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Last Updated on February 24, 2021

Hit a Weight Loss Plateau? Here’s How To Break Through It

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Hit a Weight Loss Plateau? Here’s How To Break Through It

I’ve done plenty of short and long diets in my life, successful and not-so-successful ones. What do all of these attempts have in common? In every single one of those endeavors, I’ve hit a weight loss plateau after a certain period of time. How I reacted to that weight loss plateau determined if the diet was turning out to be fruit-bearing or not.

In this article, you will learn how to overcome these inevitable setbacks on your journey and how to come back stronger than before.

Why You Hit a Weight Loss Plateau

Our bodies do not like to give away our energy storage.

It’s very unlikely that we had an ancestor that was happily exhausting himself in an environment where food resources were scarce. Instead, our hunter and gatherer predecessors evolved to shun energy loss.

That’s why the first few minutes of exercising are always a pain, even for the most advanced of athletes. David Goggins, Ex-Navy-Seal and finisher of multiple continuous 100-mile races, said this about running:

“I hate to run.” -David Goggins, experienced, ultra endurance runner and probably the toughest man alive

What Mr. Goggins is telling us with that thorough statement is that excess energy usage for no apparent survival-related gain produces negative feelings for just about anyone.

The point is that hitting a plateau is normal. Our genomes have evolved to store energy instead of being energy wasters, and that’s a good thing.

However, first we have to find out if we’re truly hitting a plateau or our mind is tricking us into believing so.

Is It Really a Weight Loss Plateau?

In the fitness center I manage, a young and ambitious young man once complained to me about his lack of weight loss results.

After 2 months of being on a strict and sustainable diet, his scale still showed him a rather small decline of 4 pounds. He strictly followed his trainers’ advice yet couldn’t see the results he hoped for. He felt cheated and even asked for a refund.

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Promptly, I inquired if the scale was the only way he measured his progress, and it was. This means he wasn’t taking into account pounds gained by building muscle.

It turned out that the frequent gym-goer did, in fact, see results. He was extremely satisfied with the view in the mirror and even got compliments from his friends and family. However, he based the results of his success solely on the reduction of his body weight, which means he based his happiness on an irrelevant number.

This is not the way to do it, and it certainly isn’t the way to know if you’re hitting a weight loss plateau.

When starting a diet, try to get at least 2 variables that you can measure. For example:

  1. Your body weight, and before and after pictures.
  2. Before and after pictures, and the circumferences of your major body parts (upper arms, thighs, waist, etc.)

This way, you can objectively decide if you’re truly hitting a plateau or if your mind is simply playing tricks on you.

How to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau

Once you’ve determined that you’ve indeed hit a plateau, here are a couple steps that you can follow to break through:

1. Take a Look at Your Goals

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” -Seneca

This is an old saying, yet so massively true in our day and age. You have to know where you’re going to be on the right path. That’s why it’s crucial that you’ve written down your goals before committing to this weight-loss journey.

If not, this is the time to do it. Reassess what you’re trying to reach and why. Humans are logical creatures, and we need a reason to do something in order to stay motivated.

Action:

Take at least 10 minutes out of your day, sit in a quite corner with a pen and paper, and get this step sorted. This the easiest step and probably the one that will create a big change in your life.

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2. Readjust Your Habits

If we’re following a diet long enough, we often let our habits slip without even noticing it. We unconsciously increase the portion size, decrease our effort in the gym, and buy unhealthier foods.

Just recently, I did a diet for a short vacation to Italy and hit a weight loss plateau. I struggled to find the reason until I noticed that I started to eat two reasonably-sized breakfasts every morning, instead of the usual one. One before the morning workout and one after.

This is quite common on a diet. We’re deluding ourselves and then rationalizing our behavior. “It’s just a one-time thing,” we say, or “I’ve earned that donut; it’s the way I treat myself.”

As weight loss is going against our ingrained nature, our brains are great at leading us subtly yet surely off-path. That’s why we need to reassess our goals, to now readjust our habits accordingly.

Action:

Take a picture of all the meals and beverages that you put in your body during the day. Are these aligned with your goals? Are you happy with what you put in your body?

Be honest with yourself, because our goals are not our goals if we don’t back them up with the right actions.

3. Be Urgently Patient

Once you’ve readjusted your nutrition and workout habits, the chances are pretty high that you’ve overcome the weight loss plateau already.

Now is the time to be urgently patient. This is a term Gary Vaynerchuk[1] uses when speaking of the business world. It means that, on the bigger scale, you should be patient, and on the smaller, minute-to-minute scale, you should act urgently.

Action:

Follow the proven steps noted above for at least 2 weeks, and give it your best effort. If you’ve seen a difference, go to step 1, and reassess your habits and goals. If you haven’t seen a difference, proceed to step 4.

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4. Add in Caffeine

There are numerous studies on green tea and its effectiveness on weight loss and health.

While green tea is an antioxidant-rich beverage that has been shown to slow down aging, it can also decrease your satiety and increase your overall weight loss.[2]

Implement 2 cups of green tea every single day to break through the plateau.

5. Eat This High-Calorie Food

Nuts contain a lot of calories, yet they’ve been shown to increase your weight loss by raising your calorie expenditure at the same time.

In fact, nuts, in addition to their dietary fiber, have been shown to be negatively correlated with weight gain over time.[3]

Add a handful of nuts to your breakfast to increase your satiety over the day.

6. Get Your Heart Working

Burning more calories by upping your work-load and re-energizing your exercise routine is one of the easiest ways to break through a weight loss plateau, but it’s also one of the most difficult.

In addition to breaking through weight-loss plateaus, this can help you have more energy and decrease your recovery time. I had to learn this the hard way.

Add 30 minutes of low-intensity cardio twice a week to boost your weight loss. To do this, check out Lifehack’s Simple Cardio Home Workout Plan to get closer to your weight loss goal and increase the number of calories you burn each day.

7. Extra Accountability Leads to Extra Progress

We’re social creatures, and a lot of the things that we do on a daily basis is to increase our reputation in the tribe that we live in.

Use this fact to your advantage. One of the easiest actions to exploit this natural human tendency is to post your progress pictures on Facebook or in a thread you have with family and friends.

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To put your accountability on steroids, train with a friend or hire a personal trainer for 3 months to kick-start your weight loss success.

8. Decrease Obesity-Causing Foods

Animal foods have been shown to be correlated with weight gain. But is it because vegetarians eat more plants, or less meat?

There was a study in 2012, observing over 3900 men and women, that found the group with increased meat consumption experienced more weight gain, even when both groups were controlled for fruit consumption, vegetable consumption, grain consumption, physical activity, and even calorie intake.[4]

Chicken was the meat most closely related with obesity. Decrease your intake of animal foods by substituting 3 chicken-based-meals per week with beans or legumes.

9. Take the Stairs

If you truly want to keep the weight off long-term and avoid the Yo-Yo effect, you need to adjust your habits.

Implement basic, physical activity in your day. You don’t need to run a marathon in the morning, but try to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk to the supermarket instead of using your car.

Little changes go a long way, so try it out by avoiding the elevator for the next 7-days.

Summing It up

Hitting a weight-loss plateau is normal when doing a diet to get into the best shape of your life. The question is just how you react to these setbacks along your journey.

We have to first make sure that we truly hit a weight-loss plateau and our mind is not playing tricks on us. To do that, we have to reassess our goals and readjust our habits accordingly. Then, we can implement specific strategies to break through and move forward with our goals.

More on Boosting Weight Loss

Featured photo credit: Sam Moqadam via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Florian Wüest

Qualified and experienced fitness trainer and online coach.

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Last Updated on October 4, 2021

5 Best Exercises for Weight Loss at Home

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5 Best Exercises for Weight Loss at Home

With the lines of work and home becoming increasingly blurry, it’s no wonder why we struggle to find the time to prioritize our health. Particularly with weight loss, it’s often difficult to manage the ever-present constraints around work, children, time to exercise, and the feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day.

Taking the effects of stress and the rise of remote work and work-from-home situations, we need to be far more tactical in our weight loss pursuits. Quite often, these exercises for weight loss at home aren’t even fitness-related.

Firstly, let’s look at a standard day in the life of a busy professional or parent to really understand the battlefield in which we need to operate.

We all have 24 hours in a day to work with. Knowing how we spend that 24 hours is crucial when learning where time will be best spent for our weight loss journey. Setting unrealistic expectations can be a quick way to end up back at square one.

  • Sleep: 8 hours (parents, if you’re lucky)
  • Work: 8 hours (sometimes more)
  • Children: 2 to 4 hours (includes pickups, drop-offs, and play)
  • Meal Preparation: 1 hour (at a minimum)
  • Household Activities: 1 to 2 hours (because someone’s got to do it, right?)
  • Total: 20 to 22 hours

Taking into account that switching between tasks takes time and cognitive space, we can start to understand why people just want to sit and scroll through social media at the end of a day. We also haven’t factored in the work commute if you have to report to the office.

Just realized you now have minimal time to yourself? This might start to explain why you struggle to gain momentum in your weight loss journey. Let’s work out how to take back the initiative:

  • Automate – Are there any tasks you can automate? If you’re fortunate enough to be gainfully employed, maybe it’s time to hire a cleaner or have ready-made meals delivered to your door. It doesn’t have to happen every night, but removing the decision of “what’s for dinner?” can be a great way to reduce stress and free up brain space and time.
  • Optimize – If you’re time-poor with kids, it’s time to optimize your activities. Turn screen time into playtime outdoors, and get them to join in on your activities. If your children are old enough, it might be time to start offering pocket money for chores and meal preparation. This strategy helped me stay fit as a single parent. By getting out and active with my son, I doubled my return on investment by staying fit and enhancing my relationship.
  • Eliminate – We’re only human. Sometimes, we simply have too much on our plate due to our high expectations. Take a look through your daily tasks and work out what can be removed.

Now, go through this exercise yourself. What potential spare time do you have to work with? If the answer is none, you might want to keep reading.

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Exercise Selection: It’s Not All About the Burn

No equipment? No problem.

So, we’re finally tracking the elements that matter. It’s time to start leveraging exercise to accelerate our weight loss journey. Alongside focusing on individual exercises that help with weight loss at home or caloric expenditure, we’re going to focus on another method to help keep you consistent and accountable for the long term: interest.

Interest has been linked as one of the key motivating factors to maintain consistency towards a goal. By choosing a form of exercise that your body and mind can enjoy, your chances of weight loss success are far greater.

Here’re the 5 best exercises for weight loss at home:

1. Low-Intensity Interval Training (LIIT)

Maybe the body isn’t what it used to be, and intense forms of training simply just aren’t safe anymore. Also considering the body’s response to stress, it might be in our very best interest to choose low-intensity activities that we can repeat daily.

Mobility and movement flows have risen in popularity in recent years. This form of exercise focuses on restoring range of motion (ROM), improving stability, and returning people to activity. Some exercise options include:

  • Quadruped Rocks
  • Frog Stretch
  • Hip Prying
  • Scapula Push-ups
  • Hindu push-ups

Below is a 10minute warm-up flow that shows you how to put all of this together:

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2. Yoga

Yoga is another perfect example of LIIT methodology that can be advanced as your ability improves. Focusing on mobility, stability, and range of movement using only your body weight, it’s a perfect entry-level activity for those that may have lost their way on their weight loss journey.

3. Calisthenics

Strength training at home can be difficult when you lack equipment or experience. An obvious path to building strength at home is calisthenics. Starting with just the following basic bodyweight movements:

You can begin your journey with no equipment and build to quite an advanced level. Here are five movements you can look to master over time are:

Depending on your ability, choose movements that allow you to progress safely over time. There is also gymnastics-based training you can move towards if your body is ready for a more demanding form of training.

4. Aerobic Exercise

Another underrepresented form of exercise, aerobic exercise is often overlooked for its sexier counterparts like strength and HIIT. With the prevalence of obesity nearly tripling between 1975 and 2016 and the major cause in adults being cardiovascular disease, it makes sense to focus on activities that improve cardiovascular or heart health.

Another benefit is that it can be as simple as getting your steps in, going for a swim, or going for an easy ride or run. Phil Maffetone pioneered the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) Method that almost anyone can adopt regardless of fitness level and experience.[1]

Here’s a 30-minute session of aerobic exercises you can try:

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5. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-intensity interval training is a great way to elevate the heart rate and get the endorphins flowing. It can also be super time-effective, giving you a great bang for your buck. Try sequencing some of the movements and exercises above together with minimal rest to keep your heart rate elevated. Be sure to select movements that suit your current level of fitness and ability.

Here’s a HIIT workout that takes little time and is suited for any level:

Chipper 60

Complete all reps of every exercise for time. Exercises can be done in any order and repetitions to complete the workout.

If you can’t do jump squats, regress to normal squats, and don’t be afraid to change the leg raises to a 60-second plank if you need to. Finish up with some light stretching or foam rolling.

What Also Matters: Sleep, Stress, and Stimulants

Sleep, stress, and stimulants, also known as the hamster wheel of death. Tracking these elements gives us the power to finally stop relying on our ever-depleted stores of discipline and motivation to get the job done. It will also highlight the self-destructive habits that sabotage your weight loss journey.

Simply put, stress affects stimulants, sleep affects stress, and the vicious cycle continues.

Sleep

Are you getting enough sleep? It’s well documented that sleep is an important factor in weight loss and recovery.

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“Restricted sleep and poor sleep quality may lead to metabolic disorders, weight gain, and an increased risk of obesity and other chronic health conditions.”[2]

Start this journey by tracking how much sleep you’re getting. Certain wearables can also track the amount of movement and time you spend awake or in lighter sleep cycles. Getting enough time in REM or deep sleep is critical for weight loss.

Stress

We don’t need to be fancy. A simple daily measurement out of ten indicates how much stress we think we are under. Using this number, we can observe the effects that sleep, stimulants, and exercise have on our stress levels, allowing us to deploy the right strategy for our weight loss goals.

Stimulants

Stimulants can be classified as anything we put in our mouths. Tracking calories, alcohol, and caffeine is a great way to observe, predict, and avoid trends or at-risk periods of overeating and destructive behaviors. Tracking this is aligned with how well we sleep, and our stress response gives us enough information to start forming better weight loss habits.

Work to identify the trigger, observe the response, and then look to adjust.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re fighting fit or returning to activity, the best exercises for weight loss at home are the ones that you can do day in day out that you enjoy. Think of exercise for weight loss as we do for compound interest. Consistently and regularly making deposits may not show immediately, but with time, they give you the momentum you need to reach your goals.

Featured photo credit: Olivia Bauso via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] PhilMaffetone: Maximum Aerobic Function
[2] SleepFoundation.org: Why is sleep so important to weight loss?

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