How Do You Get Out of A Weight Loss Plateau?
To get out of a weight loss plateau, first check
1) your daily sodium and potassium intake,
2) the “hidden” calories that you’re not tracking,
3) your activity levels
4) your weekly average weigh-ins.
If all 4 of these factors are in check (we’ll talk about how in this article), then you need a 1-week diet break.
These are the 4 things I check on first before ever making any drastic changes to my diet or activity levels. Most times, one of these 4 things are holding back your weight loss and causing you to plateau. It’s a quick fix.
Let’s talk about each.
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*NOTE* The following article is straight from my Flexible Dieting Book. It goes over calories and macros for fat loss and how to track them with MyFitnessPal. If you want to check it out, click here!
1. Your Sodium and Potassium Intake
Your salt intake could be a reason why the scale isn’t moving in the direction you’d like.
When you overeat salt, your body holds onto it, and this causes water retention and causes you to be “bloated.”
Note: Bloating can be caused by other factors as well.
Therefore, some micronutrient tracking can be beneficial.
Potassium has the opposite effect of sodium. Whereas salt holds onto the water, potassium flushes it out. The daily recommended sodium intake is about 2.3 grams or 2300 mg. (If you sweat a lot, your intake may be a bit higher.)
In MyFitnessPal, under the “nutrients” tab in your diary, you can see your sodium and potassium content for the day. The daily recommended potassium intake is about 4.7 grams a day or 4700 mg.
To avoid sodium and potassium imbalances, make sure to avoid most canned/packaged foods as well as deli meats. They’re all usually high in sodium. Other foods that are usually high in sodium:
- Sauces and Salad Dressings
- Fast Foods
Foods that are usually high in potassium:
I’m not saying you should track sodium and potassium like you would your regular macros (protein, fat, and carbs).
I just want you to be aware of it and check nutrition labels when possible.
Also, a quick note on water.
I recommend you have at least a gallon of water a day, which should be enough for most people. However, some of us are more active than others and sweat more than others, so a gallon may not be enough.
A gallon of water for someone who is sedentary compared to someone who does construction every day is not going to be equivalent. Therefore, to judge your water needs, make sure to have 4-5 clear urinations each day.
2. Hidden Calories
Another reason you may not be losing weight is that you aren’t aware of hidden calories or you’re just not tracking them in MFP. New dieters usually deal with this.
These are calories you aren’t aware of, such as dressings, sauces, oil, etc. Make sure to count the amount of oil you use when cooking.
For example, two tablespoons of olive oil can range from 200-240 calories (and I know you don’t actually measure it… you just pour the oil onto the pan).
What about ranch or BBQ sauce? That could be another 200 calories right there. Plus, sauces like BBQ sauce are packed with sodium. Another example is coffee.
I love drinking black coffee every morning, and so do a lot of people. But most people put tons of cream in their coffee which can be an additional 80-150 calories. Yes, these little calories add up.
If you don’t take into account the “little” things, then your fat loss journey will take much longer.
You don’t want that. I know it may seem a little tedious to account for your oil and your ketchup, but hidden calories are very real and could be the reason that your weight loss is stalling.
Track these little things for the first week or two, and then you can eyeball your portions for hidden calories.
That way, you know how much sauce or oil to put on your dish and you can input it into an app like MyFitnessPal accordingly.
3. Your Activity Levels
You can also be overestimating how active you are. If you sit at home all day and the only activity you have is going to the gym, but you said you were lightly active, your calorie deficit may be too small. There are two solutions to this:
1. Decrease calories (from carbohydrates)
That is, subtract 100 calories (25g of carbs) from your diet. Before you do this, try option 2:
2. Move more.
I always recommend moving more before decreasing calories. By move more, I mean just getting out and being more active.
- Walk to the gym
- Go for a walk with your dog (or on your own) every day
- Go on hikes every weekend
- Add an extra cardio session every week or extend your current ones
- Just be more active!
Always try moving more before decreasing calories.
It doesn’t hurt to get out more often and being more active.
In fact, it can only benefit you and your fat loss journey.
4. Your Weekly Averages
So what if you’re doing #1-3, and the scale still isn’t going down? Don’t give up just yet.
Know that the scale isn’t the best measurement for success in your weight — and especially fat — loss journey. There are better and more accurate ways to check your fat loss status.
However, NOT checking your weekly average weigh-ins is a fatal mistake in terms of plateauing.
The picture above from Carter Good’s Instagram is a great representation as to why successful dieters take weekly averages seriously.
Do NOT be that person who just weighs themselves in the middle of the day on a random day.
Your results will be skewed.
As with any “test,” you want everything to be the same.
Weigh yourself in the SAME circumstances every time.
How to take your weekly averages:
Every morning, and I mean EVERY morning, go number 2 (if you can) and then weigh yourself, nude. Take your waist measurement also.
Don’t think anything of these numbers, even if it’s going up or down (remember, weight fluctuates daily for a variety of reasons – example: sodium intake).
2. Once you’ve weighed yourself and measured your waist, record that number onto your app, a notebook, or anything you can keep track of.
Once you’ve weighed yourself and measured your waist, record that number onto your app, a notebook, or anything you can keep track of.
3. Then, at the end of the week, take your recorded numbers and take the average as shown below:
This is just an example of how to write down your weekly averages in a notebook. You could do it just as easily on your notes app in your phone or with a spreadsheet for you nerds out there like me 😀
That example number of 188.8 lbs. in the picture above is a MUCH better number to gauge your progress on than just weighing yourself once per week.
If, for example, you only weighed yourself on Tuesday, 190 lbs., you’d think you were progressing backwards. But in reality, your average was 188.8 lbs.
A whole 1 pound difference.
Analyzing Your Weekly Averages
Scenario 1: If Your Weekly Averages Are Going Down
Don’t change a thing. You’re going in the right direction.
Scenario 2: If Your Weekly Averages Are Going Down But Your Was it Measurement Average is going down
This can mean you’re losing fat and building muscle at the same time!
Beginners will experience this most often.
Yes, this is a cause for celebration. Don’t make any changes.
Scenario 3: If Both Your Weekly Averages Are NOT Going Down (Maybe Even Going Up)
You’re doing something wrong.
It can be for any of the reasons described before, or it could be that you’re not tracking correctly.
You can try decreasing calories from carbohydrates or move more as described above under “Activity.” If you fall into the category of scenario 3, then you have to adjust something.
Weight loss, as we know, is all about calories in vs. calories out. There are no exceptions to this rule.
If you’re stalling, then you’re NOT burning more calories than you consume.
However, plateauing does not always have to be a bad thing. If anything, it should be taken as a sign of great progress!
Plateauing means that your body fat has reduced notably and that you are well on your way to a leaner physique. Therefore, the key in this instance is to keep eating at a deficit and if possible, increase your physical activity levels.
However, sometimes, a better option is just taking a break.
Specifically, a 1-Week Diet Break.
How I Broke Through My Weight Loss Plateau – The 1 Week Diet Break
On the left, from the picture above, I was 7 weeks into my cut.
I was eating the same amount of calories for those first 7 weeks.
I was doing the same amount of cardio and the same amount of strength training.
- aware of my sodium and potassium intake
- tracking those “hidden” calories
- taking my weekly averages
… And I noticed that at week 5, my weight loss began to slow down.
I didn’t panic. I kept everything the same and checked my weekly averages for the next 2 weeks.
By week 7-8, my weight was about the same (I lost like 0.2 lbs. which is WAY to slow for a cut).
It was then, that I knew I needed a 1-week diet break.
Most people take a 1-week diet break at the first sign of plateauing.
This is the WRONG approach.
Before taking a 1-week diet break, you better make sure you’re ACTUALLY plateauing and not just messing up with one of the 4 mistakes mentioned in this article.
Wait a couple of weeks before taking a 1-week diet break.
Because if you’re just taking a break for nothing, your cut is going to be longer than it should be.
What exactly is a 1 Week Diet Break?
It’s where you just eat at maintenance calories for 1 full week.
A rough estimate of your maintenance calories is your bodyweight multiplied by 15.
For example, my maintenance calories would be, at that point in my cut at week 8,
193 lbs x 15 = roughly 2900 calories.
Therefore, for one week, I ate 2900 calories per day.
I was NOT just eating whatever I wanted for 1 week.
You’ll gain a lot of unwanted fat if you do that.
I was eating 2200 calories before so it was just a 700 calorie increase.
Just about a meal and half more than I was already eating.
This is great psychologically and physically.
Think of it as a “reset.”
The First Week Back After Your “Break”
Don’t expect to see any drastic changes the first week back to cutting (after the 1-week diet break).
You’ll probably gain a pound or two.
It’s not fat (as long as you didn’t go overboard with your calories and actually ate at maintenance).
It’ll take a week to get back to normal.
After 1 week (2 weeks since you started your diet break) is where the real magic happens.
On the left is before the diet break (when I knew I hit a weight loss plateau).
On the right is 2 weeks after the diet break.
Before, I was stuck at 193 lbs for 2-3 weeks.
After, I lost 2-3 lbs (according to my averages) and was 190-191 lbs.
Again, the magic happens 2 weeks after your 1-week diet break.
This is how you get out of a weight loss plateau.
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