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How to move past your weight loss plateau: empowering strategies for lasting success

When you're laser-focused on a health goal like shedding those stubborn pounds, adhering to a low GL diet, and keeping your blood sugars in check, it's beyond frustrating when the scale refuses to budge, despite your Herculean efforts. You've been diligent with your food choices, making sacrifices, and sweating it out at the gym, yet the results seem elusive. It's enough to make you want to scream into a pillow and throw in the towel, reverting back to your old habits in a fit of frustration.

But let's face it – that's not the answer and will likely set you back even further from where you started. If progress is disappointing, it’s time to check in with how you feel.

Graph showng weight loss progress expectations vesus reality
Progress towards your goal is rarely a straight line

Progress is not just a number on the scale and, in many cases, the scale can be very misleading anyhow. And if your goal isn’t just weight loss but includes gaining control over a nagging health condition, a temporary stall in progress can be just as frustrating, with symptoms seeming to vanish one week, and reappearing the next.  We often see this in gut and digestive related issues for example. Progress is rarely a straight line.

We’re here to help you navigate through this infuriating plateau and steer you through the frustration and annoyance and get you back on the right path. In this article, we’ll be focusing on weight loss plateaus but many of these points can be relevant to a variety of challenges you might face on your journey to better health.

What is a weight loss plateau?

A plateau refers to a phase in your weight loss journey where progress comes to a temporary halt despite your continued efforts. It can be both frustrating and demotivating.

Understanding the dynamics of why this happens is crucial for developing effective strategies to overcome them.

Understanding the hidden causes behind your stalled progress

Metabolic adaptation

It’s common for weight loss to be going well for a few weeks then for it to slow down dramatically or to come to a standstill.

One primary cause of weight loss plateaus is the body's ability to adapt to changes in calorie intake and expenditure. As you lose weight, your metabolic rate may decrease, meaning your body burns fewer calories at rest. This adaptive response can make it challenging to sustain the initial rate of weight loss.

Psychological factors

Emotions can deeply influence our weight management journey. Stress, emotional eating, and other mental health factors can throw a real spanner in the works, contributing to frustrating plateaus. For instance, when stress levels soar, our bodies react by releasing cortisol, the notorious stress hormone. This not only spikes our appetite and food cravings but also tends to store fat, especially around our bellies.

Persistent stress can mess with our body's insulin sensitivity, making it harder for cells to absorb glucose. Which in return can result in high blood sugar levels and a frustrating resistance to weight loss. It's a vicious cycle that affects not just our physical well-being but our emotional health too.

Do not underestimate the power of stress to impact every aspect of your health.  It's not just a mental burden; it seeps into every aspect of your health, making every step of your journey feel heavier.  

Venn diagram showing how metabolic adaptation, inconsistent actions and old habits can all play a role in weight loss plateaus
Stress, old habits and your body’s response can be significant factors in a weight loss plateau

Inconsistent action

It’s easy to be enthusiastic and compliant when you first start your healthy eating regime but, over time, life’s complexities can start to chip away at your resolve. Bad habits and inconsistencies can creep in. That can mean treats sneaking back into your routine and increasing portion sizes. And let’s not forget the extra glass of wine during the week and missed visits to the gym and lack of regular exercise.

Plateaus in your progress can feel like a frustrating roadblock, hitting you when you least expect it. They vary from person to person and can manifest differently for everyone. Factors such as age, gender, genetics, hormonal status and overall health can influence the nature and duration of plateaus. Some people may experience a brief slowdown in weight loss, while others might encounter a more prolonged and stubborn plateau.

These three factors plus your demographic and medical history can come together to create a real catch 22 situation.

Imagine you start your journey with enthusiasm and resolve and quickly build momentum. This delivers results which strengthens your resolve to keep going. However, as your body naturally adjusts to the “new” it begins to compensate for the thing you’ve removed or changed, e.g. sugar, processed food, increased exercise etc. So that starts to affect your results, and whether that’s physical, mental or emotional, it begins to take its toll. You now become frustrated and disappointed and start to doubt your ability to follow through.  Because you start to feel, what’s the point, it’s obviously never going to work?

Of course any one of these hurdles can become a challenge by themselves but it’s hard to contain the knock on effect to just one area. It’s completely de-motivating.

But it’s critically important to remember the journey towards better health isn't always smooth sailing; there are bumps along the way that can shake your confidence. View your setbacks as detours, not dead ends. And with the right support and guidance, you can navigate through the challenges and come out the other side stronger than ever.


Overcome your weight loss plateau and keep progressing

This bumpy ride is a journey we see again and again in our clinic. We work closely with clients to anticipate these dips and build them up so they can easily navigate the challenges.

Below are some of our top tips for those weeks when things don’t go to plan for whatever the reason.

  • Be open and curious

Question what might be going awry.  If there were things you didn’t do but wanted to, or things that felt too difficult, why might that be? Maybe you just can’t get it together with planning and organising your meals? Maybe, you keep meaning to schedule in exercise but other things always get in the way? Making changes to your health is all about learning and having the right support and having someone to help you find the solutions to the barriers that keep getting in the way.

  • Review your food diary/habit tracker

Person writing in journal notepad, candle, plant and teacup onthe tabe also
Recording and reviewing your progress can help identify and overcome blocks in the road

It’s a good idea to keep a journal to track the food you’re eating, your activity levels and emotional wellbeing. Review your journey so far to see if anything obvious stands out. It’s often (but not always) easy to spot what has happened. While you are practising making changes to what you eat, it’s easy to slip back into old patterns and many people over-estimate their compliance. These will vary from person to person but can include comfort eating, eating more of the foods that cause symptoms to flare up or overdoing snacks, alcohol or treat foods.

  • How are you sleeping?

Lack of sleep plays a big role in your health and can stall your results if you’re not getting enough on a regular basis. Poor quality or lack of sleep places additional stress on the body. Sometimes, good sleep is easier said than done (believe me, I know this from years of sleep issues) but thankfully there’s lots that we can do to get to the root of poor sleep.


  • Check your stress levels

Stress can put the brakes on weight loss and really prevent us from reaching good health. If you’re spinning a lot of plates, spreading yourself too thin and you’re not taking time for yourself for stress relief (acts of self-care, meditation, breath-work, time in nature, etc), you should make this a priority. Your body will thank you deeply.

  • Are you hydrated?

There are many reasons why drinking water works for health and, time and again, I have seen that taking action in this area alone can shift the needle in every respect. For starters, drinking enough water allows your body to get rid of waste that you don’t want in your body, and it helps support immunity and liver function too.

  • Review your plan

It could be that your nutrition or exercise plan could benefit from tweaking or that we might need to bring in specific supplementation or testing to bring you back on track. Sourcing and trying new recipes aligned with your nutritional requirements can be an effective way to re-energise your interest while sticking to the plan. Similarly trying new activities or forms of exercise or upping the intensity could be the key to achieving your goals.

  • Supportive environment

Surround yourself with supportive people who encourage and motivate you to reach your health goals. Consider joining a fitness class, finding a workout buddy, or connecting with online communities for additional support and accountability.

  • Be patient and persistent

Our advice is to KEEP GOING. Plateaus are very common and things will start moving in the right direction again soon enough.

Mindset is so important when breaking through a plateau

When we hit a plateau, too often we focus on what’s going wrong instead of appreciating how far we’ve come. One of the most important things you can do is to focus on what is going well.

What other improvements have you noticed and bear in mind, these are not always measured on the scales or how well your clothes are fitting. It could be simply the fact that you are gaining awareness of your body and your habits or it may be that your energy is better, your bowels are more regular and you’re bloating is reduced. It’s important to record these changes in your journal to serve as future motivation.

Keep your eye on the prize

One of the things we often work on with clients is to help them figure out why change is important for them, support them through any hurdles or barriers, keep them accountable and help them to remain focused.

Remember, your journey towards better health is a marathon, not a sprint. By addressing the common causes of plateaus and implementing the strategies outlined in this article, you can overcome obstacles and continue progressing towards your goals.

At Ciara Ryan Nutrition our expert and personalised nutrition and lifestyle plans are designed to support you every step of the way. If you have any questions or would like further support on your health journey, don't hesitate to reach out. Together, we can make your health goals a reality. Contact us today to learn more.

Stay patient, stay consistent, and celebrate even the smallest victories along the way. You can do this!


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