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"Unlocking Weight Loss Plateaus: Insights from a Comprehensive Review of 50 Research Papers"

by Sarbjeet Singh 06 Nov 2023
"Unlocking Weight Loss Plateaus: Insights from a Comprehensive Review of 50 Research Papers"

Proven Strategies to Break Through a Weight Loss Plateau"


Losing weight is often a thrilling experience when the pounds seem to melt away in the initial stages of your journey. However, as many of us have experienced, there comes a point when the scale just won't budge. It's during this frustrating and disheartening phase that we find ourselves trapped in a weight loss plateau.

A weight loss plateau, often referred to as a stall, is the point at which your progress comes to a screeching halt. This can be incredibly demoralizing, as it feels like all your hard work is going to waste. But rest assured, you are not alone in this struggle, and there are numerous strategies to help you break through this obstacle.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore 14 tried-and-true tips to overcome a weight loss plateau. These strategies are designed to reignite your weight loss journey, help you achieve your goal weight, and renew your motivation.

So, let's dive into these effective techniques and get you back on the path to success!

1. Cut Back on Carbs: Unlocking the Power of Low-Carb Diets

Weight loss plateaus can be incredibly frustrating, but one effective strategy to reignite your progress is to reduce your carbohydrate intake. Low-carb diets have garnered substantial research support for their effectiveness in achieving weight loss. Let's delve into the science and rationale behind this approach:

Scientific Evidence: Numerous studies have confirmed the power of low-carb diets for shedding excess pounds. A comprehensive review of 13 studies, each spanning at least a year, revealed that individuals who consumed 50 or fewer grams of carbs per day experienced more significant weight loss compared to those adhering to traditional weight loss diets. You can explore this research further through this link.

The Metabolic Advantage Debate: While the debate continues among nutrition and obesity experts, some studies have suggested that very low-carb diets may provide a "metabolic advantage." This means that they could stimulate your body to burn more calories. However, it's essential to note that not all studies have consistently demonstrated this effect. For those interested, here are some additional resources to explore this topic: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Reduced Hunger and Enhanced Fullness: The beauty of low-carb diets lies not only in their weight loss effectiveness but also in their ability to curb hunger and promote feelings of fullness. These diets consistently outperform others in terms of appetite control. Moreover, low-carb diets lead your body to produce ketones, which have been scientifically proven to reduce appetite. If you'd like to explore this further, here are some additional resources to consider: 1, 2, 3.

In essence, reducing your carbohydrate intake can help you overcome your weight loss plateau by managing hunger, enhancing feelings of fullness, and promoting long-term weight loss. This strategy not only holds scientific backing but also offers the potential for a sustainable and comfortable path toward your weight loss goals.

2. Increase Exercise Frequency or Intensity: Igniting Your Metabolism

When you find yourself stuck in a weight loss plateau, one potent tool at your disposal is to ramp up your exercise routine. Here's why increasing your exercise frequency or intensity can help break through the plateau:

Metabolic Slowdown: One of the challenges of weight loss is the unfortunate slowdown of your metabolic rate as you shed pounds. In a study encompassing more than 2,900 individuals, it was discovered that for every pound (0.45 kg) of weight lost, there's an average reduction of 6.8 calories burned. You can delve into this research further through this link.

The Role of Exercise: The good news is that exercise has been shown to counteract this metabolic slowdown. Resistance training, in particular, stands out as a powerful approach. It helps preserve your muscle mass, a key factor that influences the number of calories you burn both during physical activity and at rest. Indeed, resistance training appears to be the most effective exercise type for weight loss. If you're curious to explore this further, you can refer to these studies (1, 2).

Evidence-Based Results: To put the efficacy of resistance training into perspective, consider a 12-week study that followed young, obese women. They adhered to a low-calorie diet and engaged in 20 minutes of daily weightlifting. The outcome was impressive, with an average weight loss of 13 pounds (5.9 kg) and a reduction of 2 inches (5 cm) from their waistlines. You can explore this study in more detail through this link.

Variety in Physical Activity: Other forms of physical activity, including aerobic exercise and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), have also demonstrated their ability to protect against metabolic slowdown. These activities can be valuable additions to your exercise routine. For more insights into these types of exercise, here are some additional resources to consider (1, 2, 3, 4).

Boosting Your Metabolic Rate: If you're already engaged in an exercise routine, increasing your workout frequency by an extra 1–2 days per week or upping the intensity can provide the necessary boost to your metabolic rate. This change could be the key to reigniting your weight loss journey.

In summary, exercise, especially strength training, can effectively counteract the metabolic rate drop that often accompanies weight loss. Incorporating resistance training, aerobic exercise, or HIIT into your routine can be a game-changer in breaking through your weight loss plateau.

3. Track Everything You Eat: The Power of Food Journaling

At times, it may appear that you're not consuming much food, yet you're struggling to shed those extra pounds. Surprisingly, many individuals tend to underestimate the quantity of food they eat. Here's how tracking your food intake can be a game-changer in your weight loss journey:

Underestimating Food Intake: Research indicates that people often underestimate the amount of food they consume. This phenomenon can be a stumbling block in your weight loss efforts. A study published here reveals that this tendency is quite common.

The Calorie Discrepancy: In one remarkable study, obese individuals reported an average daily calorie intake of about 1,200 calories. However, upon conducting a meticulous analysis of their dietary habits over a 14-day period, it was revealed that they were, in fact, consuming nearly double that amount. This eye-opening research can be explored further through this link.

The Power of Tracking: To gain a clear understanding of what you're eating, tracking your calories and macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) is invaluable. This data-driven approach empowers you with concrete information about your dietary intake. It enables you to identify areas where adjustments may be needed.

The Act of Recording: Interestingly, the mere act of documenting your food intake can enhance your weight loss endeavors. Research supports the idea that keeping a food journal can have a positive impact on your journey. You can find more details about this concept in these studies (1, 2).

User-Friendly Tools: Fortunately, there's an array of user-friendly apps and websites available to help you track your nutrient intake. These tools make the process easier and more efficient, enabling you to stay accountable and make informed dietary adjustments.

In summary, meticulously tracking your calorie and macronutrient intake can provide the accountability and clarity needed to identify any necessary dietary adjustments. By being aware of what you're eating, you can effectively combat the challenges of underestimating food intake and enhance your weight loss journey.

4. Don't Skimp on Protein: The Weight Loss Accelerator

When your weight loss seems to hit a standstill, one powerful strategy to reignite your progress is increasing your protein intake. Here's why protein can be your secret weapon in breaking through a weight loss plateau:

The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Protein has a unique quality that sets it apart from fats and carbohydrates. It boasts a higher thermic effect of food (TEF), which is the increase in metabolic rate caused by the digestion of food. Protein digestion elevates calorie burning by an impressive 20–30%, more than twice as much as fats or carbs. This is substantiated by scientific findings, which you can delve into further through this source.

Metabolic Boost: In a revealing study, healthy young women followed diets that allocated 30% of their calories from protein on one day and 15% on another day. The results were striking: their metabolic rate surged twice as much after meals on the higher-protein day. For more insights into this research, you can refer to this study.

Appetite Control: Protein plays a pivotal role in managing your appetite. It stimulates the production of hormones like PYY, which help reduce your hunger and create a sense of fullness and satisfaction. These effects can be explored further in these studies (1, 2).

Muscle Preservation and Metabolism: A high protein intake isn't just about revving up your metabolism and reducing hunger; it also acts as a safeguard against the loss of muscle mass and a decline in metabolic rate, both of which often accompany weight loss. You can explore these protective properties in the following studies (1, 2, 3).

In Summary: Elevating your protein intake can be a key strategy to overcome a weight loss plateau. It helps reignite your metabolism, curbs your appetite, and safeguards against muscle loss and metabolic slowdown. Increasing your protein consumption could be the catalyst needed to break through the plateau and get your weight loss journey back on track.

5. Manage Stress: Unlocking the Weight Loss Roadblock

Stress is a formidable adversary when it comes to weight loss. It can slam the brakes on your progress in various ways. Here's why managing stress is a crucial component of breaking through a weight loss plateau:

Stress-Induced Behaviors: Stress often leads to behaviors like comfort eating and food cravings. The emotional response to stress can drive you to seek solace in unhealthy food choices, further complicating your weight loss journey.

The Cortisol Connection: Stress triggers the production of cortisol, commonly referred to as the "stress hormone." While cortisol is essential for your body's response to stress, excessive levels can lead to the accumulation of belly fat. This effect seems to be more pronounced in women, as evidenced by scientific studies (1, 2).

Cortisol's Weight Loss Hurdle: High cortisol levels can create significant barriers to weight loss. The interplay between stress and cortisol can make shedding those extra pounds exceptionally challenging.

Stress Management: It might seem that stress is an inevitable part of modern life, but research shows that you can learn to manage it effectively to support your weight loss goals. Stress-reduction strategies have been proven to be beneficial for weight loss, as highlighted in studies (1, 2).

Proven Success: In an eight-week study involving 34 overweight and obese women, a stress-management program that included techniques like muscle relaxation and deep breathing resulted in an average weight loss of 9.7 pounds (4.4 kg). This is a testament to the power of stress reduction in achieving your weight loss objectives (source).

In Summary: Stress can be a formidable obstacle to weight loss, with cortisol production acting as a major antagonist. However, by adopting stress-reduction strategies, you can mitigate its impact and pave the way for successful weight loss. Techniques like muscle relaxation and deep breathing can be powerful tools in your arsenal to break through a weight loss plateau.

6. Try Intermittent Fasting: Unleash Your Body's Fat-Burning Potential

Intermittent fasting has gained significant popularity as a promising strategy to break through weight loss plateaus. It involves structured periods of fasting, typically ranging from 16 to 48 hours, during which you abstain from food. Here's why intermittent fasting might be the key to jumpstart your weight loss journey:

A Powerful Trend: Intermittent fasting has emerged as a powerful trend in the realm of weight loss and health improvement. It offers not only potential weight loss benefits but also various other health advantages.

Weight and Waist Reduction: A comprehensive review of several intermittent fasting studies revealed substantial weight loss, with a range of 3% to 8%, and a decrease in waist circumference of 3% to 7% over periods of 3 to 24 weeks (source). These findings underscore the effectiveness of intermittent fasting in achieving fat loss.

Alternate-Day Fasting: One variant of intermittent fasting is alternate-day fasting. In this approach, individuals alternate between consuming very few calories on one day and eating as much as they want the next. Studies suggest that this form of fasting helps preserve muscle mass more effectively than daily calorie restriction (source).

Multiple Methods: Intermittent fasting offers a range of methods to suit your preferences and lifestyle. From the popular 16/8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours and eating during an 8-hour window, to more extended fasting periods, you can choose a method that aligns with your goals and daily routine.

In Summary: Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool that can help you consume fewer calories, maintain muscle mass, and safeguard your metabolic rate during weight loss. It offers a flexible and adaptable approach to dieting, making it a promising strategy to overcome weight loss plateaus and unleash your body's fat-burning potential.

7. Avoid Alcohol: Don't Let Empty Calories Derail Your Progress

While the occasional drink may seem harmless, alcohol can be a significant roadblock on your weight loss journey. Let's take a closer look at why it's crucial to avoid excessive alcohol consumption during your weight loss efforts:

Calories without Nutrition: Each alcoholic drink, whether it's a 4-ounce glass of wine, 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, or a 12-ounce beer, typically contains around 100 calories. However, these calories provide no nutritional value. When consumed in excess, these empty calories can quickly add up and hinder your weight loss goals.

Inhibition and Overeating: Alcohol has the unfortunate ability to lower inhibitions, potentially leading you to overeat or make poor food choices. For individuals trying to overcome impulsive food-related behaviors, alcohol can be a significant obstacle. One study involving 283 adults who participated in a behavioral weight loss program found that reducing alcohol intake led to a reduction in overeating and greater weight loss among those with high levels of impulsivity (source).

Fat Storage and Belly Fat: Research has shown that alcohol can suppress fat burning and contribute to the accumulation of belly fat (source). This can be particularly concerning, as excess belly fat is associated with various health risks.

The Key Takeaway: If you're experiencing a weight loss plateau, it's wise to limit your alcohol consumption or even avoid it altogether. The empty calories provided by alcohol can undermine your efforts, making it easier to overeat and accumulate unwanted body fat. By reducing your alcohol intake, you can keep your weight loss journey on track and achieve your goals more effectively.

8. Boost Your Weight Loss with Fiber: The Power of Soluble Fiber

Incorporating more fiber into your diet, particularly soluble fiber, can be a game-changer when you're stuck in a weight loss plateau. Here's why fiber is your ally in breaking through that stubborn phase:

Slowing Down Digestion: Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water or liquid, plays a vital role in delaying the movement of food through your digestive tract (source). This slowing effect can help you feel full and satisfied for longer, reducing the urge to snack or overeat.

Appetite Control: While all types of fiber can be beneficial for weight loss, research indicates that viscous fiber, a type of soluble fiber, is particularly effective at keeping your appetite and food intake in check (source). This means that including more viscous fiber-rich foods in your diet can help you better manage your cravings.

Calorie Absorption Reduction: Fiber's impact on weight loss goes beyond just curbing your appetite. A study that examined calorie absorption in diets with varying fiber content revealed that increasing daily fiber intake from 18 to 36 grams could lead to the absorption of 130 fewer calories from mixed meals (source).

The Bottom Line: If you're facing a weight loss plateau, focusing on your fiber intake, particularly soluble fiber, can make a significant difference. By incorporating foods rich in viscous fiber, you can enhance feelings of fullness, better control your appetite, and even reduce the number of calories your body absorbs from the food you eat. This, in turn, can propel you past your plateau and closer to your weight loss goals.

9. Hydrate and Energize Your Weight Loss with Water, Coffee, and Tea

Staying well-hydrated and incorporating certain beverages into your routine can be key to overcoming a weight loss plateau. Here's how water, coffee, and tea can help rev up your metabolism and get the scale moving in the right direction:

Water's Metabolic Boost: Studies show that plain water can temporarily boost your metabolism by 24–30% for up to 1.5 hours after drinking a 17-ounce (500-ml) serving (source, source). This metabolic increase may contribute to weight loss over time, particularly if you drink water before meals, which can help you eat less. For example, in a 12-week study involving older adults following a weight loss diet, the group that consumed water before meals lost 44% more weight than the group that didn't (source).

The Power of Caffeine: Coffee and tea, two popular beverages, often contain caffeine, a natural stimulant known to increase fat burning and elevate metabolic rate by up to 13% (source, source, source, source). However, these effects appear to be most pronounced in individuals with a lean body composition.

EGCG in Green Tea: Green tea contains a powerful antioxidant called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which has been shown to enhance fat burning by 17% in some studies (source). This makes green tea a beneficial choice for those looking to overcome a weight loss plateau.

Boosting Fat Burning with Exercise: Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and tea, can also enhance the metabolism-boosting and fat-burning effects of exercise (source, source). If you're combining your weight loss efforts with a workout routine, a cup of coffee or tea before your exercise session can further amplify the benefits.

The Bottom Line: Staying well-hydrated with water and incorporating coffee and tea into your diet can help kickstart your metabolism and facilitate weight loss. The caffeine content in these beverages, along with the fat-burning properties of EGCG in green tea, make them valuable tools in your journey to break through a weight loss plateau.

10. Maximize Metabolism with Protein Throughout the Day

Getting enough protein isn't just about your total daily intake; it's also about how you distribute that protein throughout your day. By spreading out your protein consumption, you can take advantage of the thermic effect of food (TEF) and potentially boost your metabolism. Here's why including protein at every meal is a winning strategy for weight loss and muscle retention:

The Power of Protein Distribution: Research suggests that spreading your protein intake across multiple meals can be more effective for promoting weight loss and preserving muscle mass (source, source). It's not just the total amount of protein that matters but also how you time it.

The 20–30 Gram Rule: Experts in protein metabolism recommend that adults aim for at least 20–30 grams of protein per meal when consuming three meals a day (source). This guideline provides a practical approach to incorporating sufficient protein into your diet.

Optimal Protein Sources: To help you meet your protein goals, consider including a variety of high-protein foods in your diet. If you need inspiration, you can explore a list of 20 delicious and protein-rich foods to choose from.

The Bottom Line: Distributing protein intake evenly throughout the day can potentially enhance your metabolism and support your weight loss efforts. Aim to include at least 20 grams of protein at each meal to optimize this strategy.

11. Prioritize Quality Sleep for Weight Loss

Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for your overall well-being and may play a significant role in your weight loss journey. Here's why sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism and managing your weight:

Sleep and Metabolic Health: Research indicates that inadequate sleep can lead to weight gain by reducing your resting metabolic rate and influencing hormone levels that stimulate appetite and fat storage (source, source, source, source). Lack of sleep may contribute to stalled weight loss and hinder your progress.

The Impact of Short Sleep: In one study, healthy adults who consistently slept only four hours per night for five nights experienced a 2.6% decrease in their resting metabolic rate. After returning to a normal sleep schedule with 7-8 hours of sleep, their metabolic rate recovered to baseline levels (source).

Aim for 7–8 Hours: To support your weight loss efforts and maintain your overall health, it's recommended that adults aim for 7–8 hours of sleep per night. Prioritizing quality sleep can positively influence your metabolic rate, hormone balance, and ultimately, your weight loss journey.

The Bottom Line: Make sure to get enough quality sleep to support your metabolism and promote healthy weight management. Aim for 7–8 hours of sleep per night to maximize the benefits of restorative rest.

12. Stay Active Throughout the Day for a Faster Metabolism

Staying active throughout the day, even when you're not engaged in structured exercise, can have a significant impact on your metabolic rate and support your weight loss efforts. Here's why staying active is important:

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): NEAT refers to the calories your body burns during activities that aren't structured workouts but involve movement. This includes actions like fidgeting, changing posture, and everyday physical activities that are part of your daily life (source). The level of NEAT can vary from person to person (source), but it can play a substantial role in your metabolic rate.

The Impact of NEAT: Research shows that NEAT can have a notable effect on your metabolic rate. For example, one study found that metabolic rates increased by 54% on average when people fidgeted while seated and by a significant 94% when fidgeting while standing (source).

Stand Up and Move: One simple way to increase NEAT is by standing up and moving more frequently, such as by using a standing desk. In fact, research suggests that people who stand rather than sit during the afternoon portion of their workday burn approximately 200 additional calories, on average (source).

The Bottom Line: Being as active as possible throughout the day, engaging in everyday physical activities, and even incorporating a standing desk can boost your metabolic rate and help with your weight loss journey. Don't underestimate the power of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).

13. Incorporate Vegetables Into Every Meal for Weight Loss

Vegetables are excellent foods for weight loss, and incorporating them into every meal can have several benefits for your weight loss journey. Here's why vegetables are essential:

Nutrient-Rich and Low in Calories: Most vegetables are nutrient-dense, meaning they provide a wide range of essential vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds while being relatively low in calories. This makes them ideal for supporting overall health and weight loss.

High in Fiber: Vegetables are typically high in dietary fiber, which can help you feel full and satisfied, reducing overall calorie intake. Fiber also supports digestive health.

Weight Loss-Friendly: Research has consistently shown that diets rich in vegetables tend to be associated with greater weight loss (source, source).

Easy to Include: It's easy to add vegetables to any meal, including breakfast. Whether it's adding spinach to your morning omelet, enjoying a salad with lunch, or roasting a medley of vegetables with dinner, there are countless ways to incorporate these weight loss-friendly foods into your daily meals.

The Bottom Line: Vegetables are loaded with essential nutrients, low in calories, and high in fiber, making them an excellent choice for supporting your weight loss goals. By including vegetables in every meal, you can enhance your diet's nutritional value and work toward breaking through a weight loss plateau.

14. Don't Rely Solely on the Scale for Weight Loss Progress

When working towards weight loss, it's common to rely on the scale as a primary tool for tracking progress. However, it's crucial to understand that the scale reading doesn't always provide the full picture of your weight loss journey. Here's why you should not rely solely on the scale:

Body Composition Changes: Weight loss should ideally mean losing body fat, not just reducing overall weight. If you're engaging in regular exercise, you may be building muscle, which is denser than fat and takes up less space in your body. This can lead to the number on the scale staying the same or even increasing.

Water Retention: Fluctuations in your body weight can be due to water retention. This can be caused by various factors, including dietary choices and hormonal changes, particularly in women (source).

Other Measures of Progress: Instead of solely focusing on the scale, pay attention to how you feel, how your clothes fit, and other non-scale victories. Measuring yourself on a monthly basis can also provide additional data to track your progress.

The Bottom Line: While the scale can be a helpful tool, it doesn't provide the complete picture of your weight loss journey. By considering other factors, such as body composition changes, water retention, and non-scale victories, you can better evaluate your progress and stay motivated during periods when the scale isn't moving.

The Bottom Line on Breaking Weight Loss Plateaus

Weight loss plateaus can indeed be frustrating and demoralizing, but it's important to remember that they are a normal part of the weight loss process. Nearly everyone experiences a plateau at some point during their weight loss journey. The key is to remain patient and persistent. Fortunately, there are various strategies and tips you can employ to overcome these plateaus and continue making progress towards your weight loss goals. By implementing the right combination of dietary, exercise, and lifestyle adjustments, you can safely break through the plateau and achieve the results you desire. Remember, consistency and a positive mindset are your allies in the battle against weight loss plateaus.


The information provided in this article is based on a review of scientific research and is intended for general informational purposes only. It should not be considered as a substitute for professional medical or nutritional advice. Always consult with a healthcare or nutrition professional before making significant changes to your diet, exercise, or lifestyle. Individual results may vary, and any dietary or lifestyle changes should be made in consultation with a qualified healthcare provider. 

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