The weight loss process is a battle: And like any good fight, you don’t always come out on top. At first, you were dominating, dropping weight every time you stepped on the scale. Then, the numbers began to slow, and now they’re completely stagnant.
You’ve hit the dreaded weight loss plateau.
It’s a bummer when your fat loss slows, but hitting a weight loss plateau is completely normal.
“The leaner you get, the harder it gets to lose those last few pounds,” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., owner of CORE in Brookline, Massachusetts.
As you continue losing weight, your metabolism starts to slow down, so you either need to eat fewer calories or burn more calories to see continued weight loss. But still, your current weight doesn’t have to be your ending weight. You just need to start approaching your fat loss plan a bit differently if you want to see results. Here, six reasons you’ve stopped losing weight—and what you can do to get back on track.
Weight Loss Plateau Cause: You Don’t Portion Out Your Food
A lot of guys devalue the importance of portion sizes, says Gentilcore. You might think eyeballing the amount of food you eat isn’t doing much harm, but it can make a big difference when you’re trying to shed those last few pounds.
Say, if you add just a couple extra tablespoons of peanut butter to your daily smoothie, that’s around 120 extra calories, adding up to 840 extra calories a week.
“As you get a little bit closer to your target weight, you have to be a bit more meticulous,” says Gentilcore.
If you’ve stopped seeing results, you need to pay attention to portion control. First, familiarize yourself with what you should actually be eating. For instance, a serving of beef is 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) and a serving of ice cream is half a cup (about the size of half a tennis ball). Then, measure it out, Gentilcore says.
After you get used to what that amount looks like, you can go back to eyeballing your portions. Here are 12 easy ways to estimate servings sizes if you need a place to start.
Weight Loss Plateau Cause: You Treat Yourself Too Often
What’s the harm of one brownie after a hard workout, right? Well, that kind of mindset can stunt your weight loss, says John Raglin, Ph.D. an exercise researcher at Indiana University Bloomington’s School of Public Health.
“You could run an extra five miles, but it’s really easy to reward yourself with more than 500 calories,” he says. “The reward usually far exceeds the extra calories you expended.”
These excess calories stack up: If you eat a 500-calorie treat several times a week, that could be an extra day’s worth of calories each week, or more than 6,000 calories per month. And that can make a big difference if you can’t seem to move the scale, says Raglin.
Instead of binging on a sundae because you “earned it,” choose smaller portions of treats you really love, suggests Raglin, like a really decadent piece of dark chocolate or one scoop of your favorite, high-quality vanilla ice cream.
Here’s one rule to go by: Only 10 to 20 percent of your daily calories should come from junk food, says Men’s Health nutrition advisor, Alan Aragon. If you feel like you’re not seeing results, try to stick to the 10 percent range if a craving hits—so if you’re an active guy eating about 2,800 calories a day, that treat should only be around 280 calories.
Weight Loss Plateau Cause: You Think You’re More Active Than You Really Are
When you start working out more, you might experience something called “compensatory inactivity,” says Raglin. That means you might be exercising more, but moving less throughout your day.
Many people fall into this habit of “keeping score.” You bust your butt during your morning sweat session. Then when you get home, you plop down on the couch for the rest of the day to binge watch your favorite Netflix show because you feel like you’ve already done enough for the day.
That’s a mistake: If you’re serious about keeping up with your weight loss, falling into this habit of not moving after exercising can really hold you back, says Raglin.
“Don’t miss out on opportunities to walk or be active or take the stairs,” he says. “It’s a small difference, but you’re keeping your metabolism up.”
What’s more, incorporating more movement throughout your day can keep you motivated, says Raglin. Make an effort to be active whenever you can—take your dog for a walk, kick around a soccer ball with your kids, or give yourself a daily step count target. The pounds will keep coming off, he says.
Sticking to a high-intensity routine boosts your appetite, says Raglin. You might end up feeling ravenous post-workout, causing you to overeat and gain all of those calories back instantly.
So play the preventive game: If you’re hungry going into your workout, chances are good you’ll be starving afterward. In that case, consider having a pre-workout snack to manage your hunger, says Raglin. You don’t want something too heavy or rich, which can make you feel uncomfortably full. Instead, shoot for an apple, which is full of simple carbs to give you energy, or a handful of almonds, which contain good fats and some protein to hold your hunger over. Or you can try one of these protein bars.
If you work out before work or after leaving the office, you will need to eat afterwards. Just make sure you’re doing it right: If you have some time to kill before your usual dinner time, make yourself a protein shake or have a small snack so you’re not tempted to overeat at dinner, says Raglin.
Weight Loss Plateau Cause: You’re Not Consistent In the Gym
Consistency matters when you’re trying to lose that last bit of weight, says Gentilcore. In fact, skipping just one workout can increase your odds of missing another one by 61 percent, according to British research.
And consistency matters in your routine, too. Despite what you may hear, novelty doesn’t necessarily equal progress, says Gentilcore. For a fat loss program to work, you have to stick to a routine long enough until you really master it.
“The squat, deadlift, and bench press are staples for a reason,” he says. “People don’t give themselves enough time to learn and master these moves.”
The sooner you become proficient at an exercise, the better you get at it. That means you can add more weight to it, helping you gain and retain muscle—which helps you burn more calories throughout the day and fend off fat. But if boring really bothers you, add new stuff to the last 10 minutes of your usual routine as a finisher, suggests Gentilcore.
Then, usually after about 4 to 6 weeks, you can think about switching your exercises up, says Gentilcore. Once you’ve mastered your staples, you can seek out some more challenging variations, like switching up the classic flat bench press with the incline or close-grip bench press.
Weight Loss Plateau Cause: You Don’t Recover Properly
You’re not going to maintain or continue your weight loss if you’re too sore to keep up with your workout plan out for the rest of the week. Not taking your recovery period seriously can cause you to plateau, says Gentilcore. When you pump iron, you’re literally breaking down your body by causing micro tears in your muscle tissues, so you need give it time to rebuild that muscle before you get back into it.
“People don’t understand that going home and eating well, going to sleep, and drinking enough water is going to allow your body to recover so you can go back to the gym a day later so you can do it again,” he says.
When you’re first starting out, training three days a week seems to be a happy medium for most guys, says Gentilcore. Or you can do full body workouts every other day and allow a day of recovery in between.
If you really want results, Gentilcore says it doesn’t hurt to get in the gym 6 days a week, just make sure you’re alternating muscle groups. So if Monday is your chest day, work your legs Tuesday to give your upper body time to recover.
If you’re constantly feeling too sore to get moving again, try one of these ways to speed up recovery after a hard workout so you can stay on track with your exercise routine.