It’s super frustrating. You’ve been following your low calorie/low carb diet and sticking to your new exercise regime religiously, and it worked for awhile… but suddenly you stop losing weight.

This happens to nearly everyone who tries to embark on a weight loss journey. It’s the flip side of the body’s homeostasis mechanisms: your body is always trying to maintain its set point, and create a buffer around that to resist change in either direction. It works for you to prevent weight gain when you skip a day here or there on exercise, or overindulge from time to time on a meal or two. But it works against you when you’re trying to shed excess pounds.

Why Plateaus Happen

Assuming there are no metabolic problems (such as hypothyroidism), weight loss should begin as soon as you’re at a caloric deficit (you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming). It’s normal to lose the most weight at the beginning of a diet, because in the absence of the usual caloric intake, your body burns glycogen—a stored form of glucose. Part of the structure of glycogen is water; this is what we mean when we say you “lose water weight.” Once the glycogen is gone, there’s no more water to lose, and things slow down a bit.

Weight loss should continue, though, until you’re not longer at a caloric deficit (again, assuming there’s no metabolic problems). This is the reason why plateaus generally occur… and how quickly it occurs depends on how big the caloric deficit was to begin with.

Why? Because the more you weigh, the more calories you need in order to maintain your weight. As you lose weight, the number of calories necessary to maintain the new weight also decreases. So at a certain point, what was once a caloric deficit becomes a maintenance intake.

This can happen just due to the sheer number of calories you’re consuming, or it can be because you’re no longer burning as many calories as you were before—even if you’re maintain the same exercise routine that worked for you in the beginning. This is also because your body is efficient: if you keep doing the same exercise routine over and over again, your muscles “learn” it. The movement becomes easier. Easier is another way of saying it takes fewer calories to perform it.

What to Do About Plateaus

First, if you’re on a low carb diet that worked for you at first, but you’ve hit a weight loss plateau and you’re exhausted, I’d suggest getting your reverse T3 checked. You may be one of those who require occasional ‘cheat’ meals with higher carbs in order to keep your body from putting the brakes on your metabolism. If you’re on a low carb diet, you’re exhausted, and you’re exercising like a fiend all the time, I’d also check your adrenal function in addition to your rT3. It’s possible that the problem is less your lack of carbs, and more the fact that you’re over-stressing your body. In that case, the solution is to give your body a break.

But if you’re not feeling exhausted, if you’re just not losing anymore, it’s more likely that you’re just no longer in a caloric deficit. This is especially likely if you’re not significantly overweight, and you’re just looking to lose that last 10-15 pounds. Assuming you’re already tracking what you’re eating and you’re not just getting lax and cheating a bit here and there (track this first if you haven’t already), the next thing to do is to make sure you’re mixing up your exercise routine. Don’t let your muscles get comfortable. Also, make sure your routine is comprised of strength training and not just cardio: the former builds muscle, which increases metabolism.