Are you wondering how to break a weight loss plateau? If you have lost some weight and gotten stuck, I understand the frustration! While it’s not easy, breaking a plateau is totally possible. After 15 years of maintaining most of a 100 pound weight loss, last year I finally broke a plateau and got to my goal weight.
Here are the exact steps I took to finally break a long-time plateau.
How I Lost 100 Pounds
Fifteen years ago, I began my journey to lose weight the final time and I lost over 100 pounds. You can read my full 100 pound weight loss before and after story here, but the short version is I accomplished this with God’s grace, therapy, and following the Weight Watchers program.
When You Can’t Get to Your Goal Weight
While it was a thrilling journey, and I was in great shape, I was always somewhat frustrated that I couldn’t reach and stay at my goal weight.
Add to that the fact that I run a Christian weight loss program called Faithful Finish Lines and write about MyWW on my website, it bugged me that I couldn’t be at goal weight and achieve WW Lifetime status.
A weight loss plateau on Weight Watchers is frustrating when you are following the program as indicated and still not losing weight.
Throughout the years, I continued to tweak my efforts such as tracking calories along with points, eating more, eating less, carb cycling, trying Keto, doing a Whole 30, and just plain giving up on tracking for long periods of time. These were all insightful but my weight stayed stuck solid at about 20 pounds over goal.
I plateaued for 15 years.
Losing More Weight After 100 Pounds
Last year, my business partner Becky and I improved our Faithful Finish Lines 2.0 membership material. As we tested out our guiding principles (after all, I’ll never ask someone to do anything I’m not willing to do myself), I paid close attention to my own eating patterns and realized there were improvements I could make.
Weight loss only happens one way and that’s eating fewer calories than you burn. You’ll hear people talk about adding in more calories (or WW points) to break a plateau but the experts tell us that is rarely what’s needed. Almost always, a plateau happens from eating too many calories for your body’s current needs.
As much as I would have sworn up, down, left and right that I wasn’t overeating, I was overeating. It wasn’t a lot and it was with (mostly) healthy foods, but it was enough to make my weight stall above my goal.
What is a Plateau?
A weight loss plateau is considered staying at the same weight for 6-8 weeks when you are actively trying to lose weight. According to Medical News Today, plateaus are common around the 6 month mark and happen to almost everyone who is attempting to lose weight.
Why Do Plateaus Happen?
As your body decreases in size, you need fewer calories to move throughout your day. This is an unfortunate aspect of weight loss, but it’s the truth. Also, most of us start to make subtle changes the longer we follow a program, like taking a few bites of things here and then without tracking it, not measuring our portions, or eating out more often.
Research indicates that plateaus are from behavior changes more than a drop in metabolism.
If you are stuck on a weight loss plateau, the important truth you must own up to is that what you are eating is exactly enough to maintain your body weight as it is now. If you want to lose more weight, you’ll have to cut calories somewhere.
Is that worth it to you? Only you can decide.
I estimate that during the years I was plateaued, I was eating 1,700-1,800 calories per day (at 165 pounds) and now I eat 1,400-1,500 to maintain at my new weight (at 140 pounds).
How Long Do Weight Loss Plateaus Last?
Your weight can plateau for a few weeks, months, or years. Typically, plateaus do not go away on their own but instead require some type of change in diet, physical activity, or both.
How Do I Get Past a Weight Loss Plateau?
Medical experts (and my own experience) indicate that breaking a weight loss plateau will require a shift in your current behavior.
Using the strategies outlined below, I lost 20+ pounds, broke my long-standing plateau and even achieved Weight Watchers Lifetime status by getting to and maintaining my goal weight.
Keep in mind that these are advanced techniques for someone who is close to their goal weight. Before you look further, make sure your basics of weight loss are in order:
- Are you eating fewer calories than you are burning? (Most important!)
- Are you tracking or keeping a food log?
- Are you eating a reasonably healthy diet that has high-quality nutrition?
- Do you get enough sleep?
- Are you drinking enough water?
- Have you added physical activity to your day or attempted to increase your daily step count?
- Have you talked to your doctor and checked for an underlying medical cause?
7 Ways I Changed My Eating to Break a 15+ Year Plateau
Here are the specific changes I made to break a weight loss plateau.
- Change your mindset.
- Focus on mindful eating.
- Give up artificial sweetener.
- Weigh yourself daily.
- Lower carbs.
- Don’t expect exercise to fix it.
- Stop night eating & weekend overeating.
1. Change Your Mindset for Weight Loss
One of the biggest changes I had to make was shifting my mindset for losing weight. Aren’t your thoughts the biggest factor in weight loss?
What I was doing was working to get me to lose 100 pounds, it wasn’t enough to get me to goal.
I had to make additional changes.
When something has worked for you, you want to cling to it with all your might. I had to let go of my tight grasp on my current routines and food choices in order to try new things. This scared me but I stepped out in faith.
I didn’t really know if I could lose more weight. I changed my thinking and started to believe it was possible. (Weight loss affirmations and daily journaling were very helpful for this.)
I focused on making God the center of my efforts. Truthfully, I didn’t bring my faith into my weight loss the first time around until much later in the journey, but I’ve learned so much since then. I know that unless I rely on God’s strength and take my thoughts captive, I’ll never get to my goals.
Finally, I owned up to the fact that getting to my goal weight would require sacrifice. I had already sacrificed so much! It was painful to realize that if I wanted a new weight, I would have to willingly give up more, but that’s the way it is.
2. Mindful Eating
While I love the Weight Watchers program, one of the challenges is that the points system can make it difficult to eat mindfully. Beating my weight loss plateau meant I needed to eat mindfully! This is true if you track calories or follow a specific diet plan as well.
For so long I relied on an outside program to guide me. I still think it’s an incredibly useful tool to either count points or count calories. I needed a guide to teach me what proper portions looked like.
Yet what happened is that I would often justify overeating because it was zero points or because I had tracked it and it technically fell within my points or calories.
Overeating is overeating. Eating past fullness will never help you lose weight, no matter what a program, chart, or calorie counter tells you.
I began the journey of eating more mindfully within the Weight Watchers system. I didn’t give up tracking (as many intuitive eating purists tell you is necessary) but I did start paying attention to my body’s signals.
I stopped eating in front of the TV and I stopped looking at stuff on my phone while I was eating. When I felt the fullness signal (sometimes after just a few bites!) I would wrap up the food for later even if I had the points or calories for it.
Read more about specific mindful eating strategies in this post.
3. Give up artificial sweetener.
Most people who know me personally know I am a huge Diet Coke and Diet Dr. Pepper addict. There’s little else I like as much as a Sonic Route 44 size Diet Dr. Pepper with a few real cherries in it.
I was a total skeptic that artificial sweeteners affected me. After all, I lost 100 pounds drinking 2-3 (or more) Diet Cokes per day.
However, when I got close to my goal weight, I began to play around with the idea that giving up artificial sweeteners might help me.
But oh, how I did not want to! Drinking Diet Coke helped me out a lot because when I wanted to eat, I would have one. When my kids were eating junk food (or fast food), I would have one.
I also liked eating foods like yogurt with artificial sweeteners because it was a great way to get more food with fewer points or calories.
I figured I would make it a 30 day experiment, and for a month I didn’t have any diet soda, drinks, or foods with artificial sweeteners (including natural ones like stevia and monk fruit) in them. I honestly deep down I hoped that it wouldn’t make any difference.
But it did.
When I fully gave up artificial sweeteners, I lost 9 pounds within a few weeks.
Drat it all, it worked so now I had to keep going! It’s been a year now since I gave up all diet pop and truthfully I still miss it, but I don’t plan to go back since it’s more important to me to be at my goal weight.
For about 6 months I gave up all foods with artificial sweeteners in them. I’ve added back some (like sugar-free chewing gum and some desserts) but I still try to avoid them as much as I can and I don’t have them every day like I used to.
4. Weigh Yourself Daily
I’ve never been one to weigh myself every day because I thought it was being way too obsessive, so I’ve been surprised to discover that this has actually freed me of my obsession with the scale.
Because I have so much more data to use, I don’t get nearly as upset when I see the numbers go up and down.
I’m also able to course-correct more quickly because I weigh myself daily. In a whole week I can honestly go off the rails and do quite a bit of damage, but with daily weigh-ins I’m able to get back on track faster.
Daily weigh-ins help me be more honest. As a person with a history of binge and compulsive overeating, denial comes so easily.
When the scale goes up, I’m quick to make excuses like it’s PMS, it’s salty food, it’s eating out, and on and on. But those excuses only hold up for so long.
If I see the number on the scale go up for 3 days in a row, I make some change to my eating.
As Dr. Now says on the TV show My 600 Pound Life (catch it on Hulu if you haven’t see it), “The scale doesn’t lie. People do.”
5. Lower Carbs
This one is kind of a bummer but it’s another reality I’ve had to come to terms with if I want to be at a lower weight.
I lose weight and keep it off better when I eat fewer carbs. This realization helped me beat my weight loss plateau.
I love bread, crackers, chips, cookies and sweets. I also love healthier carbs like oatmeal, popcorn, corn on the cob and sweet potatoes.
What I’ve discovered is that I don’t lose weight as well when I eat these foods.
I’m certainly not opposed to carbs, but I follow a moderately-low carb diet while still using the WW points system. (I use the Blue plan.)
For years I clung fiercely to the fact that “fruit is natural” and “potatoes are healthy”. While these are true statements, it’s also true that I maintain my weight more easily when I limit my portions of carb-heavy foods.
While I’m not eating keto, I’ve discovered I do best when I eat 50-100 grams of carbs per day which is lower carb than a typical American diet.
Generally, that means having 1 serving per day of carbs and not at every meal. I rarely snack on fruit anymore and if I do have it, I have it with a protein.
I focus on protein and get at least 100 grams per day, making sure I get 20-30 grams at each meal, especially breakfast.
I’m also careful to get some healthy fat each day and try to include a serving with every meal as often as possible. That means cooking in 1-2 tsp of oil or adding a serving of pesto or avocados. I eat higher fat meats several times per week (like roast or bacon).
Nuts and peanut butter are other healthy fats but I have to be super-careful with these because I tend to overeat them. When I have them, I weigh them with a food scale and I don’t eat them every day.
For more on what I eat in a typical day, check out the “What I ate” circle on my Instagram page.
6. Don’t expect exercise to fix it.
Exercise is a tricky beast when it comes to weight loss. While it’s technically true that weight loss comes from “eat less, move more” I haven’t seen that actually play out well in my life or the lives of women I work with.
Instead, what happens is that people who exercise more, eat more. This can be super-subtle but it’s enough to make it so that weight loss is challenging. This could be a reason for the weight loss plateau you are experiencing. It might be an extra squirt of barbecue sauce, an extra helping of veggies or a few more ounces of protein at dinner, but it’s enough that most of us cannot out-exercise the calories we take in.
I’m still an absolute believer in the benefits of exercise, but fitness is never a cure for overeating.
7. Stop night eating & weekend overeating.
Finally, in breaking this weight loss plateau, I’ve had to regulate my eating so that it’s more moderate throughout the day and the week.
In the past, I would eat pretty strictly during the day but found myself snacking at night, and I would be “good” all week only to over-indulge on the weekends.
When I first started losing weight, those patterns were deeply entrenched. While I had made some progress over the years, I had to take it a step further in order to break my plateau.
The first thing I did to make this shift was to gradually work on moving more of my calories earlier into my day and earlier into my week. I used to save up most of my points/calories for night-time and weekends.
I’ve worked to gradually shift my calories into the day and week so that I’m not under-eating. My overall eating style is more moderate throughout the day and week.
Breakfast is now bigger and if I have a sweet treat, I have it after lunch so that I’m not snacking on sweets at night.
The second thing I did was change my mindset around night and weekend eating. Rather than looking at nights as my chance to eat and unwind from the day, or weekends as my chance to splurge, I see them as part of the bigger whole picture.
I try to eat mostly the same way, 7 days a week.
I enjoy my evenings to relax but I rarely eat. I love my weekends and yes, there are often some splurges in there, but these are carefully controlled so that the weekend doesn’t become one big splurge-fest of overeating.
Click here for more in-depth help about weekend eating and binging.
Maintaining at a New Lower Weight
In December of 2019 I achieved Weight Watchers Lifetime Status. This was quite exciting as something I had always wanted! It feels good to say I am a Lifetime member.
Currently I’m maintaining at 140-145 pounds. Will I stay here forever?
I’m not sure.
I’ve been at this lower weight for about 12 months. I won’t kid you that it requires quite a bit of dedication and commitment. At this time it’s worth it to me, but I’m not sure it will always be worth it to put in this much effort.
A friend from church noticed my recent weight loss and asked if I was feeling really great. I told her that honestly, I feel the same. I felt great at 165 lbs and I feel great at 140 lbs. The drastic improvements were with my initial weight loss, not breaking this plateau.
In conclusion, if you are struggling with a weight loss plateau, believe its possible for you to break it, too. You can do this!
I could not have made some of these changes earlier in my weight loss journey, so recognize that it’s okay to be where you are. Trust your process. Recognize that there are lessons to be learned at the weight you are today, and when you are ready you will make forward progress and get to your goal.
Have you struggled with a weight loss plateau? Share about it in the comments below.
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Sara is a writer, speaker, and 100+ pound weight loss success story. Her website The Holy Mess reaches millions of readers. At Faithful Finish Lines Christian weight loss program, she helps women lose weight and grow in faith with an impressive 36,000+ completing free weight loss challenges under her guidance to date. Click here to read Sara's amazing 100 pound weight loss story. Feel free to send Sara a message here.