What is a Weight Loss Plateau?

A couple workout to break their weight loss plateau | Optifast UK

A weight loss plateau is one roadblock that lots of people experience during a weight loss journey. If you’ve been following a healthy diet and exercising regularly but have seen a halt in your progress, you may have hit a plateau.  

But, what is a weight loss plateau? From what to look for to how long it typically lasts, you’ll get all the information you’re looking for here. 

What is a Weight Loss Plateau? 

A weight loss plateau often occurs during a weight loss journey when a person’s weight stops decreasing – despite sticking to their usual regime. This can happen to anyone at any time during their journey and is most commonly seen after six months on a low-calorie diet. 

A plateau can be frustrating and may lead people to think that their efforts are in vain, however, they are usually only temporary so it’s important to recognise the signs, and understand how to overcome one.  

What are the Signs of a Weight Loss Plateau? 

Identifying a weight loss plateau is crucial for developing a plan to overcome it. Here are some of the most common signs: 

  • Weight loss has stalled: Despite a balanced diet and exercise plan, your weight has remained stable for a few weeks.  
  • Measurements aren’t decreasing: Your body measurements, such as waist circumference or body fat percentage, are no longer decreasing. 
  • Reduced motivation: You may become demotivated or frustrated with your diet or exercise as a result of a pause in visible improvements. 

It’s common for people to stop seeing progress for just a couple of days and panic, however, there is usually a time frame before a stall in weight loss can be considered a plateau. 

How Many Weeks is Considered a Weight Loss Plateau?  

You might have hit a plateau if you notice your weight hasn’t changed for a few weeks, or even months, despite your best efforts. Don’t worry, it’s a common situation that may happen to most people who try to lose weight.  

Why Does Weight Loss Plateau? 

It’s important to understand that there are various reasons that could lead to a plateau, including a decreased basal metabolic rate (BMR) which can result in a lower total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).  

Reduced Basal Metabolic Rate 

A common reason for a plateau is a decreased basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your basal metabolic rate refers to the number of calories your body burns to maintain basic bodily functions, such as breathing.  

Your BMR is determined by a number of factors, including:  

  • Age 
  • Gender 
  • Body fat percentage/lean body mass 
  • Weight 
  • Genetics  
  • Hormones 

Generally, your BMR will decrease as you lose body fat – especially if muscle mass isn’t preserved. This means that your calorie requirements will also change, so should be assessed at regular intervals during a weight loss journey to ensure that you are, in fact, still in a deficit.  

Reduced Total Daily Energy Expenditure 

Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is the total energy that your body uses in a day, taking into account all factors, such as BMR, non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), such as fidgeting, thermic effect of food (TEF), loosely translated as ‘digestion’ and thermic effect of activity.  

While it might seem productive to embark on a very low-calorie diet in order to create a large deficit, this may backfire in the long run, as it could reduce your TDEE, decreasing the number of calories you burn each day.     

This is because, over time, an extreme calorie deficit may deplete your energy, which may reduce your NEAT, as you may fidget less or be more inclined to take the lift instead of the stairs, you may not have the energy to work out at a high intensity and, finally, the TEF may decrease if you’re restricting your food intake too much.  

However, when a plateau occurs due to a reduced TDEE, people may panic and are inclined to drastically lower their calorie intake, which is not recommended 

Increased Muscle Mass 

While you may have stopped losing weight on the scales, your measurements may still be declining. This is because you could be building muscle through your exercise regime. 

Increasing your muscle mass whilst decreasing your fat mass may cause your weight to stay the same despite the physical changes to your body. This is usually referred to as a ‘body recomposition’. 

How to Break a Weight Loss Plateau  

So, now you know why your weight loss might have stalled, you may be wondering how to overcome a weight loss plateau. There are a few strategic changes that can be made to your plan, including: 

  • Be mindful of your calorie intake: It’s important to be mindful of your food choices. Calculate your current caloric needs and adjust your intake accordingly. One study has reported that people can underestimate their calorie intake, meaning they aren’t actually sticking to a calorie deficit. Try to review your calorie target every few weeks to ensure your new TDEE is taken into consideration as you lose weight. 
  • Try resistance training: One study found that adding resistance training to your routine could help retain or build muscle mass during your weight loss journey, which may help to prevent metabolic adaptations. 
  • Stay positive and patient: Going through a plateau can be frustrating but staying consistent and motivated are key to overcoming it. Remember that progress takes time and may be more achievable with persistence. 

Experiencing a weight loss plateau can be frustrating, but it’s important to bear in mind that it is usually only a temporary phase. By understanding what a weight loss plateau is, recognising its signs, and implementing changes to your routine, you are more likely to be able to overcome this obstacle and continue to make progress toward your goals.  



Writer and expert