First, let’s quickly define a weight-loss plateau, I consider a weight-loss plateau to take place if you have gone three weeks without seeing a positive result. For this to count as a plateau, in those three weeks, you must have stuck to your plan. Three weeks of no results, but with a couple extra cheat days mixed in doesn’t count.
After three weeks of no results while staying strict I would say you have hit a bit of a road bump. The first step is to stay on track. The most frustrating thing is to be working so hard for a goal just to feel that your body has betrayed you. You have put in all the work, cooked all the food and yet, here we are the same weight as before. In this moment it’s easy to decide you’re going to go try and win a free steak dinner.
But are you really going to enjoy that steak?
The second step is to remember that all of the work you just put in is not for nothing! In fact, you might be closer than you think to seeing some amazing results.
I had a client come to me with this same pattern of little to no change after two weeks of starting her diet. She was frustrated and, to be honest, not too happy with me. After talking to her, it sounded like she was doing everything right. Following the diet and fitness guidelines we had laid out, getting a good night’s sleep and trying hard to stay hydrated. My advice was to change nothing. Now this can be hard to hear, not to make any changes. However, two weeks is not always long enough to see a change.
We thought the culprit of this particular plateau could be from doing her first weigh in a bit dehydrated. Our prediction was that throughout the two weeks as she was slowly making progress she was also slowly getting more hydrated. Both of these are positive but are not reflected by the scale. You could be losing body fat while becoming more hydrated which would be a very good thing, but you might see the scale going in the wrong direction. In the long run though, being more hydrated will allow you to burn body fat at a faster rate, which is a positive cycle.
“One more week could make the difference,” I told her. With some dismay, she agreed and stuck to the plan for another week.
At the end of that third week, we weighed in again. 1 lb loss. This was positive, but after three weeks of hard work, I could see the disappointment on her face. I told her to stick with the plan. “It’s working!” I reminded her. Again with some dismay, she agreed.
By the end of the fourth week, she weighed in again. This time, she had a smile on her face, an additional 3 lbs lost. Now we were through the plateau. She went on to lose weight each week for the next 5 weeks, surpassing her goal.
What’s the moral? For one, breaking through a plateau is worth it, it’s going to take time and consistent work, but it is worth it. Don’t be disappointed by a 1 lb weight loss over 3 weeks. It’s hard, but remember that The Biggest Loser doesn’t really last anyway. 1 lb lost every 3 weeks adds up on its own. If you can stick with it, you can break through your own plateau. If each week you can become a bit fitter, then the scale will take care of itself. Follow your plan.
Weight is not a measurement of fitness but it is easy to think it’s an indicator of a good diet. However, the change in your weight from week to week is in fact, a bad indicator. A week is just not long enough, weeks need to become months before we can start to use weight loss to show success.
What else could explain a plateau? The scale can be deceiving because your body weight does not directly reflect your body composition. If any of the below are happening while you are dieting, you could be losing body fat but not have the scale reflect the change.
- Going from dehydrated to hydrated: 1 litre of water equals 2.2 lbs
- Gaining muscle mass: You may be able to see 1-2 lbs of muscle gain in a month, but more than that is likely not possible
- New gut bacteria: A change in diet, means a change in gut bacteria. This could actually lead to 1-2 lbs weight gain and in many cases it’s temporary as you adjust to your new diet.
- Time of day: When you weigh in can affect how much you weigh. You can be 2-5 lbs heavier at the end of the day than the start (Might be a little backed up if you are 5 lbs heavier).
- Bad scale: Your scale could be inaccurate. Scales being off by just 1 lbs or 2 are not uncommon.
- Salt: Eating a meal high in salt will also lead to increased water retention, which will be temporary as well
- Human error: Did you record your last results?
These factors could all lead to a change in scale that does not necessarily mean you are not making progress towards your goal. Stick with the plan. Breaking through a plateau is worth it.
You might be closer to success than you think.