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The Dreaded Weight Plateau

Many people who have tried to lose weight know the frustration of hitting a weight plateau.

If you are monitoring your dietary intake and exercise and meeting your planned goals but the scale has not budged for weeks, then you have hit a plateau.

    Most of us reach a weight plateau because we:
  1. Underestimate how much we eat or drink.
  2. Overestimate how much we exercise.

To move beyond the plateau and meet your weight goal, think carefully about where you might be making mistakes in your measurements. Also, consider reading my article on Customizing Your Calorie Goals for basic information about calorie balance and how to set calorie intake and expenditure goals.

Measuring Calorie Intake

Consider where extra calorie intake might be coming from: pay extra attention to portion size, calories from beverages, and frequency of dining out. One of the biggest challenges to controlling calorie intake is dining out. Dining out typically means much higher fat content (and therefore calorie content), as well as very large portion sizes. Try to limit how often you dine out or order take out food. This applies to all types of restaurants, not just fast food. For more information on recording food intake, please read my article on Measuring and Estimating Portion Size.

Quick Tips

Measuring Calorie Burning

Be a good calorie burner! Move as much as you can, as mobility permits. Even people without the use of their legs can get exercise. If you need help in this area, then please seek the expertise of a physical therapist.

Try to get 30 - 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily (e.g. walking briskly, swimming, gardening, raking, running, and cycling) IN ADDITION to basic living activities such as walking to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, showering, cooking, doing laundry, and climbing stairs to get to another room. The more you move, the more you burn calories!

Quick Tips

Are you using a device to estimate calorie expenditure rather than relying on MyNetDiary's activity catalog?

Basal Metabolism

The rock bottom calorie intake needed to sustain basic bodily functions (like organ function) at rest without food intake or physical activity is the basal metabolic rate. Resting energy expenditure (REE) is often used interchangeably with basal energy expenditure (BEE), but technically, REE is about 3% higher than BEE as it includes the energy cost of being awake. Please do not worry too much about this slight discrepancy.

When people chronically consume less than their BEE, eventually the body adapts to conserve energy and lowers its metabolic rate. To allow the body to reach a balance, typically lean body mass (muscle) is lost along with body fat. Loss of muscle allows for lower turnover of protein (and therefore protein needs) as well as a decrease in metabolic rate. Although this allows us to survive famine for an extended period of time (given adequate fluid intake), but it is not a great strategy for dieters. For healthful weight loss, it is better to maximize calorie burning!

You can find your calculated metabolic rate by checking that as a measurement option in Measurements in your Daily section.

In addition to BEE, there are two other major components to energy expenditure: Thermic Effect of Food and Physical Activity. About 7 - 10% of our total energy expenditure is spent on digestion, absorption, and storage of ingested protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Put another way, it takes energy to eat, digest, and process food.

Physical activity is the component that is most under our control and can vary the most. The more we move the more calories we burn. Even fidgeting burns calories! Of course, exercise is a very effective way to burn calories since the intensity of work is high enough to burn a fair amount of calories within 30-60 minutes.

Remember that your BEE is NOT your total energy expenditure required to maintain body weight, it is one component out of three in total energy expenditure. Please be careful to avoid getting into the trap of restrictive eating that eventually serves to thwart your weight loss goals. If you are eating less than your calculated BEE, then please adjust your calorie intake so that you (at the very least) are meeting your BEE.

Measuring Body Weight

Body weight can change a lot, even during the course of the day. Hydration status (fluid balance) will affect your weight more strongly than anything else.

Do yourself a favor and limit the amount of "noise" when you weigh yourself:

If you experience large weight changes day to day despite measuring yourself as recommended, then you might want to show your weight measurements to your doctor. This is especially important for those of you who have congestive heart failure, kidney disease, or are on medications that can affect sodium in the blood.


Sometimes people gain weight or are unable to lose weight despite Herculean efforts because their thyroid no longer produces enough thyroid hormone. You might want to ask your physician about this possibility, especially if you are also chronically fatigued, experience hair loss, cold intolerance, and brittle nails, feel weak, have a puffy face, and have flaky skin. Also, if you are on thyroid medication, be sure to follow your doctor's recommendation for timely follow-ups as medication dosage might change over time.

Final Notes

Good luck. Please remember that you can ask questions about this topic in the Community Forum area.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE
Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.

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