Breaking through a Fat Loss Plateau

Breaking through a Fat Loss Plateau

So you went on board a proper diet plan and exercise routine. Fat started to peel off, the number on the scale dropped each week, and your confidence and motivation reached an all-time high. Great!

But then, all the sudden, results came to a halt. The needle on the scale remains stuck at the same number for weeks on end, even though you still follow all the diet rules and train hard. What the heck is going on?

Well, you might have hit the dreaded weight loss plateau, a situation in which your usual weight loss approach doesn’t work anymore. 

But there’s no need to be dismayed. There are four powerful tips you can use to crush such plateau, so you can keep melting fat like butter in a microwave. In this article, you’ll discover those tips. So keep on reading!


The following tips are based on the premise that you already follow a sound diet (i.e. you maintain a daily calorie deficit, get enough protein, etc.), that you train with an effective workout routine, and that you get enough rest and sleep. 

If you don’t have those fat loss fundamentals nailed down, then the following tips are not for you (yet). Instead, you should focus on getting your diet, workout routine, and rest and recovery in check. 

^ Hyperlink to nutrition guide at the section “follow a sound diet” and hyperlink to ultimate body transformation plan at the section “effective workout routine”.

1. Adjust Your Calorie Intake

If your progress suddenly comes to a halt after a successful fat loss streak, then your body probably adapted to your current calorie intake. This is called “adaptive thermogenesis,” also known as metabolic adaptation. It’s a process in which your body down-regulates your metabolism to prevent further weight loss.

This is great from an evolutionary perspective. But from a weight loss perspective? Definitely not, because it means you must drop your daily calorie intake to keep losing weight. 

For example, one study found that those who just lost 10% body weight had their metabolic rate dropped by 18% compared to a group with the same body weight but who hadn’t dieted [1]. And that’s on average; some people have their metabolic rate drop even further.

Here’s what to do:

If your weight loss has stalled (or if it’s below a meaningful rate) for more than three weeks in a row, consume 200 fewer calories per day. 

For a meaningful rate, we refer to an average loss of 0.5% to 1.0% body weight per week [2]. So, if you weight 75 kilos, you should lose between 0.375 and 0.75 kilos per week.

The best way to track your body weight is by stepping on the scale every day after you wake up and writing down that number. Do so before your breakfast, but after you’ve been to the toilet. After each week, add up the number and divide by seven. This will give you a weekly average.

2. Don’t Rely Solely on the Scale 

In the previous tip, you saw that you should aim for an average weight loss of 0.5% to 1.0% body weight per week. You also saw that you should decrease your daily calorie intake by 200 calories if you don’t hit that target.

While relying on scale weight is reliable for intermediate and advanced trainees, it can cause a wrong impression in beginners. The reason is that beginners can lose fat without seeing changes in their body weight. Hence, their weight might even increase.

Why’s that? Because beginners can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. This can make them believe they’re not making progress, even though they’re doing very well. 

Here’s what to do

If you’re a beginner lifter, then besides relying on the scale, also track your progress in the following two following ways. 

First off, have your body fat percentage checked at least once every two weeks with skinfold calipers. This method takes into account how much fat you have under your skin (subcutaneous) and uses that to predict your total body fat percentage. 

Secondly, take three progress pictures weekly – one from the front, one from the side, and one from the back. By doing this, you can see how your body really is progressing in appearance. 

It’s important to take the pictures in the same conditions each time. This means equal lighting and same nutritional status. So don’t vary between pictures on an empty stomach to one where you’re stuffed.

In case you’re not losing at least 0.5% body fat per week, and you’re not seeing improvement in your pictures on at least a monthly basis, drop your daily energy intake by 200 calories.

3. Fix Emotional Eating

There are two types of hunger: emotional hunger and physical hunger. Physical hunger is a biological urge that tells you that you must replenish nutrients. 

Emotional hunger is, like the name suggests, driven by emotions. Many people eat to cope or distract themselves from stress, frustration, anxiety, fear, sadness, daily hassles, depression, boredom, and fatigue [3]. 

The problem? In times of emotional setback, it’s common that dieters undo their fat loss efforts by binging on hundreds if not thousands of calories. This happens because emotional cravings can be hard to resist and tend to be paired with high-calorie junk food [4]. 

That’s why it is crucial not to give into emotional cravings if you want to lose fat [5-8]. Here are the six main differences between physical and emotional hunger:

· Physical hunger builds up gradually while emotional hunger appears all of a sudden, most often in response to a specific event.

· With physical hunger, almost any food will satisfy your needs, while emotional hunger is tied to specific comfort foods such as chocolate, pizza, cheese, or brownies.

· Physical hunger cravings reside in your stomach while emotional ones are in your head.

· Physical hunger is satisfied when you eat enough while emotional hunger makes you want more and more, even when your stomach is full.

· Emotional hunger often leads to feelings of regret, guilt, and shame after your meal. This is less likely with physical hunger.

· Physical hunger often pairs with mindful eating while emotional hunger leads to mindless eating. Before you realize it, you’ve devoured the whole bag.

Here’s what to do:

When cravings pop up, check what kind of hunger it is. If your desires are emotion-based, first identify the trigger. Is it a specific event or emotion that pushes your hunger button?

If so, that’s what we call context association, which means your brain associates a specific food with a particular pattern, such as eating chocolate at times of stress [9-10]. The solution is adjusting your lifestyle to prevent those patterns from happening.

If you can’t eliminate the trigger, find an alternative response. For example, instead of reaching for chocolate, focus on your breathing or take a brisk walk.

What’s also helpful is the five-minute technique. Before you give in to the urge, wait for five minutes. During this time, reflect on how you feel, revisit your fitness goals, and evaluate whether short-term gratification is worth imperiling your long-term desires. Most likely, the cravings will wane in strength or even go away entirely. 

4. Take a Break

As mentioned before, your body adapts when you maintain a prolonged calorie deficit. We call this drop in metabolic rate “adaptive thermogenesis.” This process makes it harder to keep losing weight because you must further drop your calorie intake to keep shedding fat.

For example, one study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who just lost 10% body weight had their metabolic rate dropped by 18% compared to a group with the same body weight but who hadn’t dieted [1]. That’s an average of 299 fewer calories per day for men and 269 fewer calories for women.

The good news? Dieting does not “damage” your metabolic rate, as is often believed. When you increase your calorie intake, metabolic slowing will reverse [11]. 

That’s why diet breaks are powerful. A diet break is a time-frame in which you strategically eat more calories. This raises your metabolism, which makes it easier time losing fat afterwards.

An example of this is a study published in the International Journal for Obesity. In the study, the researchers compared 16 weeks of continual dieting to dieting with strategically implemented two-week diet breaks. 

At the end of the study, those who did the diet breaks lost more weight and fat than those who didn’t [12]!

Here’s what to do:

If you’ve maintained a daily calorie deficit for months on end (not a few days or weeks!), do a diet break. This provides both a mental and physiological a boost that helps you break through a fat loss plateau.

To do a diet break, eat at calorie maintenance for two weeks. Here’s how to calculate how many calories to consume:

Step 1: Calculate BMR 

BMR refers to how many calories you burn each day if you would do no physical activities. Use the following formula:

· Men: BMR = 66.5 + (13.75 × weight in kg) + (5.003 × height in cm) – (6.755 × age in years)

· Women: BMR = 655.1 + (9.563 × weight in kg) + (1.850 × height in cm) – (4.676 × age in years)

Step 2: Adjust to Activity. 

Adjust your BMR to your activity level with the following multiplier:

· Sedentary (little or no exercise and desk job): BMR × 1.2 

· Lightly active (light activity with light exercise or sports 1-3 days a week): BMR × 1.375 

· Moderately active (moderately active with moderate exercise or sports 3-5 days a week): BMR × 1.55 

· Very active (very active or hard exercise or sports 6-7 days a week): BMR × 1.725 

· Extremely active (hard daily exercise or activity and physical work): BMR × 1.9 

That’s the number of calories to consume each day while you’re doing a diet break. Try to get the majority of those extra calories from carbs because that’s best for resetting your metabolism [13]. 

Increasing your carb intake will also aid your workout performance, and enables you to eat your favorite carb-rich foods, which you’re probably craving after dieting for months.

After your two-week diet break, re-adjust your daily calorie intake based on your body weight at that moment. Use this guide to calculate your calories needs after a diet break. 

^ Hyperlink the section “this guide” towards the nutrition guide.


Your body weight might rise by a few kilos during your diet break. This is because your body will hold onto extra glycogen (stored carbs), which, in turn, causes water retention in your muscle cells. 

Those who’ve been following a low-carb diet will notice their body weight increase the most. This is not fat, and your body weight will drop again when you start dieting.

The Bottom Line on Fat Loss Plateaus

It’s frustrating to eat right and toil away workout after workout with no results. Unfortunately, most people hit such plateau on their fat loss journey.

The good news is that you now know exactly how to crush through a fat loss plateau. So make sure your camera is charged because it’s time to get to that lean “after” pic. Good luck!


1. Rosenbaum, M., Hirsch, J., Gallagher, D. A., & Leibel, R. L. (2008). Long-term persistence of adaptive thermogenesis in subjects who have maintained a reduced body weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 88(4), 906-12.

2. Helms, E. R., Aragon, A. A., & Fitschen, P. J. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12, 11-20.

3. Gardner, M. P., Wansink, B., Kim, J., & Park, S. (2014). Better moods for better eating?: How mood influences food choice. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24(3), 320-335.

4. Keller, C., & Siegrist, M. (2015). Ambivalence toward palatable food and emotional eating predict weight fluctuations. Results of a longitudinal study with four waves. Appetite, 85, 138-45.

5. Blair, A. J., Lewis, V. J., & Booth, D. A. (1990). Does emotional eating interfere with success in attempts at weight control? Appetite, 15(2), 151-7.

6. Niemeier, H. M., Phelan, S., Fava, J. L., & Wing, R. R. (2007). Internal disinhibition predicts weight regain following weight loss and weight loss maintenance. Obesity, 15(10), 2485-94.

7. Canetti, L., Berry, E. M., & Elizur, Y. (2009). Psychosocial predictors of weight loss and psychological adjustment following bariatric surgery and a weight-loss program: the mediating role of emotional eating. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 42(2), 109-17.

8. Elfhag, K., & Rossner, S. (2005). Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain. Obesity Reviews, 6(1), 67-85.

9. Hollins-Martin, C., Van den Akker, O., Martin, C., & Preedy, V. R. (n.d.). Handbook of diet and nutrition in the menstrual cycle, periconception and fertility (Vol. 7, Human Health Handbooks).

10. Zellner, D. A., Garriga-Trillo, A., Centeno, S., & Wadsworth, E. (n.d.). Chocolate craving and the menstrual cycle. Appetite, 42(1), 119-21.

11. Zinchenko, A., & Henselmans, M. (2016). Metabolic Damage: Do Negative Metabolic Adaptations During Underfeeding Persist After Refeeding in Non-Obese Populations? Medical Research Archives, 4(8).

12. Byrne, N. M., Sainsbury, A., King, N. A., Hills, A. P., & Wood, R. E. (2017). Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study. International Journal of Obesity. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2017.206. 

13. Dirlewanger, M., Di Vetta, V., Guenat, E., Battilana, P., Seematter, G., Schneiter, P., . . . Tappy, L. (2000). Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. International journal of obesity and related metabolic disorders, 24(11), 1413-8.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *