P is for Plateaus


P is for Plateaus

Plateau. Probably the most hated word for anyone trying to lose weight. They can be disheartening and frustrating and lead to giving up.

Why do plateaus happen? It’s pretty simple and makes a lot of sense. There is usually a big loss in the beginning. The body is shocked from the reduction of calories and the weight starts to melt away. It happened to me: when I first decided to start counting calories and swimming, I lost about 8 pounds in one week. That was amazing and motivating! Then each week that went by, that number got smaller and smaller until I was lucky to lose 1 pound a week. After the initial loss, the body gets used to a smaller amount of food and it wants to hold onto the fat in your body. It’s just a natural survival thing.

I hit many plateaus in my efforts to lose 100 pounds. The most significant was when I got around 180 pounds. Between 183-175 pounds it took MONTHS to see a significant change on the scale. It made me crazy! Eventually I started losing consistently again, but it slowed down a great deal.

Here are some things to think about if you’ve hit a plateau and how you can bust out of it:

You’re Not Tracking Food

I’ve talked about this before, and even wrote a post about it. The first thing I do when I see the number on the scale creep up, or stay put, is check my food tracking. Am I being accurate? Am I measuring correctly? Are my eyes bigger than my stomach when it comes to portions? Am I lying to myself when I count my calories? Am I nibbling and munching on food that I don’t record? All of these things can lead to plateaus or gains and it’s the quickest way to right the ship if you can correct your tracking.

The trick to fix this: Ask yourself those questions and be truly honest. Keep a food journal, or use an app to record food.

Your Exercise Routine Is Spotty

I’ve got a secret to weight loss: exercise is most definitely a crucial part of the equation. It’s not the entire equation, but it’s a big part. And I hate to break it to people, but working out once or twice a week, or skipping a week, isn’t going to cut it.  Having a steady workout schedule is really important. It doesn’t have to be extreme. Obviously you should listen to your body and stay within your abilities.

The trick to fix this: Even if you’re just walking three days a week, that’s something. The key is to be consistent.

You Aren’t Eating Enough

I’ve chatted with a few people about this subject. Recently a coworker was coworker was complaining that she wasn’t seeing any losses. She described what she was eating and it came to about 1100 calories for the day. That seemed really low to me. Not eating enough food puts the body into starvation mode and it wants to desperately hold onto that fat!

The trick to fix this: I think it’s important to see a doctor or an RD to get a professional opinion on a food plan. Eat enough calories that you are nourishing your body, yet burning fat.

You’re Too Efficient

The more you do something, the better you get at it. As your body becomes better at doing your exercises it actually uses fewer calories during the exercise. This was the most shocking discovery for me. When I was 200+ pounds, I burned over 500 calories in a swimming session! It was awesome! Now that I’m 144 pounds, a 50 minute swim session for me barely burns 300-350 calories. My body has become too efficient, I’ve become “too good” at swimming and it’s too easy for me.

The trick to fix this: Not eating enough food puts the body into starvation mode and it wants to desperately hold onto that fat! change the routine. I’ve started doing sprints in the pool to get my heart rate up.

You’re Over-training

When you increase the intensity of exercise, the body responds by decreasing the amount of calories it burns during the rest of the day. Over-training is the quickest way to get sick, injured, burned out or stuck in a plateau.

The trick to fix this: Take a few days off to give your body a chance to recover. Reduce your workout sessions; for example, if you were doing 90 minutes 3 days a week, try doing 60 minutes 3 days a week for awhile.

You’re In Great Shape

As you get into better shape, your body is more efficient and it costs fewer calories to operate. (See “You’re Too Efficient” above.) Maybe it’s time re-evaluate what your goal weight should be. For some reason I got the number 140 in my head and I’ve never been able to reach that. I had to decide that 144 was okay as my goal weight. Let it go.

The trick to fix this: Pat yourself on the back for being in great shape and just enjoy it!

You’re Eating Out All The Time

Restaurant eating is my downfall. It’s so easy to overeat at a restaurant. The portion sizes are always double, sometimes triple, and then there’s the bread baskets or chips and salsa that are easy to consume way too much of. Not to mention the liquid calories in happy hour drinks! It all adds up and it adds up fast.

The trick to fix this: Try limiting how often you eat out each week. Eat breakfast at home, take your lunch to work and try to make better decisions when eating out–try splitting entrees or taking half home for leftovers. It’s hard, but doable.

You Do Too Much Cardio

This was the revelation I made recently, and wrote about it a few times. Eventually cardio just doesn’t do the trick. Apparently too much can burn muscle for fuel for the body. Weight lifting was the one thing I regret not doing during my journey to lose 100 pounds. I regret it so much because I feel like I would have lost weight faster, would have been stronger, and wouldn’t have had so many plateaus. Learn from my mistakes!

The trick to fix this: Reduce cardio and add weight lifting a few times a week.

Can you relate to any of the above reasons? There are a ton of reasons why your scale may not be budging. The secret is to keep at it and don’t give up. Plateaus can last a week, a month or several months. Sometimes fitness and health is less about that number on the scale and more about how you feel about yourself and how your clothes fit. Good luck!

QUESTION: Have you been stuck in a plateau? What worked for you?


A-Abstinence * B-Balance * C-Calories * D-Vitamin D * E-Emergency * F-Fast Food and Fine Dining * G-Gym Bag * H-Happy Weight * I-Intervals * J-Jumping * K-Keeping Sane * L-Losing Weight * M-Measuring Mistakes *N-Nemesis * O-Open *

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and Glamour.com.

14 thoughts on “P is for Plateaus”

  1. Great post! One of the other major issues with counting calories is that it is an estimate. Packaged foods always under report calories. The other issue is that 10 chips may weigh more than the indicated portion size, thus containing even more calories. A cheapo food scale helps immensely.
    Courtney recently posted..Ooh that smell

    1. Thank you, Courtney! YES–calorie counting is only an estimate. It’s harder when not eating processed foods too because it’s even more of a guess. One time I measured out a serving of tortilla chips (I think it was 17 chips in a serving or something) and then I weighed it on my scale to see how many ounces it was because the bag had the ounces too…I was surprised at how off it was. A serving wasn’t 17 chips, it was more like 10 if you go by weight.

  2. Awesome post! I’d also like to add that when I hit a plateau I stop using the scale as my indicator and start using other things. For example, I lost next to nothing last month (a pound, all month!) BUT I now fit a pair of jeans that didn’t fit at the beginning of the month. That was more motivating than a number on a scale, especially because it was proof that my strength training was working. I may have weighed the same, but my body compostion was changing.

    Unfortunatly, I am becoming more efficiant at my beloved boxing classes. I got through 2 classes last night with no problems, which means I need to find a way to kick it up a notch!

    1. YES! That’s a good point I should have included. Sometimes it’s less about the scale and more about how clothes fit–or you can lift more weights than last month, run more miles without walking, etc. Fitness and health is definitely not just the number on the scale.

      I’m sorry your boxing class is too easy! I feel the same way with swimming now. Still love it, though.

  3. What a great post! Usually advice about plateaus just amounts to “change something” – but this is really detailed and wonderful! the last few months for me has been frustrating…the weight doesn’t come off as easily as it did in the beginning. As much as I love my cardio, I know it’s not going to do much for me weight-loss wise at this point…so strength training it is!
    Jodi @ Jodi, Fat or Not recently posted..Really, I’m not on a diet

    1. The weight definitely slows down, which is frustrating. I hear ya, Jodi! I was a cardio addict too and I’ve resisted switching things up but I’m so glad I did. It was exactly what I needed.

    1. Thank you Carla! YES I agree. There have been many times where I’d slacked off too–being lazy with my calorie measurements and half-assing workouts because I was burned out. Sometimes a break is what it takes to get back on track.

  4. One thing that sometimes helps me, and yes, I’ve often been stuck, is to vary my eating more. I tend to get into a rut and eat similar things and about the same amount each day. I think our bodies adjust to that. So I might try to have a lower calorie day then a higher calorie day, etc.
    Karen@WaistingTime recently posted..Hit The Road, Snack

    1. I’m with you, Karen, I get into food ruts frequently. I’ve been trying to vary the types of food I eat to keep it interesting but sometimes it’s too easy to be lazy. I like your idea of high calorie day then low calories day.

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