Whether the scale hasn’t budged for one week or six, it’s always a frustrating experience — especially when you feel you’re doing everything “right” to get the weight off. But before you start beating yourself up or throw in the towel on your healthy eating plan, know that you’re not alone.
“The first thing our research shows is that everything hits a plateau,” says Bob Sullivan, co-author of The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success. “Every good idea, diet program, marriage and professional athlete eventually stops working,” says Sullivan. “This is the most confusing thing about any endeavor, and it’s particularly frustrating for people trying to lose weight.” Luckily, there are ways to turn things around — though some methods aren’t as obvious as others.
For instance, eating way less might get the scale moving. But cutting calories has its limitations, and in fact, seems to stop working after a while, says Sullivan. The same goes for the same old workout routine — eventually you’ll need to mix things up, add some high-intensity intervals and challenge the body in new ways. Pairing proper nutrition and a challenging workout routine is, of course, a winning combination. But there are a few more ways to help you bust through that weight loss plateau. Here are seven expert-backed tips on how to reach your goal weight, the healthy way.
7 Things You Can Do When the Scale Won’t Budge
“It’s easier to form a new habit instead of breaking an old one you struggle with.”
1. De-emphasize the scale.
Most physicians would readily agree that the scale alone is a very incomplete metric, says Sullivan. So is your BMI number, or any other metric number on its own. Being healthy involves dozens of measurements, and utilizing more of them will help you realize how far you’ve come and help you set new goals, he says. Perhaps you aren’t moving the scale but you’re lowering your heart rate, reducing belly fat, or improving your cholesterol numbers. Start taking measurements so you can see how your body composition is changing by shedding fat and building lean muscle when your weight stays the same. Being able to fit into a smaller size? Now that’s a milestone worth celebrating!
2. Enlist an honest buddy.
A solid support system is a must when you need that extra push to reach your goals. Whether that’s a friend with similar goals or a significant other who just knows how you’re wired, find someone you can be completely honest with about how you’re doing, says Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Family Health Center and author of Eat Q: Unlock the Weight-Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence. Having someone to check in with daily or at least a few times a week will keep you accountable and may help you stay on track when faced with temptation. Knowing you’ll have to tell your weight loss buddy you went back for second helpings may help you put the kibosh on that habit. And when it comes time to hit the gym, sweating as a duo is just way more fun.
3. Don’t break old habits — start new ones.
Instead of trying to break old eating habits, form new healthy habits to crowd out the old ones, says Dr. Albers. “It’s easier to form a new habit instead of breaking an old one you struggle with.” So if your old tendency is to have ice cream every night, try swapping the ice cream for non-fat yogurt with granola and factor that into your daily calorie intake, Dr. Albers suggests. Taking control with a positive mindset can help you stay motivated to stick to your healthy eating plan. Just keep in mind that diet boredom and eating the same old foods could also be a factor in your plateau.
To keep from falling off the wagon, have “today-only goals.” Go for a quick run, split that cookie with a friend, skip the sugary cocktail at dinner.
4. Give yourself a hand.
It’s common to overeat because you’re bored or upset about something (aka “emotional eating”). The next time you find yourself diving in for seconds, try tensing your fists to stop yourself from noshing, suggests Dr. Albers. “Clenching your fist while thinking ‘no’ helps you stay true to that behavior. You’re seeing an action and feeling it.” For more helpful strategies, try these nine mindful eating tips.
5. Clean up your environment.
It might seem like an odd way to kick-start weight loss, but getting your home and kitchen organized can help you feel like you’ve got a handle on your weight. “The more in control you feel in your external environment, the more you feel in control internally,” says Dr. Albers. Get rid of the junk (and junk food!), and get your kitchen, home and office in tip-top shape to start inspiring calm and clarity from the inside out.
6. Stop dwelling on your diet.
“The time you spend away from a problem is just as important as the time you spend trying to solve that problem,” says Sullivan. Since you’re not going to be able to eat and exercise perfectly every day, it’s important to avoid stressing over it 24/7. Spending too much time “fixing” a problem limits how far you’ll actually get. “Most people don’t know this, so they keep banging their head against a wall. That’s the very epitome of a mental plateau becoming a physical plateau.” Keep tabs of your daily food intake and workouts, but remember there’s more to life outside the confines of your diet. Keep your interests varied and social life active!
7. Start with today.
The disappointment you feel when you don’t see the number you want on the scale can lead to a dangerous cycle of negative thinking. People don’t really get depressed because the scale reads 152 instead of 150, they get depressed because they feel fat, says Sullivan. This can lead to feelings of fatalism (i.e. “I might as well just eat that quart of ice cream anyway”), which can lead to binge eating, research shows.
To keep from falling off the wagon, have “today-only goals,” suggests Sullivan. Go for a quick run, split that cookie with a friend, skip the sugary cocktail at dinner. Celebrate these small victories to get back a sense of control, power and achievement. “Take care of the little things and the big things will follow.”
Originally posted on September 16, 2013. Updated November 2016.