This article was originally written by the Sequence clinic team (now known as WeightWatchers Clinic).

How to know if you've hit a weight loss plateau and what to do about it

Published July 14, 2023

Progress is always an exciting thing, especially when it comes to weight loss and improving your health! It can be so motivating to see your efforts pay off through movement on the scale or the way your clothes fit, which makes hitting a weight loss stall even more frustrating. It’s easy to let negative thoughts creep in at this time. “Am I done making progress?” “Will I ever reach my goal?” “Will I start to regain the weight I’ve lost?”

What is considered a weight loss plateau?

First, it’s important to determine if you’ve actually hit a weight loss plateau. Before you start to worry, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I still losing weight, just in smaller amounts each week or at a slower pace?
  2. Am I seeing progress in ways other than the number on the scale? (For example, are your clothes fitting better, are your energy levels improving, or are you feeling stronger at the gym?)
  3. Has it been at least four weeks since I’ve seen any change?
  4. Has my routine with activity and nutrition been inconsistent over the last four weeks?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s likely that you aren’t in a true plateau. Here’s what could actually be going on with your body instead.

If you answered “yes” to #1: Your body is always adjusting to its environment in order to keep you healthy and safe. The fast-paced weight loss you were seeing at the beginning isn’t always healthy or sustainable over long periods of time. Your body will work to regulate this and it usually results in a slower, more manageable rate of weight loss over time.

If you answered “yes” to #2: You can see progress in other areas of your life. We call these “non-scale victories”. The number on the scale may not change, but you may be wearing a smaller size in your clothing—meaning you’re losing inches! You may feel more motivated to go to the gym or perform better during your workouts. These are all signs that your body is still changing and making progress! You could just be seeing a change in your body composition— meaning that you are losing fat and building muscle. Muscle is more dense than fat and takes up less space, so a smaller amount of muscle will weigh the same as or more than a larger amount of fat. Because of this, the scale may stay the same but the way you look and feel will be different.

If you answered “yes” to #3: There are so many factors that can affect your weight, like dining out, stress, or lack of sleep. For example, increased sodium intake may cause an increase in water weight retention. You can see fluctuations up to five pounds in one day! These factors, and the frequency you experience them, can cause you to see a stall in progress for a few days or even a couple of weeks. If it's only been a week or two, stay consistent and give your body time to adjust!

If you answered “yes” to #4: Life happens! There are often circumstances that cause a change in routine. Traveling for work may cause you to be less active and eat out more than usual or an illness may require rest and comforting food until you recover. Instead of stressing about the lack of progress you’re seeing, try to reflect on your lifestyle over the previous weeks. Slowly reintroduce any habits that you might have gotten off track with and see how your body responds!

If you answered “no” to all of these questions, then you might be struggling with a weight loss plateau. To help you overcome this, here are 8 things you can do to help you continue with your progress:

  1. Don't panic! Yes … this is definitely easier said than done. When you feel stressed about not seeing the scale move, stop and remind yourself of all the progress you’ve made. You should feel proud of the work you’ve put in. Try making a list of changes you’ve made and challenges you’ve overcome. This can help take your mind off of the scale and even give you reason to celebrate!
  2. Focus on ways you can continue to improve. While you’re making a list of changes you’ve made so far, check to see if there's anything missing. Are there any habits you’d like to develop that you haven’t gotten to yet? If so, now is the time to start taking tiny steps toward building that habit!
  3. Instead of doing something drastic, aim to stay consistent. This is not the time to start making major changes to your routine. Instead, work with the WeightWatchers Clinic (powered by Sequence) team to find out how you can make realistic changes that will improve your progress. Try meeting with a dietitian to see what adjustments you can make to help meet your nutritional needs. You can also schedule a consultation to speak with a fitness coach about adding extra movement to your day.
  4. Make sure you eat enough and avoid over-restricting. It’s tempting to follow the “eat less, move more” strategy when we feel like we aren’t making progress. Unfortunately, this isn’t sustainable and could even make things worse in the long run. Instead of trying to eat less, think of how you can better fuel your body. You will likely experience better energy levels and more effective workouts because of it!
  5. Prioritize protein intake. Higher protein intake has been shown to aid in fat loss and maintenance of muscle mass. Aim for 1-1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to make sure you’re meeting your protein needs. And, if you’re really active, aiming for a higher intake of 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram may be beneficial.
  6. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep can impact appetite, cravings, metabolism, blood sugar control, and much more. A lack of sleep could be the unexpected factor that’s affecting your progress. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night to make sure you're functioning at your best.
  7. Work on managing your stress. Stress can have an impact on your sleep, appetite, and energy levels. Set aside time for self-care activities that can help you decompress. Stress management will look different depending on the person. Try incorporating some of these techniques to get started.
  8. Consider taking a break. Enjoy a maintenance phase for a while and let your body and mind rest. Continue to follow a healthy lifestyle by eating nutrient-dense foods you enjoy and getting in activity that makes you feel good. Taking the focus off of the scale and giving more attention to how you feel can make a huge difference in how you see your progress. Sometimes this mental and physical break is just what you need to get yourself back on track!

It is normal for weight loss to be greater in the beginning and slow or sometimes even stop for periods of time. The reality is that progress is never linear … in any situation! It’s easy to focus on the slow times, but if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, you will see the true progress!