Things were going well. You’d get on the scale and do a little happy dance of victory every time you shed a pound or two. But now you’re stuck. The number isn’t going anywhere—even though you feel like you’re still eating right and hitting your sweat sessions hard. Yup, you’ve hit the dreaded weight loss plateau.
The good news: This is a normal part of weight loss. “There’s the honeymoon phase where dieters experience almost instant weight loss,” says exercise physiologist and spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Jim White. “Dietary changes, water weight, and initial motivation to exercise help you slim down at first.” But after that, things might not be quite so easy. (Sorry!) Here are five reasons that number on the scale might not be going anywhere—for now.
5 Reasons You’ve Hit a Weight Loss Plateau
1. The same thing isn’t working anymore.
You’ve gotten into a workout groove—but that might be the problem. It’s time to mix it up from your usual dumbbell exercises or barre class. Doing a variety of exercises decreases boredom, keeping you engaged and excited to sweat. Not to mention that it’s good to challenge your muscles in new ways, working your body from different angles, White says. Plus, it’ll help if you step your go-to workouts up a notch, too. “Going higher intensity is the key to busting a plateau,” says White. After all, if you’re going to work out for 30 minutes, why not work out hard? That means playing singles versus doubles tennis; doing a fast-paced weight circuit versus single machines; or running faster than your usual pace.
2. Your diet is in a rut.
When you make chicken your go-to dinner night after night, you’re bound to get bored. And that can backfire into mega cravings. When you eat a varied diet—chicken and broccoli one night, a loaded, baked sweet potato the next, and yummy beef stew after that—you’ll get a variety of nutrients and flavor profiles. That means you might actually you’ll look forward to those healthy meals. (Rather than wanting to supplement dinner with a bowl of ice cream.)
Another factor: The diet changes that helped you lose weight in the beginning may be unrealistic and too strict. “Sure you’ll lose weight when you don’t eat a lot of bread, rice and pasta, but a lot of times that’s not sustainable,” says White. “You’ll lose weight but also lose your motivation and [you won’t] get enough nutrients for energy.” So when you decide to make a big change to your diet (like going sugar or wheat-free), ask yourself: Can I do this forever? If the answer is no, rethink your plan.
3. The little things are bringing you down.
Sometimes it’s what you don’t pay attention to that really makes a difference in your diet, says White. The two creamers in your coffee, plus the crackers with dip you sampled at the grocery store, combined with that half of a cookie you ate at work could really add up. “Separately, these don’t seem like that big of a deal, but together they’re 300 to 400 calories, and that can stall your weight or cause weight gain,” he says. White calls these “calorie creeps.” Fight ‘em off by pay attention to the little bites that add up big—tracking your eats with an app like MyFitnessPal can help you pay heed.
4. You’re getting too much of a good thing.
Peanut butter, avocado, walnuts. These are all are great sources of healthy fats, which you’ve been told time and time again to add to your diet. But they’re not free calories. “Too much of a good thing is just that,” says White. “Nuts are better than a doughnut, but you could be thinking you’re eating well but consuming too many calories,” he says. So practice good portion control—whether you’re eating brownies or pistachios. (Here’s what 200 calories of nuts looks like.)
5. You’re eating what you’re burning.
“I’ve seen people walking on the treadmill for 45 minutes drinking Gatorade,” says White. “You’re like a hamster on a wheel, consuming the same calories you’re burning.” The whole reason you’re busting your butt at the gym, on the road or in spin class is to create a calorie deficit. Eating or drinking too many calories during a workout, or rewarding yourself with too many treats after (I deserve this large smoothie!), can cause a plateau.
Rather than going to the other extreme and starving yourself during or after a workout, you want to eat for your sport, White says. Light exercise? You’re good with H20 to power you through. Going on an intense and sweaty run? Afterwards, reach for complex carbs to replenish lost glycogen in muscles. Got a big weightlifting workout on tap? Fill up on high-quality protein post-workout. Before you know it, you’ll be back on the fast track to weight loss.
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