You step on the scale, look down, and your heart sinks.

It’s that same damn number staring back at you again. Taunting you. Mocking you. You’ve stopped losing weight.

Maybe this is it, you despair. The ride is over. Your imagination was bigger than your metabolism. 

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone—I hear from hundreds of people just like you every month.

Fortunately, the reasons you’ve stopped losing weight are likely very simple. The solutions are equally simple, too.

In this article you’ll learn five common reasons that weight loss stalls, and what you can do to get things back on track if and when they happen to you. 

 

Why Have I Stopped Losing Weight?

Before we get into the technicalities of why you’ve stopped losing weight, you first need to understand something: weight loss is never a linear process.

That is, you don’t lose weight in a consistent, predictable way. You may lose a pound one week, lose nothing over the next two weeks, suddenly lose three pounds the following week, gain a pound back, lose it a few days later, and so forth.

That’s why you shouldn’t judge your weight-loss progress on the results of your daily weigh-ins. Instead, weigh yourself daily and take an average every 7-to-10 days. So long as your average is going down over time, all is good.  

If, however, you’re dieting to lose weight and the number on the scale hasn’t changed in a couple of weeks, you’ll probably have to change what you’re doing to get things moving in the right direction again.

Here are the five most common reasons people stop losing weight and strategies you can use to deal with them.

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1. You’re retaining water.

The most common reason people stop losing weight is fluid retention.

(This is particularly true for women, who are hormonally inclined to retain fluids and who also have to deal with hormonal fluctuations that accompany the menstrual cycle.)

What happens is very simple: you lose a pound of fat in a week but you “pick up” additional water weight along the way which obscures how much fat you’ve lost (and may even make it look like you’ve gained weight).

The most common causes of water retention while dieting are:

1. Elevated cortisol levels: Staying in a calorie deficit for a prolonged time raises cortisol levels. This causes several unwanted effects in the body including increased water retention.

The best ways to reduce cortisol levels are to get plenty of sleep, eat a moderate-to-high carb diet, and don’t try to lose weight too fast (by overly restricting your calories).

2. Eating a lot of sodium: Sodium brings water into cells, which is why eating salty foods can make you gain several pounds (of water weight) in a matter of hours. 

While your body can adapt to higher or lower sodium intakes, eating a large amount of high-sodium foods can cause you to retain water for a day or two. Thus, there’s nothing wrong with having some salty meals, but just keep this in mind when interpreting your rate of weight loss (or lack thereof).

3. Eating a lot of carbs: Carbohydrate is converted into a substance the body called glycogen, and every gram of glycogen is stored with 3-to-4 grams of water. Thus, a high-carb meal can make your weight swing upward, even if you didn’t consume that many calories. (For instance, two slices of bread contains enough carbs to make your body store an extra ~⅓ of a pound of water). 

2. You’re not planning or tracking your food intake accurately.

When you restrict your calories to lose fat, you’re subjecting your body to a mild form of starvation. 

This isn’t unhealthy when it’s done right, but that doesn’t mean your body likes it and won’t fight back. One of the ways it does this is by increasing your appetite. 

If you don’t plan and track your food intake every day—that is, if you try to eat intuitively—there’s a good chance your body will coax you into eating more than you should.

The easiest way to neutralize this defense mechanism is to follow a meal plan. This allows you to eat foods you like while also keeping your calorie intake tightly regulated.

(And if you’d like specific advice about how many calories, how much of each macronutrient, and which foods you should eat to reach your goals, take the Legion Diet Quiz.)

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3. You’re not “cheating” correctly.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with “cheating” on your diet. In fact, it can help you stick to your diet and thus lose more weight over time if you do it correctly.

Do it incorrectly, however, and it’ll quickly screw up your progress.

A day of “cheating,” especially when it involves alcohol and fatty foods, can easily undo a week’s worth of fat loss.

The most common mistakes people make with cheat meals are:

  1. Having too many cheat meals: Cheating involves overeating, so cheating too frequently erases much of the calorie deficit you’re working so hard to maintain.
  2. Eating too much in a cheat meal: Many people don’t realize how many calories their cheat meals contain and end up consuming far more than they anticipate.
  3. Indulging in “cheat days,” not meals: Many people like to believe that being “good” during the week allows them to go buck wild on the weekends but this is wishful thinking. Cheating for an entire day rather than a single meal will quickly undo a calorie deficit.  
  4. Eating too much dietary fat: Assuming you eat a varied diet that also includes carbohydrates, the quickest way to gain fat while overeating is to eat large amounts of dietary fat. This is because when you eat carbs, your body stops burning fat for energy and starts burning carbs instead, and that means more or less all of the dietary fat that you eat will be stored as body fat (as opposed to being at least partially burned for energy).
  5. Drinking too much alcohol: Alcohol blocks fat oxidation, which in turn accelerates the rate at which dietary fat you’ve eaten is stored as body fat.

4. You’re not exercising enough.

You don’t have to exercise to lose weight, but it will help you if you want to lose it as quickly and healthily as possible.

That’s because exercise helps you burn fat and preserve (or even build) muscle, which is important for optimizing your health.

While there’s no definitive rule on how much exercise you should do while dieting, some good rules of thumb are:

  • Three-to-five one-hour weightlifting sessions per week
  • One-to-three 20-to-30-minute moderate-intensity cardio workouts per week (one of which can be HIIT)

If you’re already “maxing out” on exercise and your weight loss is still stymied, increasing your activity level further probably isn’t the way to go. 

(While it’s true that some people are particularly resilient and can cope with doing more weekly exercise than this, most struggle with this. Hunger and cravings kick into overdrive, sleep quality declines, energy levels plummet, mood sours, and worst of all, you may begin to lose muscle.)

Instead, you’ll likely have to make some adjustments to your calorie intake if you want to continue losing weight . . .

5. You’re burning fewer calories and need to adjust. 

Even when you have everything with your diet and training on point, fat loss can still become sluggish over time. 

Here’s why:

  1. As you reduce your body weight, you also reduce the amount of energy burned during physical activity (it costs less energy to move a lighter body).
  2. When you restrict your calories and feed your body less energy than it burns, your metabolism naturally begins slowing down (burning less energy). And the more you restrict your calories, the faster and greater the down-regulation (luckily, this effect quickly goes away when you get out of a calorie deficit).
  3. Restricting your calorie intake increases your body’s “energy efficiency.” That’s why research shows that even when body weight is artificially increased during weight loss, energy expenditure during exercise remains lower than normal.
  4. Dieting reduces the amount of spontaneous activity you naturally engage in, which can reduce your total energy expenditure. This activity is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and research shows that it can vary by up to 2,000 calories per day from person-to-person.

These four mechanisms allow your body to slowly undermine your calorie deficit until eventually it’s completely negated. 

Fortunately, the solution is simple: you need to widen the gap between energy in and energy out.

And once you’ve “maxed out” on exercise, the next tool for kickstarting your fat loss is further calorie reduction. The best way to do this is to gradually reduce your calorie intake over time.

Here’s how:

  1. Start your diet by setting your calorie deficit at 20-to-25% (eat 20-to-25% fewer calories than you burn every day).
  2. Once you stop losing weight (and you’ve already tried the other strategies in this article) reduce your daily energy intake by 100-to-150 calories per day (take them all from carbs). This will usually “buy” you another 7-to-10 days’ worth of fat loss.
  3. When weight loss stalls again, reduce your energy intake by a further 100-to-150 calories per day (again, all from carbs).
  4. Repeat this process until you reach your goal. 

And what if you’ve already reduced your calorie intake to unsustainable levels? What if you’re eating 1,200, 1,000, or even fewer calories per day? Well, the home truth is likely that you aren’t accurately tracking your calorie intake. Take a diet break for a few weeks until you’re feeling rejuvenated, recalculate your weight loss calories, and then carry on as before. 

(And again, if you feel confused about how many calories, how much of each macronutrient, and which foods you should eat to reach your goals, take the Legion Diet Quiz to learn exactly what diet is right for you.)

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FAQ #1: I stopped losing weight on keto—why?

Contrary to what many keto diet tubthumpers say, the reason you stopped losing weight on keto isn’t because “you’re eating too many carbs and thus not in a state of ketosis.” It’s actually because of one of the following:

  1. You’re retaining water.
  2. You’re not in a calorie deficit.

(And dollars to donuts, it’s the latter.)

If you want to start losing weight again, make sure you . . .

  • Keep your cortisol levels in check by following a moderate (but not reckless) calorie deficit, getting plenty of sleep, not over-exercising, and maybe raising your carb intake
  • Maintain a calorie deficit (20-to-25% less than you’re burning every day works best for most people)

FAQ #2: I stopped exercising and started losing weight—why?

If you’ve recently stopped exercising and started losing weight, there are probably two things occurring:

1. Your glycogen stores are dropping.

Glycogen, a kind of carbohydrate, is largely stored in muscle and contributes to its overall size. Every gram of glycogen is stored with an additional three-to-four grams of water, and together, the added glycogen and water can increase muscle volume and weight significantly.

When you stop training, one of the first things that happens is muscle glycogen levels drop.

After only one week of detraining, your muscle glycogen levels can drop by 20%, and after four weeks your glycogen levels are close to half of what they normally are. This also results in a substantial decrease in body weight—often 3-to-5 pounds or more. 

2. You’re losing muscle.

Most studies show that muscle loss begins after two or three weeks of complete detraining, and increases dramatically after four, five, or six weeks of doing no exercise.

Either way, unless you’ve also changed your diet, the weight you’re losing isn’t coming from fat, which means you’re not changing your body composition for the better.

FAQ #3: I stopped losing weight on intermittent fasting—why?

If you’ve stopped losing weight on intermittent fasting, it’s likely because of one of the following: 

  1. You’re retaining water.
  2. You’re not in a calorie deficit.

(And in all likelihood, it’s the latter.)

If you want to start losing weight again, make sure you . . .

  1. Keep your cortisol levels in check by following a moderate (but not reckless) calorie deficit, getting plenty of sleep, not over-exercising, and maybe raising your carb intake
  2. Maintain a calorie deficit (20-to-25% less than you’re burning every day works best for most people)

FAQ #4: Can fat-loss supplements help to kickstart weight loss again?

Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to help you automagically reach your weight-loss goal. In fact, most fat-loss supplements are completely worthless.

But here’s the good news:

If you know how to diet and train to lose weight, certain supplements can help. (And if you’d like to know exactly what supplements to take to reach your fitness goals, take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz.) 

Here are the best supplements to help you reach your weight-loss goal quickly:

  • 3 to 6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight per day. This will raise the number of calories you burn and also increases strength, muscle endurance, and anaerobic performance. If you want a clean, delicious source of caffeine that also contains five other ingredients that will boost your workout performance, try Pulse.
  • 0.1 to 0.2 milligrams of yohimbine per kilogram of body weight before training. This increases fat loss when used in conjunction with fasted training, and is particularly helpful with losing“stubborn” fat. If you want a 100% natural source of yohimbine that also contains two other ingredients that will help you lose fat fahttps://legionathletics.com/products/supplements/pulse-pre-workout/?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=PulseCTAster, preserve muscle, and maintain training intensity and mental sharpness, try Forge.
  • One serving of Phoenix per day. Phoenix is a 100% natural fat burner that speeds up your metabolism, enhances fat burning, and reduces hunger and cravings. You can also get Phoenix with caffeine or without.

+ Scientific References