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How to Break a Diet Plateau or Weight Stall on a Low-Carb Diet

How to Break a Diet Plateau or Weight Stall on a Low-Carb Diet
Home » Diets » How to Break a Diet Plateau or Weight Stall on a Low-Carb Diet

In my many years of experience coaching people on high-protein-low-carb diets the most common scenario is a loss of 2-5 pounds in the first 1-2 weeks and then a downward trend of about 1 pound per week over the next 6 months. At some point, however (often more than one point on the journey) most people hit the dreaded diet plateau.

diet plateau photo

What is a Diet Plateau?

A diet plateau, where your weight loss just stalls for a seemingly unbearable amount of time, is not exclusive to a low-carb or slow-carb diet. People generally reach a plateau with every diet under the sun.

It is a dangerous place to be because it can deplete your motivation on this challenging fat loss journey. In researching the various diet plans, I’ve come up with a curated list of methods that have seen success with my clients in getting off the diet plateau.

It is not guaranteed that these tips will re-invigorate the downward trend on the scale, but many people have been able to jump-start weight loss again with the following information.

Why Do We Plateau?

It seems like everything is cruising along fine, you’ve got the hang of the diet and your sugar cravings are in control. Seeing that gradual weight decrease on the scale in the morning is enough to keep your spirits up, even if it is only .2 lbs.

Then….a week goes by with no decrease. Then another week. This is when the going gets tough. Many people will give up at this point, blaming the diet because they “know“ they have been 100% compliant.

Infographic showing progress is not linear
An infographic showing progress is not linear

Fat loss plateaus can be extremely frustrating at times, but generally, they are temporary bumps in the road. It’s important to keep focused on your goal and look at the overall downward “trend” of your weight loss, rather than minor changes in measurements or weight from week to week.  

Take Note! Perseverance is the key. 

It is also key to find the right low-carb approach for your particular personality and lifestyle. An in-depth look at the best low-carb approaches can be found here.

Tip: Using a free app like Happy Scale can help show the trend of your loss rather than just the daily weight, which fluctuates quite a bit.

Sometimes a fat loss plateau can be traced back to some minor changes that may have happened over time. Sometimes it is fluctuations in water weight due to stress, hormones, or lack of sleep. And sometimes it’s just mysterious voodoo.

Often, after being on a plateau for a couple of weeks you will see a “whoosh” where your body just seems to all of a sudden release a few pounds.

Tim Ferriss on the “Diet Plateau”:

Some of the following methods come directly from Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4-Hour Body“, some of it is what I have seen work with my clients from my online diet coaching, and some are curated methods from health and fitness blogs and podcasts.

Briefly, here is what Tim Ferriss says about the plateau:

  1.  “Don’t start thinking that you’ve plateaued until you have been on the diet for 6 weeks. It is not unusual for women to experience their greatest weight loss around the 6-week mark. “
  2. “Eating too late, not eating enough protein (my note: you need about 20-25 grams a meal), and drinking too little water are the three most common causes of hitting a weight loss plateau.”
  3. ” The total percentage of body fat lost per month naturally decreases over time. The number of mitochondria in your muscle tissue largely determines your rate of sustained fat loss (this is why you need resistance training as part of your exercise routine!). Targeted exercise, even just 20 minutes per week, will often double fat-loss that’s plateaued, and should do so for at least two to four months.”

Simple Tips for addressing a Diet Plateau:

  1. Check ingredient lists of any pre-packaged foods you have been eating and note the sugar and the carbs. If the food label has 3 grams of dietary fiber for every 20 grams of carbs, it is a “slow carb” that will not spike blood sugar in the same way as a simple carb.
  2. Reduce the amount of beans in a day. While beans are allowed (and necessary for energy levels), you only need 1 cup per day. More than that and the calories and fats in legumes can stall your loss. Alternatively, if you aren’t on a slow-carb diet, have smaller portions of food – essentially decreasing your calories by doing either one.
  3. If you have been using any kind of protein shake, try discontinuing use for a week and replace it with a whole food, like eggs, chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc.
  4. Drink more water, it is really necessary for high-protein diets. Insufficient water intake seems to be particularly common among women. Make a special effort to drink more water on your cheat day.
  5. Portion out or do not have “Domino Foods”. There are certain foods that, while technically fine to eat on a high-protein diet, are prone to portion abuse. Almonds, which are easy to consume by the handful, contain 824 calories per cup, 146 calories more than a Whopper from Burger King. A few nuts are just fine (5-10), but no one eats just a few. My nemesis is cashews.  Self-discipline is overrated and undependable by the way.
  6. Have a proper cheat day (slow carb but not for keto), if you have been 100% compliant with food choices and/or if your calorie level has been pretty low (less than 1000 for more than a week). There’s a lot of data that shows a spike in calories, and a spike in carbohydrates helps your body avoid downshifting your metabolism. Do not take cheat days if you have not been 100% compliant for the 6 days prior – it won’t work.
  7. Eat enough protein to preserve lean muscle tissue.  If you are sedentary that will probably be in the range of 75 grams to 100 grams.  If you exercise intensely, you can do much more.
  8. Eat healthy fats. Getting enough healthy fats from foods like avocados, coconut, nuts, eggs, and fish can help stimulate the right hormones to ensure that your metabolism doesn’t shut down, even when you’re cutting back on calories. Not getting enough healthy fats will cause your hormone levels to suffer and create a risk for adrenal fatigue, which can cause all sorts of problems, including weight gain. Healthy fats are also what keep you full and give you long-term energy, so always make sure you’re getting enough in your diet.
Avocados, beans and salsa for slow carb lunch
Avocados, beans, and salsa for slow carb lunch

More Robust Ways of Addressing a Diet Plateau:

  1. Start exercising more intensely. This is often the key to getting off the plateau in terms of fat loss – get in some sort of strength resistance exercise of your choice 3-4 times a week. Some experts estimate that every extra pound of muscle on your body burns 30-50 calories extra a day, while others estimate each pound burns 6 extra calories a day, compared to 2 calories burned by fat. Either way, if you want to increase your metabolism, gaining muscle is the best and most sure way to go about doing so.
  2. Intermittent Fasting. There are several different types of IF and that is another whole post. Google intermittent fasting and get knowledgeable to see if it’s for you. A very detailed analysis of the various forms of intermittent fasting can be found here.
  3. Find out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) by using one of the calculators on the web and start tracking calories. The reason for plateauing at each level is usually related to the fact that your metabolism starts to slow down as you consume less food. In addition to building muscle and taking cheat days to increase metabolism, there is some evidence that getting cold (either by taking cold showers, sleeping cold, or drinking ice water in the morning) can help boost metabolism.
Woman weighing in on a scale with a pink measuring tape in front.
Weighing in

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  1. jackieschwabe says:

    I wish I didn’t relate to this! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a great post!

  3. I appreciate the considerable research behind your piece of information, and your metaphor, too. From an Ericksonian Hypnosis perspective, this can be a great tool to induce helping beliefs for whoever willing to start the new diet journey.

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