Before getting into the reasons why you might be experiencing a weight loss plateau, it's important to highlight that plateaus are a completely normal part of a healthy weight loss journey. These can be explained through the 'set-point theory', which we'll touch on in more detail below.
If you're currently experiencing a plateau, try not to let it dishearten you. Remember, your weight isn't the only indicator of success. Even though the numbers on the scales might not be shifting, you'll still be making progress towards improving your overall health - which at the end of the day is the most important thing.
If you find you're getting too caught up in the readings on the scales, we'd suggest taking a break from weighing and instead focus on alternative ways to measure your progress, which you can find here.
Common reasons for experiencing a weight loss plateau
1. The 'set-point' theory
Our weight is determined by a number of factors, aside from what we eat or how much we exercise. These include our genetics, the environment around us, our hormones, and our psychology.
Each of us has a natural ‘set-point’ weight which is determined by the factors mentioned above. Scientists estimate that the average person will have a set-point range of 5-10% of their body weight, which means that at any given time, our body can lose or gain between that amount without much resistance.
But to go below this range would be extremely challenging. Our body is programmed to function optimally within our set-point range and it will do everything to maintain it.
The set-point theory explains why some people reach a ‘stalemate’ situation when losing weight naturally, despite strictly following the nutrition recommendations.
However, more and more research shows that if we lose weight slowly and gradually, our set-point can adjust and our body will stop battling against us.
Find out more about how the set-point theory works and whether your plateau might be related to this here.
2. The balance and size of your meals
If you’re looking to push past a weight loss plateau or maintain the weight you’ve already lost, your nutrition and food choices will be key to your success.
We'd suggest revisiting the nutrition guidelines and checking that you’re balancing your plate well and choosing the correct portion sizes for your body.
If you remember back to Reset, you were probably very focused on your portion sizes, carbohydrate servings, and food choices. While it might not be necessary to repeat another week of Reset, it’s good to have a quick refresher and make sure your carb servings or portion sizes haven’t started to slowly creep up.
You can read our article here on how to balance your meals and choose the right portion size for you.
3. Energy balance
In order to lose weight, we need to be consuming less energy (in the form of calories from food) than we use. For this reason, it can be useful to look more specifically at energy balance.
We recommend balancing your plate with 50% non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein, 25% complex carbs, and at least one serving of fat.
We don’t place a limit on how much fat you can eat from whole foods on the programme (like meat, dairy, eggs, or coconut oil). This is because there’s strong evidence to suggest that saturated fat from whole foods has little impact on risk of cardiovascular disease. You can read more on this topic here.
However, we still need to be mindful that fat contains more energy per gram compared to carbohydrates and protein.
This is why it’s important to engage with our feelings of hunger and fullness when eating a meal to make sure we’re not eating more fat than our body needs. You can do this by using the hunger scale.
If you're experiencing a weight loss plateau, and you don't believe it fits with the set-point theory, we'd recommend chatting to your health coach about reviewing the balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) at your meals.
4. Alcohol intake
Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram, which means alcohol consumption within the government guidelines of up to 14 units per week for both men and women can provide almost 3,000 extra calories per week (if choosing the highest calorie option).
But alcohol also has a ‘tipping point’ of around 9.3 units (e.g. 3.7 pints of beer or 3.1 large glasses of wine). The average additional energy intake after a person has passed their tipping point is an estimated 4,305 additional calories that same evening – more than twice the recommended daily calorie guideline for an adult woman.
While it’s not necessary to completely cut out alcohol, reducing your intake can have a big, positive impact on your weight and overall health.
Exercise is one of the most effective tools we have to help us both push past a weight loss plateau and maintain our weight loss in the long run. The good news is, to get the benefits of exercise we don’t necessarily need to be exercising ‘harder’. Instead, it’s about looking at the type and frequency of our exercise.
Variety is key, because different forms of exercise provide different benefits to the body. While it’s important to find an exercise that you enjoy, over time our body can become used to the same type of activity, so the benefits we see from exercise will become less pronounced.
Changing up the type of exercise we do regularly is a good way to build up different types of muscles in our body and continue optimising the amount of fat we burn.
We'd recommend a combination of anaerobic training (including resistance and higher-intensity training) and aerobic (cardio) workouts each week. It might also be helpful to do at least one restorative workout a week such as stretching, yoga, or pilates.
Check out the Exercise toolbox in the app for more inspiration.
6. Sleep and stress
Stress and sleep are two of the fundamental pillars of the Second Nature programme, however, we find people often overlook the impact of these on their weight loss progress.
For many of us, it can be difficult to see the value in addressing our stress and sleep levels, as we don’t necessarily see the rewards of doing this straight away.
But these areas have significant indirect impacts on both our weight and overall health. If we’re determined to lose weight and keep it off in the long run, then managing our stress and sleep is vital.
Research has shown that sleep deprivation can decrease our satiety hormone ‘leptin’ and increase our hunger hormone ‘ghrelin’. Sleep deprivation can also affect our food choices and increase our likelihood of eating more calories overall.
You can find our top tips for optimising the quality of your sleep in our article here.
In addition to this, research shows that stress impacts both our decision making and willpower when it comes to food choices. Evidence suggests that stress management techniques alongside general weight loss strategies can increase the total amount of weight lost.
Practising progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), meditation, and getting regular exercise are all strategies that can help improve our sleep quality and reduce our stress levels.
Take home message
Weight loss plateaus are a normal part of a healthy weight loss journey
These plateaus can be explained on a physiological level by the 'set-point theory'
However, other factors may also be influencing a plateau, such as our portion sizes, energy balance, alcohol intake, exercise, sleep, and stress levels
If you're feeling disheartened by a weight loss plateau, we'd recommend taking a break from the weighing scales and instead focusing on non-weight related measures of success