A common thing can happen whenever you are on a weight management programme - whether it is weight watchers, slimming world or using medication to help get things moving. The dreaded weight loss plateau - but is it as bad as we think and can we find a way to overcome it?
A weight loss plateau is when your weight loss either significantly slows down or stops, and in some cases, your weight may even increase slightly during a plateau.
It’s one of the most disheartening and frustrating things that people on a weight loss journey experience, but it’s completely normal, and studies show that it is actually good to experience a weight loss plateau, as it means that your body is taking the necessary time to adjust to its new, reduced weight. This means it is easier to maintain this plateaued weight in the long run and it just needs to recalibrate in order for you to start losing weight again.
Weight loss is usually fastest at first, with results being more than 3-4lbs a week for a while in some cases. However, it’s important to understand why this happens so that we can understand why weight loss plateaus can happen in the first place.
Why does weight loss plateau?
When you first start losing weight, your body releases its glycogen stores, which are partly made up of water, so some of the weight loss that you experience at first is due to the loss of fluid from these glycogen stores.
Once these glycogen reserves have been used for energy, there’s less fluid to lose, so your weight loss will then be down to fat loss, as long as you’re following a healthy lifestyle, which is why it is very important (for the long run) to be following a healthier regime of diet & exercise.
When your weight decreases, your body needs fewer calories to maintain itself on a daily basis. Because of this, you may hit a plateau even if you haven’t changed anything. It’s completely normal for weight loss to slow down after a few weeks or months. It’s a sign of successfully making healthy lifestyle changes. Try not to beat yourself up over a weight plateau – instead you should congratulate yourself at getting to this point and start looking at how we can get things moving again.
Weight loss may also plateau if old habits have crept back in or if you’ve become lenient on portion control. For example, if you’ve stopped weighing food, it becomes harder to tell whether or not you’re eating the right amount of food. Weighing your food into portions is important to keep up as a healthy lifestyle choice, as it can reduce the risk of gaining weight back over time.
Essentially, weight loss plateaus happen because the body is consuming more energy than it needs - essentially your metabolic rate will have slowed down. To push past it, you’ll need to either increase how much energy you burn when working out, or decrease how much energy you consume when eating (less calories per day).
It's now time to be thinking about changing things up in order to push past the plateau. This could mean decreasing your calorie intake, or increasing your physical activity levels.
How long does a weight loss plateau last?
Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule that says how long a weight loss plateau should or may last. Everyone’s different and so your individual plateaus may last for a week or even a couple of weeks if changes aren't made to get things moving again.
Sometimes, a weight loss plateau might go away on its own after a couple of weeks of your body readjusting. However, a lot of the time with a plateau, you may have to make some additional lifestyle changes to support further weight loss. Don’t fret if you’ve maintained your weight for the last couple of weeks, just making some small tweaks might be enough to get the scales moving again.
Start small - increase your fluid intake or slightly reduce your portion sizes to try and get past a plateau, as making drastic changes is likely to result in another plateau in a few weeks’ time. It has to be slow & steady - you've done the sprinting part, now it's time for the marathon.
When we lose weight, we sometimes expect it to be a linear journey and a gradual decline. However, a lot of the time, healthy and successful weight loss is intermittent, with some small fluctuations along the way.