Getting Over a Weight-Loss Plateau

Airman 1st Class Schyler Turpin measures an airman's waist during a physical training evaluation at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Photo by Senior Airman Tabatha Zarrella

Often, soldiers and their loved ones make fitness goals before deployment in order to surprise friends and family upon their return. There are many stories of spouses losing significant weight during a deployment, but this is the story of a soldier taking advantage of some down time on the forward operating base (FOB) to lose weight – a challenging goal of 100lbs. Getting stuck on the weight loss slide can occur in the last 25% of the goal. Here is the email from the deployed soldier and my answer to help get over the progress plateau:


I am on month 10 of 12 of my deployment. Believe it or not, when I began my mobilization I was 330lbs at 6'4". I managed to lose a total of about 75lbs, I fluctuate between 255-260, and stopped losing any weight at all about a month to two months ago. I could really use some help with these last pounds. They seem to be located just above and just below my waist. I have access to a top-of-the-line gym at my location and food from the local DFAC which has a salad bar, grilled chicken, eggs to order, and all the good stuff!

Help a soldier out?

First of all: great job with the progress you've made so far! That is significant. As with anything in life, when we have an excess of something it is easy to lose a large portion of it, so your massive weight loss is understandable. But, that last 25% can be a challenge. Don't fear – there are methods to push yourself off that plateau and back into weight-loss mode.  All the options require you to make a change in what you are doing.

Here are some options:

Make a Change in Food Intake

This can be a simple decrease in calories, increase in water consumption, or a major change in how, what, and when you eat. First consider adding more water. At your current weight and activity, you can drink a gallon of water a day. And if you are living in arid environments, you need more water. Second, try to decrease your sugar intake if you are going to reduce calories. That means breads, pastas, sweets, sodas, juice drinks, etc. Third, try not to snack in between meals; this is the best time to replace food with a bottle of water. Grab some water instead of a cookie, a handful of M&Ms, etc.

Food Journal

Any time you are making a change in eating habits, keep notes. Make a food diary and see where you are going wrong and what you are doing right. Often, once you see what you are eating, how much you are eating, and how little water you are drinking, you will know what to fix. Plus, when know that you have to keep track of the foods you eat you become naturally pickier with what goes in your mouth.

Change Up the Routine

If you have been doing a certain type of workout routine, it's time to make a change. Add more cardio to your day and arrange your schedule so you do your cardio after your resistance workouts. Add a different cardio workout. If you just walk or bike, try jogging, swimming, rowing, or elliptical workouts. If you hate machines, try something that keeps you more engaged like a resistance pyramid workout on a bike, elliptical, or treadmill.

A pyramid just means you are increasing resistance, speed, or incline each minute that you are on the machine. Once you reach a point of failing to keep up with the machine, return in reverse order. This can often take 20-30 minutes depending on your fitness level and create a nice warm-up, max out, and cool-down all rolled into one cardio workout.

Add Weights

Another option is to add in weight training if you have not started. A simple machine circuit mixed with calisthenics and abdominal exercises goes a long way with a beginner weight routine. 

Train Smarter

Take a class at the gym. Group fitness, SPIN class, and TRX class workouts are fantastic ways to add a new element to your routine.

If you try a few of these recommendations, you could drop another ten to fifteen, or maybe even 20 lbs in your last few months on deployment. I hope you do well. Thanks for your service and have fun surprising your loved ones when returning home!

Do note this method will work for anyone having trouble with weight loss.

Stew Smith writes about fitness and acing physical fitness tests and is the founder of Heroes of Tomorrow Fitness – a FREE local and online fitness resource for people seeking military, law enforcement, and firefighting professions and testing tactical fitness gear and equipment.

Stew Smith works as a presenter / editorial board with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).  There are also over 800 articles on Fitness Forum focusing on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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