Reaching A Plateau In Weight Loss

Dear Christy,

I have been trying to lose 30 pounds and when I first started the weight came off well and things seemed to be going well but now I am stuck with 15 pounds more to lose and the scale does not budge.  Help!

Frustrated Susan in Indiana


Dear Susan,

This is by far the most common cause of frustration I see in clients.  It is also very normal and almost expected in every weight loss journey.

The first question to ask is, has anything changed with your eating pattern?  Is there anything that is tipping the calories in that part of the equation.  This could be holiday eating, social eating, dining out, or snacking.  If there has been no change, we need to be sure you are eating the right foods and the right amount of foods.  Your intake should be full of high fiber foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables with lean meats and complex carbohydrates/whole grains.  About 80% of the time when I see clients with weight loss plateaus, we actually come to the conclusion that they are not eating enough calories.  Too few calories will throw your body to a screeching halt.  The reason your body does this is to avoid starvation.  It will hold on to what is put into it if it senses that it isn’t getting enough – it is simply a protective mechanism.  We need to put fuel in the furnace to keep our metabolism revved up.  I also always suggest an intake analysis to be sure that what you are really doing matches with what your perception of what you are eating is.  I suggest analyzing for 3 days, including one weekend day.  An intake analysis is a nice check and balance.  A very user-friendly tool is My Daily Plate:  If after your intake analysis, your eating has been stable without much change, I would suggest caloric cycling or zig-zag eating.  Essentially what you do is maintain the same caloric intake over a week, but you might have 200 calories more one day and 200 calories less then next day. This seems to disrupt your body’s desire to maintain equilibrium.  In addition to foods, adequate hydration is also very important.

Next we need to look at your exercise regimen.  Has your exercise regimen changed?  Are you still getting the most out of your workouts?  Most often, our bodies adapt to exercise and become more efficient.  This is great when training for an athletic event but for weight loss it can be frustrating.  So, shake things up a bit and keep your muscles guessing.  Interval training is short bursts of intense exercise and if you mix this within your regular workout, this will help burn calories and rev up that metabolism.  Try a new class or style of exercise to engage different movements and exercises.  Not only will this keep you engaged and motivated, it may assist with keeping your muscles guessing.  If you are not strength training, be sure to add this to your exercise regimen to add more metabolically active tissue to your body.

Lastly, we look into lifestyle factors.  Are you stressed?  Getting enough sleep?  Sleep is definitely a factor that is often overlooked in weight loss journeys.

Weight loss plateaus can be very frustrating but it also provides an opportunity to assess your eating, exercise and other factors.  Be sure to celebrate how far you have already come.  Remember if you lose those pounds quickly, chances are pretty good that they will come back quickly when you relax your efforts. Lasting weight loss does take time and is so worth the time investment.  Recommit to your goals and rather than relying on the scale, try some body measurements instead (hips, stomach, chest, arms)  I find so many people have this horrible relationship with their scale – the number defines their success and often throws them into feelings of frustration, anger, guilt and then failure.  In the long run scales work and provide the desired outcome but in the short term – pound by pound it can be very frustrating.  When I see clients I have them put the scales in a box in the garage or basement while I work with them.  I have them take measurements instead.  Measurements can give you a better indication of the areas where you are getting leaner instead of focusing on the numbers of a scale that do not take into account the incredible strength you might be gaining through your exercise and strength training.  It also helps takes the pressure off to better focus on behavior changes and goals and the successes that are not shown by a number on the scale.

In short,

Keep those muscles guessing!
Try caloric cycling.
Rest and hydrate well.
Toss the scale and add measurements instead.
Recommit to your goals and acknowledge your progress along the way.

Be strong – inside and out!
Christy, MS RD – Consultant Dietitian and Nutrition Educator

Do you have a nutrition based question you like to ask Christy? Simply use our handy Contact Form to submit your question!

Please Note: Nutrition information is provided by Christy, MS RD. The information provided is to be used as a guideline only.  Every person will vary in their nutritional needs and certain conditions require special nutrition attention.


Leave a Comment