Fight of that Weight-loss Plateau

It’s temporary, but…
By Roshni Sanghvi

Weight-loss plateaus are the most common reasons people often fall off track and give up on their weight-loss programme. Most people might also regain all the weight that they have lost and conclude eventually “exercise is not for me”. Weight loss plateaus however are very common, and surprisingly easy to break once you learn a little bit of science behind them. If you are one of those who has experienced the scale going down week after week, when suddenly no matter what you do, there is no change, welcome to the club. Know firstly that you are not the only one, and secondly that this is not permanent. Many will get off the plateau if they only stick to their programmes for a few weeks more without trying anything new. However, below are some pointers that might help you get off the plateau faster.

The science part

To better understand why plateaus occur, we must first understand what BMR means. Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum number of calories you burn when the body is at rest. In layman’s terms, it is the number of calories you burn to just wake up, breathe, eat and go back to sleep, calculated per day. This number varies as per your body type (muscle mass in the body), genetics, gender, age, activity level etc. Most good gyms have a BMR calculating machine to tell you your BMR. A simple Google search can also give you a BMR calculator designed to calculate BMR based on your current weight, height and activity level. Though this is not the most accurate, this should do the trick.

Now assuming your current BMR is 1500 calories. It would take 3500 calories to lose one pound per week. Assuming you work-out and lose 300 calories per work-out session (about one session of moderate intensity aerobics) and cut down 300 calories from your diet per day, you will lose one pound per week. This is generally what happens when you start a new work-out programme. However, as you progress and your body weight drops, assuming you have not gained much muscle mass, your BMR also drops. So this number might come down from 1500 calories per day to 1200 calories per day. Even though you are still working out the same, and following the same diet, you do not see a change as before. Your weight is still going down, but just not as fast. Alternatively, assuming your BMR does not drop, you are following the same work-out programme as before. However, since you have been getting stronger, the same workout does not impact you as much as before, thus not burning 300 calories as you did before. This does not create enough caloric-deficit per day and again you reach a plateau.

What do I do now?

The first and easiest thing to do would be change up your workout routine. Note here, I did not say to add extra workout time, since your body will again get used to this change and you will have to keep adding more and more time to get the same results. Instead, change up your workout routine. If you are currently doing five sessions of aerobics per week, reduce that to three and add two additional sessions of weight/training/yoga/swimming, etc. The new challenge will force the involvement of new muscle fibres, challenge your respiratory system differently and demand higher calories. Stick to similar intensity that you are used to doing, but add on a new challenge.

Add on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as part of your cardio routine. If you are very used to doing steady state cardio, that means cardio on one equipment for the same speed for a given amount of time, this will be an exceptional plateau breaker. Add short bursts of high-intensity intervals in between your cardio – eg: walk on the treadmill for one minute and at the end of every minute jog/sprint for 30-45 seconds. Repeat the cycle for up to 10 rounds as per your endurance. Once this gets too comfortable, increase the intensity or time (not both together) of the intervals. This way you take your heart rate to 60-70 per cent your normal heart rate, demanding your body to do more work. This is also an optimal fat burning zone. Adding 2-4 HIIT sessions per week will work magic in breaking your plateau. Remember to not overdo this. If done properly, 20-25 minutes per session is enough.


Switch up your diet to confuse your body. If you are currently taking in a high-protein diet, reduce the proteins in your diet by 10-15 per cent and swap that with carbs. Sometimes the simplest thing to do would be to add an additional cheat meal per week. Though this sounds so wrong, it might actually help you get off the plateau. One cheat meal per week is suggested to not only help with your cravings, but has many health benefits like boosting your metabolism. Adding an extra cheat meal means demanding your body to do more work digesting food it is not used to. You can keep this a clean cheat, meaning still choosing nutritionally dense food like risotto or a Mediterranean sandwich vs having a cupcake or ice-cream. However, foreign food will help you get off your plateau. Have this with love instead of feeling guilty about having an extra cheat!

Include legs day twice a week instead of one. If you weight- train to lose weight (best way to do it while keeping your BMR high), you know leg days are the most intense for most people. Not only will you burn more calories by including legs more than once per week, but will also break the frequency of training that your body is used to. According to the SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) principle, your body adapts to the way you train it. If every Monday is legs day, the body is prepared for exactly that every Monday. It will also recover within seven days exactly for legs again. Now, by including legs on Mondays and Thursday for instance, the body will have to recover faster than it is used to. Putting the body in this uncomfortable condition will actually help break your plateau.

Check with an expert. Sometimes – not very often – your body stops showing a change because of a bigger problem than just caloric intake. There could be a hormonal imbalance within the system causing you to actually gain weight rather than lose it. Check with your doctor for symptoms of PCOD/thyroid/ diabetes etc. These metabolic conditions could very well be the reason you are holding onto extra body weight. The kind of training you follow or nutritional requirements will vary if you are in fact diagnosed with any one of these conditions. A thorough body check-up will help you better plan your routine and help you get back on your fat loss goals.

Irrespective of whether you are losing weight or not, it is important to remember that your weight loss plateau is only temporary. Sometimes it is important to see fitness as a whole package than just the weight loss on the scale. As long as you feel fitter, your digestion is better, you see an improvement in your sleep quality and your inches are going down, you are on the right track.