Break through a weight loss plateau with REST

Anyone who has tried to lose weight has experienced a weight loss plateau – large or small. You lose, you lose, you lose – and then it stops. Some times you regain weight that was lost. Sometimes the plateau is a week or two. Other times it lasts months.

Plateaus occur in part because the human body has set points. Your body will reach a new set point approximately every 12 weeks. What does that mean? You can expect a plateau every 12 weeks – if not every six. NOTE: This varies on an individual basis, but these are common benchmarks.

Research shows that we can use plateaus to benefit the long term journey (Fairburn, 2008). The best plan is to be prepared.

Six month rule

For a client who is looking to lose a significant amount of weight (>40% of her bodyweight), I implement a six month rule. We work together to set weekly and monthly short-term goals and six-month, long-term goals. At the six month milestone, all weight goals pertain to weight maintenance.

Yes, maintenance, not loss.

Physiologically, the body has been in a deprived state for a significant amount of time. While the ideal program will have guided you to avoid reaching the physiological starvation mode, at some point your body is going to adapt to the deprivation. NOTE: I do not even like using the word deprivation, as a weight loss that results from deprivation is a band-aid, not a long-term solution. Further, deprivation bares a negative connotation and negativity is detrimental to goal attainment.


After six months of dedication to strict meal planning and lifestyle changes, it is a good idea for you to allow yourself to simply BE. Maintain what you have worked so hard to achieve. Accept it. Appreciate it. Recognize it. At this point on your journey, it may be difficult to see what is real when you look in the mirror – and you may see a previous version of yourself. The phantom fat phenomenon may be preventing you from being able to see your results. This can add discouragement and frustration to a lengthy, taxing process.

I encourage clients to take at least a month to focus on maintenance at the six month mark. During this time goals do not increase physical activity, nor do they change eating habits. Goals focus on the established lifestyle. If a client had previous goals of working out 3 times a week, we retain that goal for the 4 weeks – but we do not reach for more. I do not encourage her to stretch herself. We work to maintain the changes made so far and adopt them as part of a lasting, healthy lifestyle.

If you choose to maintain – you retain the control instead of allowing the plateau to control you.

A time to rest
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Sometimes we just need a break. Sometimes you just need to be easy on yourself. You also need to know, that it is OKAY to rest. In fact, you need to rest. Why do most individuals quit weight loss programs?

Grow tired and weary?

The mental fatigue of constantly thinking about what you need to do next?

The lack of results?

We often view the plateau as a failure. Change your thinking and use that time as an opportunity for rest. Rest the mind – knowing that where you are today is better than where you were yesterday. Stop thinking about what you need to do differently or more of this week or next. Just allow yourself to BE.

A time to check in

A plateau is an opportunity to rest. It is also an opportunity to check in with yourself. Be honest.

How are things working?

Are you putting forth enough effort?

Do the workouts fit into your lifestyle as a long-term addition?

Can you maintain the ‘diet’ in the long term?

Are your goals still realistic or do they need to be modified?

Something has got to change

This is the common advice for anyone looking to break through a plateau – you have to change in order to see change. This is true. The human body is highly adaptive – it takes six exposures (give or take) to an exercise before the body adapts to it. What does this mean? You need to change – the load, mode, duration, etc. For once the body adapts, you will no longer obtain results by doing that same thing.

However, it is not that simple. Most individuals who experience significant weight loss followed by a lengthy plateau lost the weight by creating a huge dietary intake deficit. To some of you this may sound good. It can actually be detrimental to long-term success. The result is a slow and groggy metabolism. Sometimes the necessary change is to eat more – revving up that metabolism. Example: I spent a summer working for a weight loss resort, essentially eating what the guests ate. I gained almost 15 pounds – my dietary needs were not being met and it slowed my metabolism WAY down. I lost that weight quickly and easily by eating more.

The bottomline

Plateaus are going to happen. It is best to be prepared for them. There are ways to reduce the frequency of plateaus, using science-based workouts and programming. You will not find this in a DVD or in a standard group fitness class. You will not get this programming from your average personal trainer, either.

My best advice to you – plan for maintenance every 3 to 6 months. Use this time to be proud and regroup. Rejuvinate. Enjoy what you have earned.

If you like what you read, please comment and share below.


Cooper, Z., Fairburn, C. G., & Hawker, D. M. (2003). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Obesity: A Clinician’s Guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Fairburn, C. G. (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders. New York: The Guilford Press.

How many calories should I eat?

Nutrition has been a hot topic with clients and friends this last week. Nutrition is complex – leading to confusion – leading to feelings of being overwhelmed. I am going to take this opportunity to educate! My posts will appear in workable chunks – but this does not equate easy!

You do the workouts and you put in the work. You think you are eating all the right foods but you are not achieving your goals. It’s probably time to dissect your nutrition plan. Maybe you are eating too much of a good thing (peanut butter?). Maybe you are restricting yourself too much and not eating enough, or too often, or not often enough.

NOTE: the following nutrition plan is specifically for rapid fat loss. This is NOT intended for athletic training or for a sustainable lifestyle change. Following fat loss, it will be critical to adjust your required caloric intake accordingly and transition into a maintenance plan.

Step 1 – Determine your calorie range

The first step to fine tuning your nutrition plan is to figure out your maintenance calorie range (a number close to what you would need to keep weight and fat at a specific set point).  This number will be approximately 13-15 calories per pound of body weight. People with slower metabolisms should use the lower number (CAUTION: DO NOT ASSUME THIS IS YOU). If you are looking to lose weight, it’s important to stay within a 20% calorie deficit from your maintenance number or you increase the possibility of putting your body into a starvation mode.  On the opposite end, if you stray above a 20% calorie excess, weight gain could occur.

Example: 170 lb female with a slow metabolism

Bodyweight x (13-15) = maintenance calories

170 lb x 13 = 2210 maintenance calories

Decrease by 20% to start fat loss

2210 x 0.8 = 1768 calories

Step 2 – Your macronutrient needs

Once you have calculated the number of calories needed for fat loss, you need to calculate macronutrient numbers. For the first four weeks of the nutrition plan calories should be allocated as follows: 50% carbohydrates (CHO), 30% protein, and 20% fat.  Based upon your metabolic type and desired fat loss, you may decide that you need a little less CHO and more protein and/or fat. The preferred way of determining effectiveness of the nutrition plan is to monitor body composition and circumference measurements.

Since protein will initially make up 30% of your total calories you will multiply the calorie level you have figured out by .30 to get the amount of protein in your diet. One gram of protein = 4 calories. You will also want to do this with your CHO which are also 4 calories a gram and fat which is 9 calories a gram. By the way alcohol is 7 calories per gram. Divide these products by 5 or 6 meals.

Note: If you calculate your calories as specified and your amount of protein is less than 0.8-1 gram per pound of body weight, then you will want to change your macronutrient percentages, increasing the amount of protein. You don’t want to go below the recommended 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight while on a fat loss plan.

Example: 170 pound female starting at 1768 calories

Protein = 1768 x .30 = 530.4 Kcal/4= 132.6 g protein (27 g/meal)

CHO = 1768 x .50 = 884 kcal/4 = 221 g of CHO (44g/meal)

Fat = 1768 x .20 = 353.6 kcal/9 = 39.3 g of fat (8g/meal)

Since the protein is 133 g/day, you will need to adjust the amount of protein because it is less than 0.8 g/lb of bodyweight. The suggested amount of protein should be 136 g (0.8 x 170 = 136). Simply pull the 3 grams from the CHO.

Example: 1768 kcal protein adjustment

Protein – 31% = 136 g/5 = 27 g/meal

CHO – 49% = 217 g/5 = 43 g/meal

Fat – 20% = 39.3 g/5 = 8 g/meal

Need some help with the math, contact me and I’ll plug your information into my handy dandy calculator I made in Excel. Not sure what is a protein, CHO, or fat? Don’t guess. I will gladly help you determine what is what.

The bottomline…

I am happy to help you determine your caloric needs – but I highly recommend you do your own calculations. It is empowering. It is enlightening. And most importantly, it increases your understanding! Take some time to understand this information and let me know if I can help you along the way.

Lastly, before you take my or any nutrition advice I recommend you read, Nutrition advice: Where do you go? As I have mentioned, fitness professionals have some nutrition training, but not enough to provide individualized nutrition assessments and counseling.  I have gone above and beyond to educate myself and I want to share this knowledge with you. However, personalized advice MUST come from an RD.