How to Push Past a Weight-Loss Plateau

You’ve been good, exercising and eating well, and have seen the fruits of your labor. Perhaps your payoff has been in the form of looser pants, a lower number on the scale, or defined deltoids. Then, all at once, the improvement stops. You’re still working hard, but now you can’t seem to shed another pound. Most likely you’ve hit a plateau—your body is in a holding pattern. Rather than get discouraged and fall back into old habits, look at it as an opportunity to refine your strategies and reap new benefits.

“When you stop losing weight all of a sudden, it’s because you’ve created a hormonal imbalance that can put you in a weight loss resistant state,” says Derek Johnson, a Los Angeles–based holistic nutritionist and Executive Nutrition Director of the Biggest Loser Resorts. The solution is not to simply eat less and work out more—that will ensure the situation worsens. “The body is not a bank account; it’s a chemistry set,” says Johnson. Rather than worry about calories in versus calories out, the key is to calm the body and get it back into balance. Here are a few tricks for doing just that.

Rest Up

“When someone tells me the scale won’t budge, the first thing I ask is, ‘How’s your sleep?’ If you are not getting enough rest, you are continually stressing the body, and there is no way you will break through a plateau when you are sleep deprived,” says Johnson. The solution is to shoot for at least seven hours nightly.

It’s also critical to employ the 60/30 Rule. No stimulating technology for 60 minutes before bed—if you must watch something, it needs to be calming. Then, during the last 30 minutes before bed, no technology at all. You don’t want to stimulate your brain and spike your stress hormones. Even if you fall asleep, your brain will not.

Consider Breakfast

Breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day for many people. Of course, if you are trying to gain weight or do not need to lose it and wake up hungry, eat breakfast. “But if you’re trying to lose weight, make sure the time you finished your last meal the night before to the time you break your fast the next day is at least 14 hours. If need be, skip or push breakfast. Just add some MCT oil or coconut oil to your tea or coffee, and have breakfast after you hit that 14- to 16-hour mark,” says Johnson.

Lift Weights

Don’t be afraid to use weights. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so increasing your lean muscle mass will ultimately help you lose inches. Focus on free-weight compound movements, which work more muscle in less time; for example, 10 reps each of overhead barbell push press, pull-up (assisted if needed), barbell deadlift, and weighted walking lunges. Three rounds of this in a circuit fashion can be done in less than 20 minutes and will burn more fat than pounding out 60 minutes of cardio on a treadmill.


Your body is dehydrated when you wake up in the morning. The best practice is to have a 12- to 24-ounce glass of water, ideally at room temperature, with a quarter lemon wedge before anything else. “You also really need to be drinking water throughout the day in order to keep your body properly hydrated,” says Johnson. Relying on meal times for the bulk of your liquids actually dilutes digestive enzymes and interferes with proper digestion. The trick is to get about a half-ounce of water per pound of body weight per day, and get it by sipping throughout the day.

Exercise Less—but Smarter

When results come to a halt, intensifying your exercise regimen is not always the best idea. In fact, when your body is stressed or imbalanced, boosting exertion can make things worse. “Fewer workouts that focus on short bursts of intensity rather than long stints on the cardio machines can help bust through a plateau,” says Johnson. Also, simply increasing your daily activity can help. Take the stairs, park further away from the front door, enjoy a morning walk with friends—it doesn't matter; just focus on maintaining an active lifestyle.

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you can’t just play a calorie game; you have to teach the body how to gently and efficiently burn fat. That means feeding it the right foods at the right times and exercising smartly—not just for a long time. “Simply worrying about how many calories you are burning always leads to ups and downs,” says Johnson. Reducing stress and maintaining balance in your eating and exercise will keep you on the road to steady results.