Plateau Buster: Effective Tips to Break Through Fat Loss Plateaus and Reach Your Goals

Plateau Buster: Effective Tips to Break Through Fat Loss Plateaus and Reach Your Goals

Jul 13, 2023
Mark Carroll


Nobody enjoys the feeling of a plateau!

Reading this means you are feeling frustrated with your weight loss journey. Have you hit a plateau and can’t seem to break through and gain your momentum back?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Plateaus are common during dieting phases, but they don’t have to derail your progress long-term. This article shares practical tips to help you break through those plateaus and reach your goals. Firstly understanding why we plateau is essential. Then, I will move to key strategies to implement when the inevitable plateaus occur, from adjusting your training volume or manipulating your calories and macros. I will cover all the fundamental essentials to allow you to get your momentum back again fast!

Plateaus are normal, but this does not mean they must last long! Say goodbye to that stubborn weight loss and hello to a new level of success. It’s time to regain control, regain momentum, and break free from your current fat loss plateau.

Understanding Fat Loss Plateaus

Firstly, what is a plateau? It is when the current calories and training we were utilizing to see initial progress no longer give us the same fat loss response! Fat loss plateaus occur when your body adapts to the initial changes you’ve made in your diet and exercise routine, resulting in a slowdown or complete halt in weight loss. Which can be frustrating and demotivating, but understanding why plateaus happen is the first step in overcoming them.

One of the main reasons for fat loss plateaus is metabolic adaptation and the fact we just now weigh less the longer we diet.

Metabolic adaptation is our body’s natural defense mechanism for fat loss. The longer we diet and the more weight we lose, the more our body thinks we are in potential danger of losing too much weight. Our body’s job is to keep us alive. It does not care that we want to look good in a bikini or do a bodybuilding competition.

Through a calorie deficit for fat loss, you can reduce your calorie intake through your nutrition or increase your physical activity through training and general movement; your body responds by adjusting its metabolism to conserve energy. This process takes time to happen. Again, this is in response to fat loss occurring. This defesce mechanism is why a plateau happens after initial progress.

Metabolic adaptation will involve your body becoming more efficient at utilizing its lowered calorie intake. Therefore, your burn does a better job running on lower “fuel,” meaning we expend fewer calories. Suitable for survival in a famine, but not so good when aiming to get leaner.

Our bodies will also lower a component of our daily energy expenditure called “NEAT”.

NEAT is our non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Please think of this as our daily non-planned movement. Little things like fighting, using your hands when you talk. All these little movements we do in our day lead to calorie expenditure. When NEAT lowers, the body does this to make us want to conserve energy again. It may not seem like much, but again it’s enough to lower your daily calorie expenditure by 100+ calories.

Both can cause your weight loss to slow down or stall altogether. Your initial calorie deficit number is now no longer correct as, through metabolic adaptation, your maintenance calories have now been lowered. If you need help working out your maintenance calories, use my FREE TDEE CALCULATOR which will give you your daily calories to maintain your weight!

To break through fat loss plateaus, you need to create once again a calorie deficit that will be effective. Often, people think they are in a calorie deficit, but if there is no fat loss over a period of time, you are not! Let’s explore some strategies to help you do just that.

Common Causes of Fat Loss Plateaus

Before diving into the solutions, it’s important to identify the common causes of fat loss plateaus. By understanding what might be holding you back, you can tailor your approach and make the necessary adjustments to keep progressing towards your goals.

  1. Calorie intake: this one is everything! You are eating more calories than you need to be losing body fat. Remember, the calories that initially led to fat loss are not the calories you will stay on. When plateaus occur, calorie intake will need to be lowered.
  2. Lack of strength training: Addressing your nutrition is essential for fat loss. Yet, training to build muscle and strength often needs to be addressed in the dieting phases. Weight training will help preserve muscle mass in a calorie deficit, which is vital for keeping your metabolic rate higher. The more muscle you have, the more calories you will expend.
  3. Repetitive workout routine or working out with no consistency: too often, people become bored with their training as they do the same thing for months. Training should still be enjoyable. The more you enjoy the prices, the more likely you will return. Conversely, too much inconsistency with your training structure can lead to no progress. Excellent training will assist if you want to break through your fat loss plateau.
  4. Stress and sleep: High-stress levels and inadequate sleep can impact your hormones, particularly those that regulate appetite. Dieting for fat loss is much more likely to be successful if you are not consistently hungry. Improved sleep and stress management will help you manage your hunger levels.
  5. Lack of using different types of training: for fat loss transformations, my goal is not just to help a client become skinnier. It’s to build muscle and strength using resistance training. It improves their fitness levels and increases calorie expenditure and cardio work. Then, it’s to get my clients moving during the day, daily step targets! All of this help synergistically to achieve a fat loss transformation and break through the plateau.

Now that we’ve identified the common causes of fat loss plateaus let’s delve into the practical tips to help you break through them and reach your goals.

The Importance of Tracking Progress

Tracking your progress is crucial for breaking through fat loss plateaus. You can identify patterns, make adjustments, and stay motivated by keeping a record of your workouts, nutrition, and body measurements.

  1. Tracking your calories: Recording everything you eat and drink to understand your daily calorie intake is the ultimate cheat sheet to fat loss success. Fat loss comes down to your calorie intake. If we accurately know how many calories we consume daily, achieving fat loss success is more accessible. We want accuracy when dieting, not guessing and hoping for the best. Track your calories daily with a macro tracking app.
  2. Track your workouts: do not just turn up at the gym with no plan. Go there with a purpose and clear-cut objective each session. Over 100,000 people have used my training programs for this crucial reason. Having an excellent training program in which you log your weights lifted and reps achieved each session will allow you to notice your progression and hold you accountable.
  3. Weigh yourself daily and measure weekly: Take regular measurements of your waist, hips, thighs, and other target areas to track changes in body composition, even when the scale doesn’t budge. Tape measuring is a form of tracking I would do weekly in a fat loss phase.

Weighing yourself is a tool I like clients to do daily. Now, I know people often stress about the scale. But, if you are going to use it. Use it daily, as our body weights fluctuate considerably daily. Daily weight will give us a weekly average, which is the best way to assess your progress to account for fluctuations accurately.

Adjusting Your Calorie Intake

Calorie intake is an essential component of weight loss. We must create a calorie deficit! Without a calorie deficit, there is no fat loss! Initial weight loss often comes quickly, but the longer we diet, the more the rate of fat loss tends to slow down. Understanding this is important. Adjusting calorie intake when plateaus arise will also quickly mean we can break through the fat loss plateaus.

However, it’s important to approach calorie adjustments carefully to ensure long-term success.

  • Calculate your calorie needs: Use my FREE TDEE calculator. TDEE is your total daily energy expenditure. This amount will give you your maintenance calories. The calories you need to eat each day to maintain your weight. We need to use this number to create a calorie deficit.
  • Create a moderate calorie deficit: your initial calorie deficit should come from around a 20-30% calorie deficit. This will lead to a healthy rate of fat loss which should be manageable to stick to, however, as we lose more and more weight, fat loss will slow down because our bodies expend fewer calories. We must counteract this by decreasing our calorie intake.

We expend fewer calories. Therefore, we decrease our calories consumed to drive us back into a deficit.

When your fat loss plateau occurs, look to lower your calorie intake around 100-200, which should account for the body’s reduction in calorie expenditure.

This step is essential! Too often, people feel weight loss is impossible after initial progress. Again, it is normal to have a fat loss plateau. The simple strategy of lowering your calorie intake by 100-200 calories a day will be the most powerful strategy for breaking through the fat loss plateau and progressing towards your fat loss transformation.

  • Avoid drastic calorie cuts: While it may be tempting to reduce your calorie intake, doing so further aggressively can make the dieting process extremely hard to stick to. Yes, the lower your calories, the more fat loss you will achieve. However, fat loss is about sticking to a calorie deficit. Suppose we have our calories too low that we cannot adhere to. Then, we will need more progress. A more mild calorie deficit we adhere to for a few months will be far more successful for fat loss than a calorie deficit set aggressively, but you cannot stick to it.

Adjusting your calorie intake in a controlled and sustainable manner can create a calorie deficit that will keep your fat loss progress moving forward.

When we plateau, yes! We want to lower calories. No, it does not have to be a huge calorie drop of 500 calories or anything excessive. Suppose we have been progressing well before the plateau. The previous results tell us that a slight reduction in your intake should lead to momentum again on your fat loss journey.

Incorporating Resistance Training

Too often, people think “cardio only” when training for fat loss. Incorporating resistance training into your weekly training routine is crucial for breaking through and maintaining/building muscle mass. Keeping our muscles should be a huge focus to help to minimize fat loss plateaus and achieve long-term success.

Resistance training not only helps build lean muscle mass but also helps to keep your metabolic rate high. Muscle is more energy costly to the body than fat mass. The more muscle we have, the more calories we expend. If we are dieting, this is a great thing, as retaining your muscle mass leads to burning more calories throughout the day compared to someone with less muscle at the same body weight.

  1. Lift weights: The first step. Utilizing resistance training exercises such as squats, presses, deadlifts, rowing movements, you name it. These exercises should be performed in a 3-15 rep range to ensure a hypertrophy-focused session, which helps create more shape for your physique as you diet.
  2. Increase intensity: As your training experience increases, we must continue progressing our sessions. Adding more weight to the bar or performing more reps with that same weight is progressive overload. We always want to be training for progressive overload, even in a fat-loss phase.
  3. Include cardio and steps: Resistance training should be a staple to our weekly exercise. Think of cardio and steps as your side dishes. Fat loss, first and foremost, comes down to creating a calorie deficit. Yes, nutrition is essential for this. But, we can also increase our calorie deficit by expanding more calories. Cardio workouts can be an effective strategy to do just this. Now, we can do it without overdoing it. Aim for two cardio sessions a week to partner with your resistance training.

Steps targets are a fantastic way to ensure you keep your daily movement up. This tends to lower when we diet and lose weight as the body aims to conserve energy. A simple strategy to ensure you break through a plateau is to keep your steps elevated. Track your steps daily and set a target. Stay consistent with these.

Incorporating resistance training into your routine will help you break through plateaus and improve your overall body composition, strength and bone density.

Varying Your Exercise Routine

Just as your body adapts to a calorie deficit, it can also adapt to a repetitive exercise routine. To keep your body progressing, you must increase the difficulty of your sessions.

  1. Increase the weight lifted: The most straightforward way to measure progress in resistance training is the ability to lift more weight on an exercise. Too often, people need to challenge themselves more in the gym. You increase the weight slightly once you can achieve a certain weight for a given amount of reps. Aim to keep doing this over and over. Always strive to become stronger regardless of the exercise.
  2. Change rep ranges: Alternate between low reps with heavy weights and high reps with lighter weights in training phases to keep you mentally stimulated for your sessions. Training phases of 4-5 weeks targeting a rep range of 10-12 reps will allow a reasonable amount of time to progress, then decrease reps to 6-8 reps for the next training phase. Lowering the reps allows you to add more weight as reps decrease. New ways to challenge your muscles and have you looking forward to a new training phase.
  3. Add intervals: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be a time-effective strategy to increase calorie expenditure. Cardio is a tool to help you expend more calories to drive you into a more significant calorie deficit to break through your fat loss plateau. Intervals, consisting of short sharp efforts balanced out by active recovery periods, can be highly energy costly in a short period, which can be optimal for those struggling with time!

By introducing variety into your exercise routine, you’ll not only prevent plateaus but also keep your workouts enjoyable and engaging.

Managing Stress and Sleep

Stress and sleep play a more prominent role in weight loss than people realize! and can impact your breaking through plateaus. When you’re stressed, your body releases the stress hormones like cortisol while affecting other hormones like ghrelin and leptin, which help regulate your appetite. Increased hunger and lowered satiety matter due to increasing the difficulty of adhering to a calorie deficit.

The longer you diet and the more weight you lose. The more we increase our hunger hormone “ghrelin”. To make matters worse, we decrease our hormone, which regulates satiety levels, “leptin”.

Yes, this happens when we lose weight. Though, poor sleep and high-stress levels can make this process come on quicker in your fat loss journey or more pronounced the leaner you become.

  1. Practice stress management techniques: Incorporating stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or journaling into your daily routine can help to lower your stress hormones.
  2. Prioritize sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Establish a bedtime routine and minimizes stressors before bed. Quality sleep can help to make the fat loss process more successful.
  3. Have hobbies outside the gym: A fat loss transformation can often feel very demanding. Try having a break mentally from the constant demands and enjoy seeing friends and having hobbies outside weight loss. Positive outside distractions can help lower your stress and be a positive change of focus.

By managing stress and prioritizing sleep, you can create an environment where your body can function at a higher level, break through plateaus, and promote a more positive fat-loss experience. Fat loss is not always easy, but the more we can make the process less stressful, the better our ability to adhere to our deficit.

Utilizing Strategic Refeeds days 

A refeed day is when we purposely increase our calories for the day back up to our current maintenance levels (your TDEE). Strategic refeeds can be practical tools to give you a short break through the rigors of a fat loss phase. Fat loss plateaus often occur from struggles with adherence levels. A refeed day can give you a short mental break without derailing your progress.

However, it’s important to use them strategically and in moderation.

A refeed day means you are not losing fat as you are no longer in a calorie deficit, which is acceptable short term! Especially if you have been plateauing and know it’s time to decrease calories again. Having 1-2 days of calories back up can be a strategy to give you more energy, lower stress, increase your glycogen levels and mentally prepare you to decrease calories once again to break through the current plateau.

Exploring Different Fat Loss Methods

Suppose you’ve tried various strategies and are stalled in a fat loss plateau. In that case, exploring different fat loss methods, which may be easier to adhere to, is worth exploring. It’s essential to understand first that there is no magic diet. Fat loss occurs due to being in a sustained calorie deficit. Regardless of your diet of choice, fat loss occurs not due to the macronutrient breakdown or the types of foods. Fat loss occurs due to your deficit!

However, this means that any diet can work if you find it sustainable. The name of the game is to be consistently in a deficit. If you are struggling with adherence, here are a few options

  1. Macro tracking: Instead of solely focusing on calories, track your macronutrient intake (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats). Tracking can give you a more accurate understanding of the foods you are consuming and how much of each macronutrient group. Tracking macros is the gold standard for nutritional accuracy, and where I suggest everyone aiming to break through a fat loss plateau first begins.
  2. Flexible dieting: is following the footsteps of tracking your macros. With a flexible approach, the primary focus is that you aim to include more fun foods into your diet. Can you lose weight by eating a doughnut? Yes! Can you lose weight by eating ice cream? Yes! Should every meal be these foods? No. But you can incorporate more fun foods into an otherwise healthy diet! Remember, fat loss comes down to a calorie deficit! Incorporating a more flexible approach can improve adherence levels as you feel less restricted.

Remember, what works for one person may not work for another. Finding a fat loss method that suits your lifestyle and preferences is essential.

Seeking Professional Coaching

Chances are if you are like the majority of people, you have tried dieting yourself previously or followed a training program at some stage. Often, the results left you feeling quite disheartened, or should I say, lack of fat loss results. Here’s the thing, not all coaching, training advice and programming are equal.

Doing it yourself and hoping for the best will also not allow you to get the results you strive for. People often spend years trying endless gimmicky diets or multiple strategies at once, yet struggle to break through fat loss plateaus and see their efforts pay off.

This is where working with a professional coach can pay off massively. Saving you years of frustration from not seeing the progress you are after. Some big helpers can be

  1. Hire a personal trainer: Working with a knowledgeable personal trainer can give you the strategy to achieve your goals and the valuable knowledge to help you understand where you may have been going wrong. Education plus programming is crucial!
  2. Consult a registered dietitian: A registered dietitian can assess your current diet and provide tailored nutrition recommendations to help you overcome plateaus.
  3. Join a support group: Connect with like-minded individuals on a weight loss journey. Sharing experiences, tips, and challenges can provide motivation and support. My Coach Mark Carroll Facebook groups for my programs are filled with thousands of like-minded people striving to be their best. This group helps build a great positive energy community where everyone truly wants each member to hit their goals. A great support network can make a difference when things get complicated in the dieting process.

Remember, reaching out for professional help doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s a proactive step towards breaking through plateaus and achieving your goals. It may be the very thing that finally allows your hard work to be validated.

Staying Motivated and Consistent

Breaking through fat loss plateaus requires consistency and perseverance. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated and on track.

  1. Set realistic goals: Break your long-term goals into smaller, achievable milestones. Celebrate each milestone to stay motivated. Use the “when? And how much? Goal setting process. When do you want to achieve this result? How much weight do you want to lose? Being specific can help you track your progress towards your goal.
  2. Find a training partner: Working out with a friend in the gym, especially with cardio, can make exercise more enjoyable and help you stay accountable. Many of my clients train with friends when using my programs to much success.
  3. Acknowledge your progress: Too often, we get down on where we are currently. Feeling our goal is further away than ever. Is that genuinely correct? However, if you look more deeply at your previous months. There is a strong chance you have come a long way and further than you give yourself credit for. Measure backwards! Your goal was 10kg fat loss! You have lost 5kg! Instead of saying I am 5kg away. I cannot do this! Remind yourself you have already lost 5kg, and focus on that accomplishment!

Progress takes time, and fat loss plateaus are a normal part of the journey. Stay consistent, trust the process, and keep pushing forward.

Take Home Points

Fat loss pleasures are normal.

When we lose weight, our bodies weigh less and expend fewer calories.

When we lose weight, our bodies have a natural defense mechanism called metabolic adaptation.

This process leads to our bodies becoming more efficient at utilizing low calories for fuel and therefore expending fewer calories.

To break through a fat loss plateau, look to decrease calorie intake to account for reducing daily calorie expenditure.

Cardio and steps can also be a tool to break through your fat loss plateau, as you can increase your daily expenditure by moving more.

Incredible fat loss transformations regularly will encounter plateaus. The key is to make changes when needed.

If you need help working out your calorie requirements, use my FREE TDEE Calculator, which will help you understand your maintenance calories. From here, you can now create your calorie deficit.

Good luck!


Yours in health,

Mark Carroll

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