28 Apr 5 Ways to Overcome Fat Loss Plateaus
Plateaus suck. I get it. But they are totally NORMAL and should be expected as part of your fat loss journey, no matter how good your diet is.
The closer you get to your goal body- the more likely you are to plateau.
This article is going to give you 5 ways to overcome fat loss plateaus by making adjustments to your plan.
Adjustments are the key to overcoming plateaus in fat loss.
You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect further change! Your body is way too smart.
Let me explain…
Over time, your body responds to a stimulus by changing so that it’s more able to deal with the stimulus next time it encounters it. Lifting heavy weights is a stimulus and your body responds by getting stronger so that you can lift the weights more easily. Eating in a calorie deficit is a stimulus and your responds by lowering your metabolic rate so that you can survive on less food. This means that eventually your body will establish a new maintenance calorie intake for you based on what you have been eating to lose fat so far.
Adjustments are a way of continuing to provide a stimulus to your body so that it’s forced to keep changing.
How do you know when you’ve plateaued
Things will be flat, still, not moving- just like everything in the picture…
Before making any changes, it’s super important to make sure you’re tracking progress correctly to ensure you’ve really plateaued!! So step 1 is to check my article on measuring fat loss progress here.
In summary, if both body weight and body waist measurement stop moving for 2 -3 weeks then you can safely assume you’ve hit a plateau.
BUT…. You need to be honest with yourself first before making this assumption:
- Have you been tracking consistently and accurately?
- Have you been getting your workouts in?
- Have you been cheating at all?
If you answered yes to any of these, then you can’t assume you’ve plateaued.
You need to be consistently sticking to your program and not seeing any changes for 2-3 weeks before you can finally say I’m stuck and I need to make an adjustment.
You should also make sure nothing else is going on that might mask actual progress- like lack of sleep, stress or illness. Deal with these issues first before concluding you’ve plateaued.
Making Adjustments to Overcome a Plateau
When it comes to making adjustments, you want to use the minimal effective dose to produce a response.
If you’re sick, you don’t go taking the whole box of medicine at a time. You take it in doses because that is all you need. There’s no point taking it all at once because it won’t help you get better any faster, it might even make you more sick with other side effects. It’s the same with making adjustments.
Whatever change you choose to implement, it shouldn’t be extreme!
Your body will continue to adapt no matter how big the change. This means that plateaus will likely happen multiple times in your fat loss journey. You want to leave room to make further changes down the line.
Fat loss is dependent on energy balance, so you can either make changes to your nutrition (energy in) or your exercise (energy out) to stimulate further progress.
ADJUSTMENT #1: Reduce Calories
This is the first thing I would do if your fat loss stalls.
If the initial stimulus that triggered fat loss was creating a 500 calorie deficit each day, you might think that you need to take another 500 calories off. This is NOT the case!
Thank goodness because then you’d really be hungry!
Generally decreasing your carbohydrate and fat intake by 5-15% each will be enough to trigger further fat loss. I would start by decreasing carbs and fats by 5% each and assessing progress for 2 weeks. If you are still stuck after this, then move to a 10% decrease. If your body doesn’t respond to that, then you can use a 15% decrease.
For example, if you were eating 160 grams of carbs and 60 grams of fat a day, you would take off 5% from these so that your new targets are 142 grams of carbs and 57 grams of fat.
Note that you don’t want to take calories away from your protein target because protein is essential during a calorie deficit to maintain as much lean body mass as possible.
ADJUSTMENT #2: Add Cardio
If you don’t want to decrease calories further then you can add cardio to your exercise routine.
Again, this shouldn’t be drastic! Cardio is a stress on the body, and you don’t want to impact your performance during your strength training sessions. These should be a priority! Your time spent doing cardio shouldn’t exceed your time spent doing resistance training!
If you’re doing no cardio, then I would start by adding in a daily step target each day of 10,000 steps.
If you are already hitting a significant step target then I would add in 1-2, HIIT sessions (20 minutes each) OR 2-3 hours of low intensity steady state cardio per week.
ADJUSTMENT #3: Refeeds and Diet Breaks
If you’ve already added cardio or reduced calories you might want to start incorporating refeeds into your plan.
One of the main benefits of a refeed is to bring your leptin levels back up temporarily. Letpin is a hormone whose main role in the body is to help it maintain its weight. It is released from fat cells and helps to inhibit hunger and regulate your metabolism. When you lose weight, your leptin levels fall which results in increased hunger and cravings.
A refeed can help you feel more satiated, give you more room to eat some fun foods and therefore help with the psychological aspect of dieting.
A refeed is not a cheat day where you let loose and eat all the food possible! They are structured and you still need to stick to a target calorie intake.
To set up a refeed, all you need to do is to go back to your maintenance calories for 24-48 hours. I would keep protein and fats the same and make up the additional calories up from carbohydrates. This is because leptin responds to increased carbohydrates better than fat and adding carbs also has the benefit of restoring glycogen in your muscle which will help with your training. You can plan a refeed once every 2 weeks to start.
If you have been incorporating refeeds already and plateaued, then another option is a diet break. This is where you go back up to maintenance calories for a period of 1-2 weeks. The main benefit is that it allows your bodies hormones to become more favourable for fat loss again, and slows down metabolic adaptation.
You can set up a diet break in a similar way to a refeed by going back up to your estimated maintenance calories. Most of these increased calories should come from added carbs. You can plan to have a diet break every 8-12 weeks. If fat loss had stalled, after your diet break you should start losing weight again when you go back to the calories you were stalled on.
Note that it takes time for the negative adaptations of dieting to happen so there’s no need to implement diet breaks until you’ve actually reached a plateau!
ADJUSTMENT #4: Reverse Diet
If you’ve added cardio, tried incorporating refeeds and diet breaks, and you’ve reached a point where dropping calories further wouldn’t make sense, it might be a sign that your metabolism needs a proper break. Generally you should be able to make new progress by dropping carbohydrates and fats by 15% each and adding in some cardio.
A diet break might not be long enough depending on where you’re at. You might need to take a long term approach and reverse diet for 8-12 weeks.
Your metabolism will adapt to both decreasing calories and additional cardio by becoming very efficient. An efficient metabolism is not what you want for fat loss!
A reverse diet will get your metabolism and hormones in a better place for fat loss to happen more easily in the future. If you reverse diet properly, you should see progress straight away when you start your fat loss process again. Read my article here on how to set up a reverse diet.
ADJUSTMENT #5: Change Your Goal
Fat loss shouldn’t be the goal forever.
Depending on where you’re at, it might be a good idea to begin a muscle building phase. Or, maybe you decide you’re happy and you just want to maintain your new body. That’s a great goal to have too!
It’s important to note that both gaining and maintenance still require a plan and tracking.
You need to be comfortable with adding some body fat if you choose to start a gaining phase. Feeling bloated and fluffy is part of it, so the leaner you are to start with the better. Dedicating a couple of months to a gaining phase will allow you to build more strength and lean body mass, as well as give your body a proper break from dieting. In the long term this will help with future fat loss attempts.
Even if you want to maintain your new body, I would track progress closely and use reverse dieting to build your metabolism back up slowly, especially if you have been dieting for a long time. This will allow you to gradually reach a more sustainable level of food intake, whilst gaining minimal fat back.
Remember, you don’t need to do everything at once to “shock” the body out of a plateau!
A small adjustment should be all you need to move forward. If you do everything at once, you’ll have nowhere to go when you plateau again and you’ll probably burn out before you reach somewhere close to where you want to be.
If you feel stuck or are unsure about what to do next, send me an email.
Ps. Layne Norton explains this all very well in his Fat Loss Forever book. I highly recommend it if interested.