Getting past a weight-loss plateau

Just because your weight loss has stalled, don't revert back to your old bad habits. These tips can help you restart your weight-loss plan.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

You've worked hard to improve your diet and exercise habits, and your reward has been watching your weight go down and feeling better. Now, however, for no reason you can identify, the scale has stopped budging, despite your healthy, low-calorie diet and regular exercise. You've hit a weight-loss plateau.

Don't get discouraged. It's normal for weight loss to slow and even stall. By understanding what causes a weight-loss plateau, you can decide how to respond and avoid backsliding on your new healthy habits.

What is a weight-loss plateau?

Being stuck at a weight-loss plateau for days or possibly weeks eventually happens to everyone who tries to lose weight. Even so, most people are surprised when it happens to them because they're still eating carefully and exercising regularly. The frustrating reality is that even well-planned weight-loss efforts can stall.

What causes a weight-loss plateau?

During the first few weeks of losing weight, a rapid drop is normal. In part, this is because when you cut calories, the body gets needed energy initially by releasing its stores of glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles and liver. Glycogen is partly made of water, so when glycogen is burned for energy, it releases water, resulting in weight loss that's mostly water. This effect is temporary, however.

As you lose weight, you lose some muscle along with fat. Muscle helps keep the rate at which you burn calories (metabolism) up. So as you lose weight, your metabolism declines, causing you to burn fewer calories than you did at your heavier weight.

Your slower metabolism will slow your weight loss, even if you eat the same number of calories that helped you lose weight. When the calories you burn equal the calories you eat, you reach a plateau.

To lose more weight, you need to either increase your physical activity or decrease the calories you eat. Using the same approach that worked initially may maintain your weight loss, but it won't lead to more weight loss.

Jan. 07, 2015 See more In-depth