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3 reasons you’re at a weight loss plateau

In any fitness and fat loss journey, there are both joys and growing pains along the way. None, however, are more frustrating than following a plan and not seeing results. When there’s a mismatch between the level of effort put in and the lack of desired outcome - whether that be a change in pant size, an improved lift or run time, or a pesky symptom that won’t shake - it can make anyone wonder: Is it worth it?

Motivation can wax and wane, especially when you run into roadblocks. Before tossing in the towel, remind yourself of your “why” and the intrinsic reasons you’re pursuing your goal in the first place. Keeping your “why” front of mind provides the resolve needed to push through these plateaus, and surprisingly, “pushing through” does not always mean “working harder.”

The first thing to consider is whether or not you’re following good advice. The world of nutrition, in particular, is littered with internet opinions, outdated schools of thought, and bandwagon approaches. Make sure you have the basics covered first: more non-starchy plants than anything else, ample high quality protein and healthy fat at every meal, and inclusion of real-food, unrefined carbohydrates based on activity level.

The next thing to consider is consistency. If you’re human, it’s common over-estimate compliance to a program. Even as a dietitian, periodic use of a food tracker helps keep me on course, as well as check-ins with a coach. (We believe that coaches should have coaches too!) Because knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things, make sure you have a system to hold yourself accountable and an objective way to see how well you’re really sticking with the plan.

If you’re following good advice, sticking with it at least 80% of the time, and still stuck, it’s likely that the program you are following needs to be tweaked to suit your unique underlying metabolism. Internal health can dictate the response to nutrition and exercise, and some people need to address underlying metabolic health before anything else. There are no cookie cutter approaches, and personalizing your program takes some deeper assessment to better understand how your body works. And when it comes to customization, there are a few barriers to metabolism that we see most often.

Digestive Health

Most people relate their digestive health to their bathroom habits and nothing else. However, the ability to break down food, absorb it and utilize it is foundational for a healthy metabolism. Without access to the nutrients consumed, there’s no hope for energy and healthy functioning throughout the rest of the body-- including fat loss. Plus, if the gut is imbalanced, it may not do a good job of keeping undigested food particles inside the digestive tract, which can lead to food sensitivities. And on top of that, ever-evolving research has even found that the balance of good-to-bad bacteria in the gut can change how many calories are actually absorbed from food1, meaning that two people could eat the same exact meal, but the calorie count (in terms of net effect on metabolism) of that meal essentially is different for each person. It’s fascinating, and it definitely puts a different perspective on how much we need to worry (or not) about precise calorie counting.

There are a few basics in supporting a healthy digestive process. Be sure to chew slowly and make meals their own event whenever possible. Instead of eating while driving or working, see if you can actually sit down, undistracted, and eat. Taking a few gut-supporting supplements, such as a quality probiotic, is a great (and easy) strategy to incorporate, along with consideration of a short term elimination diet. These strategies can be effective, but are not always easy. Assessing internal markers of health related to digestion and related systems (liver, kidney, gall bladder, immune system, food sensitivities) can provide your health care practitioner and coach the information needed to figure out your best next steps to simplify the approach to better suit you.


Summarized beautifully in another article, “inflammation is the physical process by which the body responds to an injury or infection…the same term (inflammation), however, is also used to describe a more chronic and nagging problem affecting us throughout our entire body with no end in sight.” Basically, think of it this way: when there’s an acute issue, your body turns on a process that can be thought of as lighting the burner on the stove on high for a short period of time, then shutting it off when it’s no longer needed. However, for some of us, the stove is set to low, and it is on all the time.  

While inflammation is the root of most, if not all, chronic disease issues, it can also make losing weight and feeling great pretty elusive. Stress hormones (such as cortisol), blood sugar highs and lows, out-of-whack cholesterol levels, and inflammation all play together in tandem. Better understanding your internal “stove settings” provides valuable information to help shape the types of foods and exercise to focus on. While it is different for each person, general recommendations can serve as a good starting point. Focus on including ample omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish and fish oil and avoiding overly processed oils and added sugars, which can sneak in to otherwise “healthy” foods like salad dressing and yogurt. Be a sleep champion, and fiercely protect your time to allow for eight hours nightly. Lastly, be sure your exercise routine has a good balance between strength/resistance training, cardiovascular training, and recovery.  


Levels of thyroid hormones and sex hormones have a huge bearing on our progress - or lack thereof - towards health and fitness goals. Thyroid hormones, especially the more active triiodothyronine or T3, are basically a keystone to your internal thermostat, setting your ability to burn calories. Hormones such as testosterone and estrogen have strong associations with stubborn belly fat.2,3 So what to do?

Hormonal imbalances do not have to be a prison sentence to a permanent plateau. While it may be tempting to jump immediately to some type of hormone therapy, there might be more to the story to be considered. Without getting a broad picture of your hormonal landscape in one shot through testing, it’s impossible to know why hormones are off in the first place. And there’s no way to find a long term solution if the actual problem is unknown. To make things even trickier, it’s completely possible, and common for that matter, for five different people to experience the same symptoms of hormonal imbalance (stalled fat loss, poor energy, nonexistent libido) and have five different reasons why.

Blood sugar balance, caloric sufficiency, vitamin and mineral status, and detoxification are all prerequisites for healthy hormones. At bare minimum, be sure you’re taking a quality multivitamin (make sure the Vitamin B12 and folate are both from a “methyl” form, and aim for an option that has at least 30 mg of a chelated, not oxide, zinc), drinking plenty of filtered water, limiting alcohol, and being mindful of what toiletries you are using, since they can be a hidden source of hormone disruptors. Consuming a high-fiber diet supports detoxification through the GI tract, and including certain foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts can support healthy estrogen metabolism.

Next Steps

If you’re frustrated despite sticking with a sound plan, do not lose hope. The information revealed through an assessment that looks inside and provides a better understanding of what is going on with your body can be life-changing by providing exactly the information you need to make the tweaks that work for you.

At the very least, complete a symptoms questionnaire and use an interpretation guide to point you in the right direction of what might be holding you back from success. From there, our Life Time nutrition coaches and registered dietitians are skilled and passionate about using your symptoms, and potentially other testing, to explore metabolism and, along you’re your health care provider, determine what to do next.

If you’re interested in understanding your metabolism and building a personalized plan, reach out anytime to to discuss the assessment and programming options that best suit your needs.

Thanks for reading!


In health, Samantha McKinney — Life Time Lab Testing Program Manager

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.







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