When you first swap out processed foods for healthier meals and snacks, you might experience that initial spike in motivation and willpower that can make buying and enjoying healthy recipes at home more enjoyable.
If (and when) you start to see positive changes from your healthier lifestyle — such as greater and more sustainable energy levels and better training performance during workouts — you'll likely be more motivated to stick with your diet plan and maintain those results.
However, if your go-to recipes begin to get stale and you’re no longer as eager to sit down to enjoy a clean chicken and broccoli stir-fry like you used to be, it could mean you’ve hit a diet plateau. In other words, you might be itching to ditch these healthier options out of pure boredom. You might start to slip, and that new and exciting post-training meal or snack might be something unhealthy, like a batch of fries at a fast-food restaurant. We've all been there.
How Do You Know if You've Hit a Nutritional Plateau?
Unfortunately, if you do fall off course, it can be hard to get back into the swing of things, especially if you've run out of ideas for healthy and different recipes to try out at home. But don't get discouraged. These few signs will help you determine if you might be in a diet rut, and how best to reboot and regain that same enthusiasm you had before your plateau.
1. You Dread Meal Prepping
If you meal prep the same foods every week, it's no wonder you don't feel like doing it anymore. Eating the same foods with the same exact flavors each week can easily become boring over time. Not only does this cause flavor fatigue, but according to Kelly Jones, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., and CSSD, your body also requires a variety of nutrients to function effectively.
“When you don't have enough variety in your food sources, your body is likely imbalanced in the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemical antioxidants it's getting,” Jones says.
So, focus on making each week different by changing up your basic recipes (think: basic overnight oats; Greek yogurt bowl; protein, veggie, and starch combo) with a variation in flavor profiles, veggie and fruit swaps, and, of course, protein swaps.
2. You're Sick of Plain Old Protein
“Chances are you're relying too much on chicken and eggs (or egg whites) for protein and your body is craving different flavors, textures, and nutrients,” Jones says.
You might need more fats, or protein sources that contain more fat content. Your everyday eggs, beef, turkey, and chicken don’t always meet this criteria. Instead, try swapping in some fish, avocado, nuts, and seeds.
“For easy nutrient-rich options that aren't high in saturated fat, try canned tuna or salmon at lunch, salmon or turkey jerky with snacks, and tempeh or edamame on grain bowls or in corn-shell tacos, since they cook in no time without food safety worries,” Jones says.
3. You Suffer From Intense Junk Food Cravings
It's likely you're cutting out your favorite foods or labeling foods as "bad" in order to diet. Or, maybe you're taking it to extremes when limiting your green-light group of foods each week, meal prepping the same few foods or trying desperately to keep it keto-friendly.
“In this case, once you see foods that are sugary, starchy, rich in saturated fat, or salty, you may have intense cravings and have a problem with overeating those foods when you're around them,” Jones says. "If you start to look at cookies, french fries, or pizza as neutral foods, you're more likely to be able to enjoy them on occasion in normal portions and move on back to more nutrient-dense foods afterwards, without guilt."
So you can include some of your favorites in your diet — the key is how you prepare them, and to enjoy in moderation. You can make a cauliflower pizza at home with veggies and cheese instead of ordering in a pie, for example. Or, you can whip up some roasted or air-fried sweet potato fries as an easy side dish at home, so you don’t feel the need to stop into a fast-food joint for a batch.
4. You No Longer Look Forward to Eating
“If you aren't eating enough calories for your activity level, your body may be de-prioritizing creation of hormones that make you feel good,” Jones says.
For most people, eating stimulates serotonin production. But for some, genetically, this function may be limited.
“Forty-five percent of female exercisers are at risk of low energy availability, while about 47 percent of non-elite male endurance runners have that same risk,” Jones says. “In addition to a disrupted mood, you may also be fatigued during training, recovering poorly from training, getting sick often, or be easily injured.”
5. Your Appetite Is Gone
If you're following an intense training program, you may deal with a lot of post-exercise appetite suppression. This can occur in response to any type of workout, from shorter, high-intensity exercises to longer, low-intensity exercise.
“In either case, many people may respond with suppression of hunger hormones, even though their body really needs nutrients for recovery,” Jones says.
“Poor hydration status can also mess with your appetite," she says. "So if you're already drinking enough water, be sure you're replacing carbs used for energy and sodium lost in sweat during exercise, especially if you're often training over an hour, or in hot environments.”
This can be done by consuming low-sugar sports drinks, coconut water, or even a banana.