (7, 8).
The reason for this is because the energy demands of HIIT are so high that the body can’t keep up during the training session. This means that in order to make up for the energy used during the session, the body needs to continue burning energy for hours after the session.
Whereas normal exercise sessions may burn fat during the session, HIIT allows for fat burning even after the session has ended. If you’ve hit a plateau, using HIIT may be your answer to continued progress.
To use HIIT, choose something like a cycle, treadmill, prowler or battle ropes. From here, you’ll want to work at a high intensity for timeframes ranging from 6 seconds all the way to 30 seconds.
Just remember that your intensity should be high. If you’re not out of breath after the first set, you need to work harder.
If you’ve found yourself in a weight loss plateau, consider amping up your workout routines by using HIIT.
4 Techniques To Bust Through Your Weight Loss Plateau
When it comes to continued weight loss, a plateau is virtually a certainty. Unfortunately, many people fail to get past their plateau, leading to guilt, frustration and ultimate abandonment of the plan.
Rather than giving up, understand that adaptation and plateau is a survival mechanism. You just need the tools to push past this unfortunate period.
Using these techniques should put you in a prime position to continue losing weight, even if you’ve hit that inevitable plateau.
- Heilbronn, L. K., de Jonge, L., Frisard, M. I., DeLany, J. P., Larson-Meyer, D. E., Rood, J., … & Greenway, F. L. (2006). Effect of 6-month calorie restriction on biomarkers of longevity, metabolic adaptation, and oxidative stress in overweight individuals: a randomized controlled trial. Jama, 295(13), 1539-1548.
- Mojtahedi, M. C., Thorpe, M. P., Karampinos, D. C., Johnson, C. L., Layman, D. K., Georgiadis, J. G., & Evans, E. M. (2011). The effects of a higher protein intake during energy restriction on changes in body composition and physical function in older women. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, glr120.
- Pennings, B., Groen, B., de Lange, A., Gijsen, A. P., Zorenc, A. H., Senden, J. M., & van Loon, L. J. (2012). Amino acid absorption and subsequent muscle protein accretion following graded intakes of whey protein in elderly men. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 302(8), E992-E999.
- Reitelseder, S., Agergaard, J., Doessing, S., Helmark, I. C., Lund, P., Kristensen, N. B., … & Kjaer, M. (2011). Whey and casein labeled with L-[1-13C] leucine and muscle protein synthesis: effect of resistance exercise and protein ingestion. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 300(1), E231-E242.
- Halton, T. L., & Hu, F. B. (2004). The effects of high protein diets on thermogenesis, satiety and weight loss: a critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 23(5), 373-385.
- Lorenzen, J., Frederiksen, R., Hoppe, C., Hvid, R., & Astrup, A. (2012). The effect of milk proteins on appetite regulation and diet-induced thermogenesis. European journal of clinical nutrition, 66(5), 622-627.
- Bracken RM, Linnane DM, Brooks S (2009)Plasma catecholamine and nephrine responses to brief intermittent maximal intensity exercise. Amino Acids. 36: 209-217.
- Trapp, E. G., Chisholm, D. J., Freund, J., & Boutcher, S. H. (2008). The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. International journal of obesity, 32(4), 684-691.