Keep going when you're plateau-ing

You've started your diet and exercise programme and things have been going well for a few weeks - the kilos have slowly but surely melted away. But then you suddenly get stuck and it feels like you've stopped losing weight forever. What on earth have you done wrong?

If this sounds familiar, don't despair. It's completely normal and called reaching a plateau. It may be very frustrating and can go on for weeks but it won't last forever.

Here's what happens:

As your body becomes lighter, fewer kilojoules are burnt during activities, which means the overall energy expenditure also lessens. 

Lowered energy expenditure and the reduction in lean mass both assist in restoring energy balance from any initial reduction in kilojoule intake, and can even slow progress from the extra training sessions often undertaken when trying to lose weight

The initial per day kilojoules reduction is no longer effective for losing more weight, because the body no longer identifies a kilojoule deficit. There will always be an adaptation to match any lowered kilojoule intake because the body needs to preserve energy for continued existence. 

When you go on a diet, it is important to begin by reducing kilojoule intake slowly, to limit the loss of lean weight and help keep your metabolism high. Also, any exercise done within the first 10 - 15 workouts needs to be light and for longer durations to enable the energy system to adapt to the change. 

If kilojoules are cut too much too soon the body is forced to burn more protein especially when carbohydrate stores run low. This lowers the metabolism and dieters hit a plateau. As a result dieters tend to give up and go back to their old eating habits and the body shoots back into a positive energy balance, which causes many dieters to regain double the weight lost

Stay focused

The best advice is to stay motivated and to continue your diet and exercise routine - try to keep it interesting by varying your meals and exercise. Don't give up and resort to quick weight loss plans, rather motivate yourself by focusing on the weight that you have already lost. Weight loss is often a slow journey and it's natural to reach a plateau at times. If you keep pressing forward, the kilos will start melting away again soon. 

There are many other factors that could stop you from losing weight. Do any of these apply to you?

Too little sleep. Many studies have proven that people who have less than six hours sleep a night store more fat. An unrested body is a stressed body. it increases adrenalin and cortisol levels inhibit weight loss. 

Lack of variety in training and diet. The body adapts to new conditions quickly. We can however learn to trick the body by keeping it guessing all the time. Alter your training programme every six weeks and try to vary your diet daily. You cannot keeping doing the same thing and expect different results. 

Previous damage. Your dieting history plays a significant part in your current rate of weight loss - diet pills and high protein diets can cause severe damage to your metabolism. 

Incorrect kilojoule deficits. Count everything that passes your lips. A week of skipping your training could mean a small weight gain or no weight loss. 

Skipping meals. Your body slows down when meals are skipped and is forced to store fat in what appears to be a time of famine – it has the opposite effect. 

Decreased thyroid activity. If you really struggle with weight loss, ask your doctor for a blood test called TSH. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a common condition for which doctors advocate exercise

Eating too little. If your diet is too low in kilojoules, the TEF (Thermogenic Effect of Food) is reduced and your body naturally adapts to slow-down or stop weight loss. It is important to reduce kilojoules slowly so that the body does not go into a state of shock and holds onto every morsel eaten to protect against famine. The body also begins to break down muscle to provide it with the energy it needs to survive. 

Genetics. It does play a part in one’s shape and frame. A general rule: where you put it on weight first, is where you lose it last.

Depression. If you are feeling highly emotional or depressed, this will decrease your happy hormone, serotonin, and increase your cortisol levels, causing your to store fat. 

Poor bowel movement. Bloating, IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome), constipation and irregular toilet habits are major contributors to weight gain. 

Overtraining. When you overtrain a muscle it breaks down - this is called muscle atrophy. The less muscle mass there is, the lower your metabolism, and the fewer kilojoules you burn. 

Medication. Be aware of the side effects of the medication you are taking. 

Acidity levels. Acidic people do not function optimally. To get you pH to a more alkaline state, eat less red meat, have lots of food rich in calcium, increase your  fruit and vegetable intake, and take a good multivitamin.

Stress. High stress levels can hinder weight loss despite eating correctly and exercising regularly.

- (Zaakirah Rossier, Health24, January 2011)

- (Sources:; Darren Scott, Lisa Raleigh, Dan Nicholl, No Fries On Us, cutting Darren Scott down to size, 2010)

Read more:
Why men lose weight faster?
The psychology of food cravings
Food diaries are the way to go for weight loss
7 surprising diet myths
The 10 step detox eating plan

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 9936 votes
72% - 25953 votes