Plateaus are part of the process, so here’s what you need to know.

why losing weight gets harder

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

6 min read

It’s no secret that losing weight gets harder over time.

Yes, it’s frustrating as fuck, but here’s the good news:

It’s perfectly normal!

Honestly, I’ve met so many people over the years who have wrongly beaten themselves up when they reach a plateau, and it often causes them to push the panic button; either binge eating out of sheer frustration, or attempting a drastic calorie reduction in a last ditch bid to get the scales moving again, so in this post I’m going to explain why it happens.

Table of Contents

why does losing weight get harder

The first few weeks of a diet typically lead to good progress, with many people able to drop 5-10lbs.

Some might see even more weight loss, especially if their new diet involves lowering carbohydrates, as they’ll be flushing water from their body, too.

But eventually everything begins slowing down, and for some people it stops dead.

Why is this happening?

Well, the first thing I want to say here is you are not broken. It’s easy for us to convince ourselves that we are, but this brick wall is actually a perfectly normal response to a phase of sustained dieting.

There’s a scene in Terminator 2 where Sarah Connor re-programs Ah-nuld’s CPU chip in order to allow him to learn. Maybe you’ve seen it? They scrape open his head, dislodge the drive, and flip the switch from ‘read only’ to ‘write’, turning The T-800 into a living, learning computer. They did this to make him more human, because that’s precisely what the human body is (a living, learning computer).

Yep, you’re more complex than a fucking Terminator.

The main objective of your body is to stay alive. It doesn’t care what you want to look like, or how you feel, it just wants to survive – and it loves fat, because fat protects your vital organs, so when you put it into a calorie deficit and fat starts to drop off, it responds by learning how to adapt to your new calorie intake.

In a nutshell, this motherfucker figures out how to burn fewer calories throughout the day.

That means you’re burning fewer calories during exercise, and fewer calories chewing your food, and fewer calories while at rest, and so on, so what was once enough of a deficit to strip away excess body fat is now no longer a deficit at all. (1, 2)

It’s called metabolic adaptation. (3)

why does it get harder to lose weight

Hitting a plateau is frustrating, but even more so when it involves a crappy fad diet.

I’m sure you know the ones (“eat nothing but cabbage soup”, etc).

Fad diets typically encourage you to drop your daily calorie intake to obscene levels, so when you still hit a plateau it can make you feel fucking crushed.

Furthermore, when you spend a long period of time in a calorie deficit the body begins prompting you to eat more food by increasing production of the hormone which makes you feel hungry (ghrelin) and lowering production of the hormone which makes you feel full (leptin). This is a normal response to dieting, and on a good diet plan you can counteract it by having a re-feed day every so often, but with fad diets the shift in hormones is so great (due to the crazy calorie cuts being made) that you’ll be feeling like a cookie-less Cookie Monster. Eventually, even the most determined person will binge out of sheer frustration, and it often leaves them heavier than when they started the fad diet. (3, 4, 5, 6)

Fuck that with a capital fist.

how to lose weight and keep it off

Resist the urge to diet harder, and instead diet smarter.

Metabolic adaptation will occur no matter how hard or how fast you go, so instead of trying to punish yourself into weight loss, we need to start working with your body.

That means trying to diet on as many calories as you can.

For instance, if you currently maintain your weight on 3000 calories per day, then there is no need to suddenly drop down to 1200 calories per day. Instead, just reduce your intake by 10% (so in this case it would give you a target of 2700 kcals/day). That’s enough of a drop to kick-start your progress, and it’s still high enough to keep you feeling satisfied.

Make this even better by getting the bulk of your calories from protein-rich foods, and you should feel like a fucking machine!

Taking this easier, more strategic approach to weight loss will also help you be more consistent with hitting your targets in the long-term, because you’ve got more calories to play with and will therefore feel more satisfied, and that’s how you’ll unlock top-notch results. (7, 8, 9)

This strategy is so much easier than doing sudden cuts and hoping for the best, because rather than panicking about metabolic adaptation, you’re actually accounting for it. When it inevitably strikes, you make a small change and you carry on (e.g. in the scenario above you would reduce your calories by another 10%, taking you to 2430 kcals/day).

  1. Miles C. W., et al. Effect of circadian variation in energy expenditure, within-subject variation and weight reduction on thermic effect of food. Eur J Clin Nutr (1993).
  2. Jéquier, E. Leptin signaling, adiposity, and energy balance. Ann N Y Acad Sci (2002).
  3. MacLean P. S., et al. Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol (2011).
  4. Löfgren P., et al. Prospective and controlled studies of the actions of insulin and catecholamine in fat cells of obese women following weight reduction. Diabetologia (2005).
  5. Jackman, M. R., et al. Weight regain after sustained weight reduction is accompanied by suppressed oxidation of dietary fat and adipocyte hyperplasia. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol (2008).
  6. Keim, N. L., et al. Relation between circulating leptin concentrations and appetite during a prolonged, moderate energy deficit in women. Am J Clin Nutr (1998).
  7. Klok M. D., et al. The Role of Leptin and Ghrelin in the Regulation of Food Intake and Body Weight in Humans: A Review. Obes Rev (2007).
  8. Stewart T. M., et al. Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. Appetite (2002).
  9. Lally P., et al. How are habits formed: modelling habit formation in the real world. Euro J Soc Psychol (2010).

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own

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