Have I hit a weight loss plateau?

by Rachel Scoular on Friday 11 October 2019

5 min read

Losing weight is tough; it can in many cases mean a massive lifestyle change.

Trying to lose weight can get even tougher when no matter what you’re trying, you aren’t seeing much change.

This common frustration is often called a Weight Loss Plateau and it’s quite normal. It might be disheartening, but don’t give up. Here are five key reasons you might have hit a plateau and what you can do.

1. Stress

Let’s be honest, life can get pretty stressful from time to time. During periods of prolonged stress, our body increases its’ production of the hormone cortisol. Continuously high cortisol levels may impact body fat levels, muscle mass and can slow our metabolism. When we constantly produce cortisol, our body interprets this as a threat and food may be scarce, responding by slowing down our metabolic rate, increasing fat stores and possibly commence breaking down muscle mass for fuel (this is one mechanism that can create cellulite, as fat is deposited where you once had muscle).

What to do – Seek out some strategies to help manage your stress (whether it be physical, psychological or emotional) such as going to the gym or taking up meditation. Make sure your diet is high in wholefoods (plenty of fruit and veg) along with a rich intake of antioxidants; green tea, dark coloured vegetables, berries & extra virgin olive oil.

2. You’re not eating enough

It might sound counterintuitive, but not eating enough can actually have a negative effect on weight loss. Whilst a low-calorie intake might cause weight loss initially, our bodies can only run on low fuel for a short time. If you’re not getting enough of the energy (aka food) that our body requires, your body may be tricked into conserving this energy for the future. So, funnily enough, sometimes eating a little more can have a positive impact!

What to do - Re-calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), energy requirements and reassess your diet; eat a diet high in vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. Limit your intake of processed foods, alcohol and refined sugars.

3. You’re slack when it comes to sleep

Failing to get enough sleep on a regular basis may also have an effect on those numbers you see on the scales. Not getting enough sleep interferes with our hormones (namely cortisol) and our body’s ability to recognise leptin, our satiety signalling hormone. If our brain is struggling to identify leptin in circulation, we may find we have the desire to eat more, despite already being full. Cortisol also intensifies the act of Grehlin, our ‘hunger hormone,’ increasing appetite and signals hunger to the body.

What to do - to help improve your hormone balance, try to establish regular sleep and wake times, as much as you can. Stimulation right before bedtime can also impact your sleep, so avoiding all iPhones/iPads/Tech before bed, dim down the lights and limit eating an hour or so before bed.

4. Your exercise needs a shake-up

Don’t forget to mix up your routine and training regime. Failing to do so might mean your muscles become overly used to the same movements and this repetitive routine might not be pushing your body as hard as it once was. Joining a gym (like Virgin Active) is a great way to shake things up, or if you’re already a member and usually pump it out in the weights section, have a look at the group exercise classes available. Try to use different muscle groups on different training days and a mix of resistance, cardio and interval training (like a Grid Training class)! Each of these training styles has a different effect on our body, heart rate and recovery, so if you can, try to include them all.

What to do? Prioritise resistance training. Despite the popular thought that cardio burns all the calories, strength training helps to build lean muscle mass, and the more muscle (and less fat) you have, the more calories your body will burn... Maybe it’s time to book in a Grid class?

5. Look beyond the scale

Despite what you might think, you may not need to lose any more weight. A lot of the time we hit a plateau because it’s our ideal body weight and if the weight isn’t coming off anymore, it might be because your body is happy where you are! Which means your mind should learn to be happy with your weight, as well.

What to do – Remember that there’s so much more to you than a number on the scale. Rapid weight loss isn’t necessarily a good thing and often is a result of water and muscle loss rather than fat. Lean muscle mass is more effective at burning energy than fat, so we want to try and build up our muscle stores at a healthy weight range.

Rachel Scoular is a leading Australian APD Dietitian and Nutritionist, with a wealth of experience in industry and media. Rachel is passionate about helping people look and feel their best and to equip and empower individuals with quality nutrition advice. 

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