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How To Spot — And Break Through — A Weight Loss Plateau

by | Dec 14, 2022 | Last updated Dec 16, 2022

Have you ever had that frustrating experience where you’ve consistently losing weight and then all of a sudden, it all comes to a halt? No matter what you try, that stubborn number on the scale just won’t seem to budge? If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably experienced what’s called a ‘weight loss plateau’ (maybe you’re even stuck in one right now?)

When people set out to lose weight, they tend to assume that their weight will continue to drop steadily, in a linear manner. In reality, weight loss tends to be more like a rollercoaster than a straight line. Your weight will likely go up and down — and sometimes, you’ll even face unexpected stops that leave you wondering “How long will I be stuck here?” 

The good news is, plateaus are a completely normal part of losing weight. And with the right tools, you can easily push past it and straight back on the path to a healthier, fitter you. In this article, we’re covering everything you need to know: from how to know when weight loss has plateaued, to how long the plateau lasts and how to break the plateau.

What is a weight loss plateau?

weight loss plateau

A weight loss plateau is when you temporarily stop losing weight. 

You might be wondering “how many weeks is considered a weight loss plateau, exactly?” Well, a weight loss plateau is when you go two or more weeks without weight loss, even if you had previously been losing weight at a steady pace. 

That’s right, when you step on the scale for 14 days straight without seeing progress, you’re officially in a weight loss plateau. But don’t panic! Notice that above, we put emphasis on the temporary nature of weight plateaus? That means this isn’t forever. It’s just a small blip in your journey to weight loss success.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself in the weight loss plateau:

  • Weight plateaus are normal.
  • Weight plateaus are frustrating. (Permission to scream into a bag of spinach, granted)
  • Weight plateaus don’t mean you’re doing something wrong
  • Weight plateaus don’t mean you’re not making progress

What causes a weight loss plateau?

A quick reminder: Your weight fluctuates daily based on how hydrated you are, how much sodium you eat, the scale you use, hormonal factors and so much more.

Sometimes, it’s easy to pinpoint why the scale didn’t budge (or even crept up) from one day to the next — like that burger and beer you inhaled at the pub last night. 

But, it can be a lot trickier to pinpoint why you’ve hit a plateau — especially if you’re still doing all the things that have worked for you up until now (Like staying within your Noom calorie budget, getting your exercise in and making more mindful food choices). 

Plateaus are kind of like all those extra, unused settings on your washing machine — they’re mysterious, and it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on: But here’s what we do know. 

When you feed your body less calories:

  • You lose weight, lowering your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the number of calories your body burns at rest each day.
  • Your fat cells get smaller, so you produce less of the hormones that regulate hunger.
  • Your body makes more of the hormones that stimulate hunger. (Cue the growling stomach.)
  • You burn less during your workout. 
  • You think you’re eating less, which could make you more likely to overeat. (That’s where measuring cups, spoons, and food scales can help.)
  • Food seems more rewarding, making large portion sizes, sugary treats, and calorie-dense eats even better.

Also, your body is smart. When you eat fewer calories, it realises that you’re consuming fewer calories. 

So, it becomes more efficient at using calories, which decreases the total amount of calories your body needs in a day to perform basic functions. 

This decrease in BMR, which happens in response to eating in a caloric deficit, is known as metabolic adaptation. Eating in a modest caloric deficit with the goal of losing ½ a kilo to one kilo per week is one way to reduce metabolic adaptation and support you in reaching your weight loss goals.

All these totally natural changes can result in the dreaded weight loss plateau.

How long does a weight loss plateau last?

For a weight loss plateau to truly be a plateau, you need to experience it for at least 14 days. From there, it really depends on how long it lasts. 

That will vary from person to person—some people might break the streak on day 15, and for others it might last a few more weeks or longer.

How to break a weight loss plateau

We have four practical tips to help you push past your plateau:

Weight loss plateau tip #1: Ride the waves

When the scale won’t budge after a couple of weeks, take a deep breath. Stay strong. And don’t change a thing. 

Just be patient, and ride the waves. 

Why? Just because the scale has stalled doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. When you’re on your weight loss journey, you’re still developing lifelong habits as you work towards achieving your goals.

Not losing weight doesn’t mean you’re not making progress, either. You’re still doing all the right things. You’re just not seeing that reflected on the scale at the moment. (Frustrating, we know.)

And most importantly, because sticking with your plan works.

Weight loss plateau tip #2: Meet your calorie budget

When we hit a plateau, our first instinct is to do one of two things:

  1. Throw our hands in the air and eat all the food. We’re not losing weight, so we may as well find the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet, right? 
  2. Start eating way too little.

But neither of these (totally understandable) instincts is helpful. 

There’s no need to fall into the all-or-nothing thinking trap, or to skimp on food. 

In fact, eating too little will only cause our bodies to hold on to that weight even tighter. 

And we want to push past our plateaus, not prolong them. 

Weight loss plateau tip #3: Move more

Exercise makes up less than 5% of your daily calorie burn.

While other activity — all the calories you burn scrubbing your pans, chasing your nephew, and walking your dog — makes up 15% of your daily burn.

So you don’t need to buy an expensive indoor bike, train for a half marathon, or start walking with those ’80s-inspired ankle weights (unless that’s your thing)

Simply make a conscious effort to move more in your daily life.

To help you boost your activity level, why not challenge yourself to walk 1,000 more steps every day? 

While that seems like a lot, it’s only about 10 minutes of extra movement a day. (And you don’t even have to do it all at once.)

Some suggestions include taking a walking coffee break, getting up and pacing for two to three minutes, three to four times a day, or going for a stroll around the block after a meal.

Weight loss plateau tip #4: Take a “diet” break

“Wait, more calories?” you might be thinking. We know, it might sound kind of counterintuitive. 

But studies published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders show that “overfeeding”—increasing your calorie intake after a period of being in a calorie deficit—can increase feelings of being satisfied and boost calorie burn in the short term. (A silver lining? Don’t mind if we do.) Just be sure to keep it to one or two meals, so you don’t go overboard.

Break your weight loss plateau with Noom

At Noom, we know weight loss plateaus can be frustrating. We also have enough experience to know that weight plateaus are a normal part of the weight loss process.

That’s why we have the tools to help you understand — and eventually break through —a weight loss plateau. 

Through a science-backed curriculum to help you understand your eating habits, one-on-one coaching to keep you motivated and accountable, and a food logging system to track your progress and help you make healthier food choices each day, Noom can help you lose weight and maintain healthier eating habits long-term.

Noom offers guidance and support to help you through every part of your weight loss journey — including the ups and downs and getting past the dreaded weight plateau.