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Crucial Influence

Conquering the Weight Loss Plateau

Ron McMillan

Ron McMillan is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.


Change Anything

Q Dear Crucial Skills,

After reading Change Anything, I set a goal to lose twenty pounds and created a change plan. I followed the plan and lost eight pounds in three weeks, then I hit a plateau and was unable to lose more. Did I choose the wrong plan? How do I know if my change plan is good, or if I need to change it?


A Dear Stalled,

Good job! Eight pounds in three weeks is excellent! Hitting a plateau after losing weight is not evidence of failure, it’s good data.

Be the subject and the scientist. I suggest you use this data to update your plan. Thousands of scientists, nutritionists, and physicians have studied weight loss, wellness, and health. No one, however, has studied your weight loss. Others have developed general plans based on some general ideas and principles. But you need a specific plan, specific to you. You need to be the scientist who studies you (the subject) to discover the best plan for your own health and wellness.

Let’s assume the plan you begin with is a good plan based on tried and true concepts. I suspect this is correct because you used this plan to lose eight pounds. Keep in mind a change plan is dynamic not static. You should now expand, experiment, analyze, and adjust your plan.

For example, let’s suppose your vital behaviors were to:

  1. Weigh daily
  2. Take a brisk twenty-minute walk three times a week
  3. Stop eating snacks before bedtime

These behaviors have likely made you aware of your weight and the impact your plan is having on weight loss. This is good; observation and awareness are key tools of a scientist to gain understanding. Your weight loss probably resulted from not eating snacks before bedtime and being more active. You made progress and then plateaued. This is good data. Analyze it. What can you learn?

Maybe you should continue this behavior and expand your plan. Perhaps you could review what you are eating. Are there some opportunities to cut calories in a helpful, healthy way? What if you cut calorie-rich snacks between meals and replace them with healthy alternatives to keep you from getting hungry and stay energized? If this makes sense, conduct an experiment. What happens when you add this vital behavior to your plan? Note: You can drop the “no snacking before bedtime” as a vital behavior in order to keep your focus on just three vital behaviors. You continue to enact this behavior, but because you’ve mastered it, it’s no longer on your “vital” list.

With this new vital behavior in place, track your progress with daily weigh-ins. Analyze the data. Is the new vital behavior working? Adjust your plan accordingly.

As you master a vital behavior, experiment with new behaviors. Consider changing your meals and increasing activity and exercise. Also, analyze and adjust your six sources. For example, add a friend and exercise together (turn accomplices into friends), and reward yourself upon completion of your goal by allowing yourself to buy a new outfit in your new size (invert the economy).

Congratulations on creating a successful change plan. A leveling-off of your results is not failing to achieve your goal, it’s good data indicating that it’s time to expand, experiment, analyze, and adjust. Doing this keeps your plan vibrant and not only assures you reach your goals, but makes it likely you will surpass them.

All the best,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Influence

3 thoughts on “Conquering the Weight Loss Plateau”

  1. Janet Trethewey

    Ron – One thing you forgot to mention in your reply about weight loss is that the scale only weighs everything – it can’t discern what is fat and what is muscle. Its just as important to realize that as you exercise, you will lose the fat, but also gain muscle so the net change on the scale is zero. What will also help measure success is inches – are you losing inches? Do you feel better in your clothes? Keep up the good work, but don’t focus so much on the scale alone.

  2. Christiaan

    Two things I would like to share with Stalled that fall under your structural and personal spheres of influence…

    First off though a disclaimer – I’m not a nutritionist, just an avid reader, long-time follower of VitalSmarts and self-experimenter, as Ron likes to put it, that have come across an alternate hypothesis that speaks to and apparently addresses weight problems (as a side effect I might add) so what I’m sharing is purely from personal experience and should not be construed as advice.

    #1 – measure daily, but average the last 5-7 days’ worth of readings to create a trend. Daily weight fluctuations are normal and can be rather noticeable given the body’s attempt to keep your electrolyte balance (water content & minerals) in balance. If you have Excel or similar you can easily tabulate your daily readings, create a graph and add a trend-line. This gives you an easy visual cue and much needed motivation (as long as it’s going in the right direction). Janet did point out a very valid point and depending on the type of diet you could be losing lean mass and fat in equal proportions instead of majority fat.

    #2 – explore very low carb, high fat, moderate protein diets as it lowers the amount of the hormone insulin (major culprit) flowing around in your body (carbs typically <50-70g/day). I'll spare you the cellular biology, biochemistry and history lessons, but having gone through a similar change in the last year all I can say is that I am still very happy with the results. You can find a lot more on this out there by looking into people like Gary Taubes, Ron Rosedale, Peter Attia, etc.

  3. Grizzly Bear Mom

    Becuase I have recurrent bronchitis, I am trying to stop touching my face; as the average human does 16 times per hour. To remind myself not to do so I am going to have my hands manicured for the first time. Instead of a manicure, a man could wear one of those “Live strong” bracelets.

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