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All About Weight Loss Relapses and Plateaus

All About Weight Loss Relapses and Plateaus

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Many people encounter relapses or plateaus one or more times during their weight loss journey. Often, they happen together. Here’s what you should know about what they are, how to recognize them, and what you can do about them.

What Are Relapses and Plateaus?

Relapses are periods when you go back to habits you may have had before you started losing weight. One example is having larger desserts if you had started to have smaller desserts and a serving of fruit after most meals. Another example is if you go back to having fast food for lunch most days if you had started packing a healthy lunch to take to work.

Plateaus are times when you stop losing weight while you are on your weight loss journey. Some people may start to regain some of the weight they lost.

Recognizing Relapses and Plateaus

The sooner you recognize a relapse or plateau, the more quickly you can take action. It’s good to act quickly so you can prevent weight regain, start losing weight again, and re-establish any healthy habits you formed.

It’s easiest to recognize relapses and plateaus when you are committed to logging your habits. That way, you can identify what may have changed and caused your relapse or plateau. t

Here’s what you can track regularly while losing weight.

  • Your weight. You can’t lose weight every day, and there will be small increases sometimes as your weight naturally fluctuates. However, if you stop losing weight for 2-4 weeks, or your weight creeps up for a few weeks, you may be in a plateau period.
  • What you eat. While some people choose not to log every meal, it can help to do so, at least until you have a good picture of what you’re eating. If it starts to change from your healthy intentions, you may be in a relapse period.
  • Your physical activity levels and exercise. If your exercise starts to decrease compared to when you are at your most motivated, you may be in a relapse period.
  • How you feel. If you notice that you’re negative or unmotivated, it may be time to figure out why and how it may be affecting your choices.

Causes of Relapses and Plateaus and How to Overcome Them

Here are some common causes of plateaus and relapses, with some ideas for overcoming them.

Increasing Motivation

It’s important to stay motivated so you can keep up your healthy choices. If you notice that you’re lacking motivation, try thinking about why you started your journey in the first place.

Here are some common reasons why people start losing weight.

  • To live longer, often to be around for children or grandchildren
  • To lower health risks or reduce the impact of current conditions
  • To be better able to keep up with children or grandchildren
  • To have a better ability to do activities like hiking or traveling
  • To have more energy each day
  • To improve self-esteem and self-confidence
  • To look better

If your original reasons for losing weight don’t apply anymore, make a list of reasons that can motivate you now.

Watching Portion Sizes

Many people monitor their portion sizes carefully when they start on their weight loss journeys, but it’s common for portions of higher-calorie foods to gradually increase as time passes. Take a look at your portion sizes and the make-up of your meals.

  • Meals should be based largely on vegetables, with a small serving of lean protein present at most meals
  • Include smaller portions of high-fiber carbs like fruit, whole grains, and starchy vegetables
  • Select healthy fats like nuts, peanuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil, and keep portions small

Making Nutritious Swaps

Low-nutrient foods can be high in calories and not very filling. Overeating them can lead to plateaus.

Here are some higher-nutrient swaps that can help you overcome a plateau.

  • Have skinless chicken and fish instead of fried options
  • Choose fruit more often than sugar-sweetened desserts
  • Drink water instead of sugar-sweetened drinks
  • Choose fiber and protein foods for snacks like popcorn, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, and vegetables instead of chips, cookies, or candy
  • Have whole grains like whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and popcorn instead of refined grains like white bread, sugar-sweetened cereal, and potato chips

You may also be experiencing relapses if you started substituting more nutritious foods for less nutritious ones, but now you’re returning to old habits.

Maximizing Physical Activity Benefits

Physical activity burns calories, increases awareness of how your body feels, and helps keep you focused as you try to lose weight. Take a look at your physical activity levels, including amounts, types, and intensities. You may be able to overcome a plateau by boosting physical activity levels, or you may notice that there’s been a relapse in your exercise habits recently.

Practicing Self-Care and a Healthy Lifestyle

It’s easy to let the demands of daily life take priority over your health, but prioritizing yourself can help you lose weight, improve your health, and effectively support others at home and work. If you’ve hit a plateau or you’ve found that some healthy choices have relapsed, take a look at choices beyond diet and exercise.

Here are some choices that support weight loss through hormonal balance, clearer thinking, and reductions in hunger and cravings.

  • Getting adequate sleep quantity and quality
  • Managing stress in ways other than eating
  • Eating mindfully and enjoying your experience
  • Taking time to do things you enjoy
  • Socializing with people who make you happy

Keeping Goals and Expectations Realistic

Having unrealistic expectations can lead to failing to meet them. This can lead to feeling like you’re incapable of continuing your healthy lifestyle and weight loss journey. Instead, keep expectations realistic.

Here are some things to consider when setting your expectations.

  • Sustainable weight loss is usually at a rate of ½ to no more than 2 pounds per week
  • Healthy eating leads to better health whether or not you lose weight
  • It’s impossible to lose weight every day or every week without fluctuations
  • Everyone makes mistakes
  • Small changes are more likely to lead to long-term success than dramatic changes

Having a Positive Outlook

Even when things aren’t perfect, look for what is going right. Weight loss may be stalled, but non-scale victories may still be happening.

Here are some possible non-scale victories to celebrate.

  • Ordering a vegetable instead of French fries for your side dish
  • Asking a friend to walk and talk instead of meeting at a restaurant
  • Fitting into clothes that had been too small before
  • Feeling more energetic
  • Eating 4 servings of vegetables for several days in a row
  • Hitting a fitness milestone like jogging a mile without stopping

Another way to be positive is to remind yourself that if you make healthy changes, your health will improve. You can also look at every situation as a learning opportunity.

Being Patient

It can take time for things to turn around. If things don’t go exactly as you want, that doesn’t mean it’s time to get discouraged and give up. It may just mean you need to keep up your healthy efforts until your body adjusts. Staying true to yourself through challenging times can help make them less frequent and impactful. Also, be patient with yourself as you work through any challenges.


Consistently tracking your behaviors and weight can help you get back on track by increasing accountability and motivation. It also helps you notice relapses or catch weight plateaus quickly.

You can also log food and physical activity. These actions can help overcome plateaus and relapses by increasing your awareness of your behaviors or identifying patterns you hadn’t noticed before. Then you can make changes to adjust.

The Bottom Line on Overcoming Setbacks and Plateaus

It’s normal to encounter setbacks or plateaus during your weight loss journey. The important thing is how you handle them. You can minimize their impact by recognizing them early. Forgive yourself, then identify what you’d like to change and make a plan. You can keep trying until you overcome any challenge that comes your way.

Start making small changes to your nutrition today to lose weight and feel your best. Remember, your Lark coach is here to help every step of the way!

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