Tell me if this sounds familiar: You started making changes in your life to get healthier and everything was going great. You were seeing progress in the way you felt and looked, your cravings were down, and your energy was up. It was working!
Then, all of sudden it wasn’t.
Despite doing everything right, the scale hasn’t budged in a week, your motivation has hit an all-time low, and you feel totally betrayed by your body. As a health coach, I see a lot of my clients struggling with weight loss plateaus, and feelings that change isn’t happening fast enough. And do you know why? It’s because of this little nugget of truth:
Long-term change is a process.
There’s no such thing as a quick fix for a weight loss plateau. So, if you’ve been holding on to extra weight for years or you’re regularly feasting on fake health foods, don’t expect your habits or your weight to change overnight. It took you awhile to get where you are. And honestly, the faster your “transformation” happens, the faster you’ll undo all your progress.
But I get it. You’re putting in all this hard work, and if you’re still seeing zero or very few changes, just know that your body is a miraculous machine designed to keep you alive and protect you at all costs. When you change your environment, including the type and amount of fuel you consume, your body wants to make sure you’re safe. So, it’s normal to experience plateaus here and there.
Remember, change isn’t an instantaneous event—it takes commitment, patience, and the right strategies to stick with it for the long term. In fact, Australian researchers conducted a qualitative study, interviewing 76 people with a BMI of 30 or over to find out why their previous weight-loss attempts had failed.
In the study, participants received instructions on how to lose weight through various plans, but none were given guidance on how to stick with it. Seventy percent of the participants noted that while no particular diet was better than others for weight loss, tapping into their own motivation for change was the key factor in being successful for the long term.
With that in mind, here are the go-to tips I use in my own practice when my clients feel like they’ve stalled out on progress.
6 Things to do When You’ve Hit a Plateau
1. Remember Where You Started
Maybe you’ve made some progress, but you’re not as far along as you’d like. All you can hear yourself say is, “I can’t believe I’ve only lost 3 pounds,” or “my pants are only a little looser.” Don’t discount how far you’ve come. If you used to buy lunch every day and now you’re taking the time to prep a healthier meal at home, that’s huge. Take a step back and think about how things have changed since you started your journey. Also, have patience.
2. Remember Why You Started
Getting in touch with why you started can help put things into perspective. My Why-by-Five exercise is a tool I use with my health coaching clients to uncover their true motivating factors for change. Just ask yourself why this change is important to you, why that matters, why this reasoning is important, why your goal would be great to achieve, and why it’s important to keep going.
3. Keep a “Proof List”
When things aren’t going exactly as planned, it’s easy to feel like nothing’s working at all. That’s why having a proof list can help you navigate the highs and lows. Every day, write down something positive about your health journey. It could be that you tightened your belt buckle by one notch. Or the Big-Ass Salad you made was so satisfying you didn’t want cookies afterward. Keep a running list and add to it regularly.
4. Set an Intention Versus an Expectation
Expecting that you’ll lose a certain number of pounds or fit into an old pair of pants is the quickest way to disappointment. Instead, set a few healthy intentions. Good examples I’ve heard from my clients are: “I want to be a good role model for my kids,” or, “I am open to taking things one day at a time.” Expectations have a concrete result; intentions are more about your mindset and behavior.
5. Break it Down
Since your goals aren’t going to magically happen overnight, you need a system for making your new healthy habits stick for the long term. I recommend breaking your goal down into mini milestones. Avoiding refined carbs forever feels daunting, but what about avoiding them for this week? By creating mini milestones and then rewarding yourself for reaching them, you’re more apt to maintain your new habits and feel successful doing it.
6. Believe in Yourself
The simple act of believing in yourself plays a big role in achieving your goals faster. According to psychologist Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy Theory, if you don’t believe you have the ability to complete a task, you’ll be less likely to start. And if you do start, you’re more likely to give up before it’s finished. Self-efficacy is a sense of personal conviction that you can overcome any challenge you might face and successfully stay the course.
In a world of quick fixes, it’s normal to feel like your goals aren’t happening fast enough. Just know that change is a long-term process that requires commitment, patience, and smart strategies like these:
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.