How to Break Your Weight Loss Plateau

So, you finally committed to changing your lifestyle by starting a new weight loss program. You are seeing meaningful changes and have dropped “X” pounds. You start speculating how much weight you can lose and are excited about what the future holds. However, you soon lose fewer pounds each month despite sticking to the plan.

Regardless of your weight loss plan, most people will, unfortunately, reach the dreaded “weight loss plateau.” The body is quite clever, and this process is known as metabolic adaptation. In fact, a 5-10 % decrease in body weight can drop your metabolic rate by about 15 percent. That’s right. You lost weight; however, your body compensated for these changes, and you are now burning 15% fewer calories at rest.

What does this mean? In order to continue losing weight at your current rate you need to cut more calories or exercise more? Maybe, but maybe not. The calories in calories out method already created a metabolic slowdown, and your body is more efficient. Furthermore, the same exercise routine will now burn fewer calories than before.

At this point, we must shake things up, shock the body, introduce new diet and exercise programs, add supplements, focus on other pillars of health, and address any hormonal imbalances (if not done initially).

Here are some tips for breaking the plateau and continuing your weight loss journey. 

Hormone Optimization

Hormone imbalances (thyroid, estrogen, cortisol) can significantly limit weight loss efforts. Too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) increases insulin resistance leading to weight gain. Also, increased stress levels create high levels of cortisol in the blood, which leads to proinflammatory effects in the body and plays a role in weight gain. Furthermore, low levels of estrogen in menopausal or postmenopausal women, or testosterone-deficient men, will likely result in increased difficulty losing weight without correcting their underlying hormonal imbalances.

Adding a Magnesium Supplement

Magnesium helps with water regulation, stool output, and cellular energyAdding a supplement with low-dose leucine and nicotinic acid can also help you get over the hump.

Increasing Soluble Fiber

Fibers are carbohydrates that are not digested in your gut. We focus on soluble fibers (those that dissolve in water) for weight loss. Soluble fibers feed healthy gut bacteria, which are essential in weight management and anti-inflammatory processes. Fiber intake also delays stomach emptying, providing a feeling of fullness, reducing appetite, and ultimately decreasing caloric intake. Adding 10 grams of soluble fiber will boost weight loss. Rich sources of fiber include whole plant foods such as oats, beans, legumes, brussels sprouts, asparagus, chia seeds, flax seeds, and berries.

Adding Cinnamon to Your Diet

Cinnamon works by increasing metabolism and insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugars. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Adding one teaspoon of cinnamon daily is said to increase weight loss.

Intermittent Fasting

The most common intermittent fasting regimen is 16/8. This regimen requires fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours. Remember to stay within your caloric goals for those 8 hours. So, say you finish dinner at 7 PM, skip breakfast the following morning and fit your meals in from 11 AM to 7 PM.

Try Calorie Cycling

For example, if you were maintaining a 1,400-calorie-a-day diet and losing weight and now have reached your plateau, instead of further reducing caloric intake, try alternating high and low-calorie days. Calorie swings should be about 25% both ways. For example, try alternating between 1,800-calorie days (1,400 x 1.25) and 1,000 calorie days (1,400 x 75%). This is a possible method because weight loss is about creating a total calorie deficit over a sustained period of time.

Increase Protein Intake to 1 gm/kg

Protein helps you build and preserve muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest. Keep in mind, you shouldn’t be exceeding 40 grams of protein in a serving as the body cannot metabolize more than this in a meal. Integrating a daily protein supplement such as a shake is a great way to reach your protein requirements.

Stress Reduction and Sleep

Studies show that less than 8 hours of sleep and increased stress levels lead to higher cortisol levels, a reduced basal metabolic rate, and weight gain.

Strength and Resistance Training

As you lose fat, you will also lose muscle unless you incorporate resistance and strength training. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest.

Drinking Water, Coffee, or Tea

Boosts your metabolic rate, which supports weight loss.

Decrease Water Retention

This includes adding a magnesium supplement, dandelion supplement, and drinking more water. Also, cutting carbs is quite helpful for decreasing water retention. This is because for every gram of glycogen (stored carbohydrates), the body stores 3–4 grams of water. Another way of decreasing water retention is using diuretics such as furosemide or hydrochlorothiazide.

Mindful Eating

Remember, nutrition is much more powerful than exercise. Be mindful of what you eat. Eating a 450-calorie muffin as a snack is equivalent to 45 minutes of intense exercise.

Switch or add Weight Loss Medications

After all, we are a medical weight loss practice, so not talking about appetite suppressants would seem somewhat unfair. Although it may be premature to change the course by switching appetite suppressants, it is something to consider discussing with your provider. The body can build a tolerance to medications such as phentermine. Substituting for a different medication, such as Semaglutide (sold under the brand name Wegovy), may do the trick.

And finally, a quote I love: “Abs are made in the kitchen, not in the gym.”

Written by: Dr. Nadav D Fields

Board-certified in Internal Medicine & Obesity Medicine