Why can’t I lose weight exercising? 7 ways to break a weight loss plateau.

Has your weight loss progress stalled? Don’t worry! Nearly everyone hits a plateau in their weight loss progress eventually. Your body is great at adapting to change, so you may need to adjust your exercise and eating routine. As you lose weight there’s less of you to move, which means your calories burned walking and RMR decreases. Water retention, hormonal changes, stress, and other factors can also lead to temporary blips in your weight. If you’re stuck on a plateau for an extended period of time, you’ll need to evaluate your healthy eating plan, look to increase your daily step goal, and ensure your walking is intense enough.

We’re covering 3 reasons why you might have hit a weight loss plateau, plus 7 tweaks to your routine to change things up, give you added motivation, and help you get back on track to reaching your goal weight.

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Why Do People Hit Weight Loss Plateaus?

Man tired from fitness walking too much
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Reason 1: Your weight loss plan hasn’t evolved

Your weight loss plan, healthy eating routine, and walking workout need to change and improve as you start to get healthier. As you lose weight, there’s less of you to move. That’s a good thing, but it also means that you’re burning fewer calories per hour than when you were heavier. Your resting metabolic rate, or the calories you burn at rest, will also decrease. Translation – your body needs slightly fewer calories and burns slightly fewer calories. If you don’t walk more (or do more intense walking), eat a bit less, or both, your weight loss progress will stall.

According to the Mayo Clinic, when you first start reducing calories as part of a healthy diet, your body starts burning stored glycogen for its energy needs. Glycogen is partly water, so you may lose weight more quickly at first due to the drop in water retention. You also may have already eliminated the obvious problems with your diet (like cutting soda), but

Reason 2: You’re eating more (or not healthy enough)

As you start to exercise more, you may be tempted to eat more to add back the calories. If you’re adding pre-workout, mid-workout, and post-working snacks or meals, you could end up eating back much more than you actually burn. It’s also possible that you some of your “healthy” swaps are actually not really healthier at all (like swapping soda for sugary juices).

Or, you may have simply lost your initial motivation to eat healthier. If you’re busy and stressed, you may find yourself reaching for chips, donuts, or whatever is easiest to grab. Before you know it, your progress has stalled. Check tips 3, 4, and 5 below for ways to fix this.

Reason 3: You’re not walking consistently enough

As with eating healthier, you’ll often have high initial motivation to walk but that motivation can fall off over time. That’s why it’s imperative to make your walks a daily habit so you don’t need to find the motivation to walk every day. Check your recent step counts, and see if you’re really hitting your walking goals every day. Life can get in the way, and time can be hard to come by. If you don’t have the time, try walking stairs, power walking, speed walking or another high-calorie burning walking workout.

Break through your weight loss plateau!

Tip 1: Don’t Focus Solely On The Scale

Scale with healthy foods - weight loss concept
New Africa / Shutterstock

While the scale provides a measurement of how you’re doing, it’s not the only thing that’s important. Even if you have difficulty hitting that “magic number,” a better goal should be to get healthier and feel great. The number on the scale is just a target to help you along the way. Feeling great and being able to get active for longer is the result you’re looking for! If you’re consistently getting a great step count and feeling better than ever, you’re already achieving your ultimate goal.

Just looking at the number on the scale may simplify things, but this simplification comes at a cost. As you start exercising more, you may start to tone your muscles as well as burn fat. Muscle is denser than fat, which means that you may still be reducing body fat while your weight doesn’t change much.

Your weight on any particular day may also reflect water retention caused by hormone fluctuations and dietary change. You can get a better idea of your progress by measuring your waistline every month or so. An even better idea is just to note down how you feel after a walk every so often. Generally, if you feel healthier, you are doing better.

Tip 2: Get More Intense & Change Up Your Exercise Routine

Group of friends walking with poles
Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock

Your muscles become more efficient as they grow accustomed to a workout. This means that the exercise routine that helped you lose the weight may not cut it anymore once you’ve made some serious progress. When you’re just getting started, a 15-minute walking workout may feel very intense. If you’re an experienced walker, you may walk for an hour or more every day!

You may want to increase the intensity of your workouts and include strength training, since both have been shown to boost metabolism. The more you do walking workouts, the more endurance you’ll build up. This will allow you to walk further and walk faster than before, which can help burn more calories. Consider adding some spice to your workout, like getting more intense or trying Nordic walking!

Getting more fit can help reduce the impact on your joints and give you the strength, flexibility, and energy to try activities you may never have considered before. This can overcome the slight decrease in calories burned per hour as you lose some weight.

Tip 3: Update Your Diet

Vegan green salad bowl
Foxys Forest Manufacture / Shutterstock

The heavier you are, the more calories you need to perform your daily activities. There is simply more of you to move. The flipside of this, (as the Mayo Clinic points out) is that as you lose weight, the calories that your body burns decreases. To get past your weight loss plateau, you may need to re-calibrate your diet and eat a little bit less to continue towards your goal weight.

It is important to make sure you’re eating AT LEAST the minimum number of calories to stay healthy (generally at least 1500/day for men and 1200 for women). Changing your eating habits so that you eat more lean protein throughout the day may make it easier for you to keep to your new caloric requirements, too. You also may need to evaluate whether your weight loss goal is actually healthy and achievable.

One great way to estimate what you should eat is to estimate your resting metabolic rate (RMR)RMR represents the number of calories you burn when not doing anything. Add on your exercise, and that’s what you burn during the day! Pacer’s coach can do this for you automatically, or you can use a calculator online (or check our piece linked above).

Tip 4: Be Honest About (and Track) What You Eat

woman refusing unhealthy cupcake
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As you start to lose weight, it’s easy to get careless and forget about portion sizes. It’s also easy to treat yourself to some food rewards to celebrate your success. This can undermine your success and put you on a weight loss plateau. What you eat is even more important than exercise for weight loss, as it’s simply easier to eat calories than burn them off.

To combat this, you can try keeping a log of what you eat. You don’t necessarily need to track every day, but it can be a good exercise to pick an occasional day and write down everything you take in on that one day. Once you understand how much you are actually eating, it will be easier to make healthy food choices. If you have a few favorites that you eat on a regular basis, take a few minutes to estimate their calorie counts. You might be surprised at the result. You don’t have to totally eliminate high-calorie favorites, but instead reduce your portion sizes or eat them a bit less frequently.

Take a look at what you’re eating and see if there are high-calorie foods that don’t actually bring you joy and make you happy. Many of us drink soda or high-calorie coffee drinks out of habit. You don’t have to deprive yourself of your favorites, but you’ll often find that you can swap certain foods (or drinks) with healthier versions and not even notice. Swapping just one soda per day for unsweetened ice tea can really add up!

Tip 5: Drink water, not calories!

delicious lemon cucumber water
Boriskina Olga / Shutterstock

Your body sometimes responds to feeling dehydrated by giving you a sensation that feels like hunger. Drinking plenty of water can help keep this false hunger feeling at bay. Just make sure that you are drinking low or no-calorie beverages that don’t have a lot of sugar or calories. Particularly steer clear of alcohol, which has nothing but empty calories.

Drinking calories is one of the easiest ways to derail a healthy eating plan. Most sugary drinks are not filling, and may actually make you feel hungrier. By choosing drinks like unsweetened iced tea or just good old plain water over sodas and sports drinks, you can go a long way towards eating healthier. Better yet, make your own low-calorie mocktail by adding lemon, cucumber, berries or other tasty treats to flavor your water.

Tip 6: Find Ways To Manage Your Stress

women meditating in the park
fizkes / Shutterstock

Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases in times of stress. Cortisol is generally unhealthy, and can also cause increased levels of belly fat. Getting rid of stubborn belly fat is difficult enough as it is, so small changes in this area can make a big difference. Stress and rising cortisol levels often cause people to resort to comfort eating, which is another way stress can sabotage your weight loss plan.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other, more healthful ways of dealing with stress. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi are great stress releasers (stress release + exercise like walking is an added bonus!). You can also set aside time for activities that help you unwind, such as taking a warm bath or sitting down with a good book. You might try writing down the things that stress you out and then write out a plan to deal with those stressors.

As soon as you recognize you’re feeling stressed, go out of your way to get active. If you come up with a stress plan, you’ll have other options to go to before you grab something to eat. This can make it easier to stick to your healthy eating plan, and help to bust through weight loss plateaus.

Tip 7: Be Sure You Get Your Sleep

Man sleeping soundly in bed
wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

A lack of sleep causes a release of cortisol and a hormone called ghrelin. Both of these hormones cause you to hang onto fat, and contribute to eating more. You may have experienced a feeling of hunger when you’re tired that doesn’t seem to go away even after eating. That’s where it comes from!

Sleep is also the time when your body recovers from your tough walking workouts. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re likely to be sorer after a long walk and have less energy to walk the next day. You also may put yourself at greater risk of injury. Make sure you rest up and recover so you can keep hitting your step goals.

Lack of sleep also interferes with your thinking and makes controlling your impulses harder, which sabotages your weight loss plans. To get more sleep, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Try to schedule in 8 hours to sleep, and keep away from the screens a half an hour before bedtime.

Don’t Give Up

Weight loss plateaus are a normal part of losing weight. The human body is fantastic at adjusting to new situations, including exercising more and eating less. Chances are, yours will settle on a new comfort zone as soon as it can. Your goal should be to create a new, healthy comfort level for your body that you can stick with for a long time. So long as you stick with your goal and adjust your program to your circumstances, you will power through your weight loss plateau!

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If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer now for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.

12 thoughts on “Why can’t I lose weight exercising? 7 ways to break a weight loss plateau.

  1. Great advice as the plateau is a common occurrence of those on a diet . I’m experiencing this phenomenon currently.

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