Clients often get frustrated with a plateau – a “pause” in weight loss, when progress seems to stall out.
But successfully navigating a plateau is more about managing your mental state – your expectations, awareness, and emotions around your weight – than your physical weight loss.
The reality is that plateaus happen, and there are many reasons why. Sometimes, a “plateau” isn’t a plateau at all – it’s your new happy, healthy weight where your body is ready to settle.
Most of the time, they’re temporary… unless, that is, you get so discouraged that you stop trying altogether, and go back to all your old habits.
In today’s post, I’m going to outline three categories of reasons that plateaus happen, and what you can evaluate in your own life to determine the appropriate strategies to move forward.
As you go through each category and subheadings, ask yourself, “Is this me?”
If you find yourself answering “yes” to subheading after subheading, only pick a few areas to tackle. You’ll be amazed at how focused effort in one area will improve other domains automatically – don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to fix everything at once.
Plateau Culprit #1: Nutrition
You’re not measuring food – especially calorie-rich foods.
Eyeballing healthy foods like nut butters or olive oil? It may be a good time to use a tablespoon or a food scale.
Your weekends are a little messy, starting on Friday, pretty much every week.
If three out of seven days per week are not in the same theme as the other four days, that means that almost half your week is spent “off plan.” It’s fine if you don’t want to lose weight, but if you do want to see consistent progress, more of your week needs to be spent being consistent.
You’re not preparing and planning ahead.
Busy people really suffer from not planning ahead – food decisions made on the fly tend to be worse than decisions made in advance. Meal prep, meal delivery services, and other “hacks” can help you make healthier choices more often, on a system.
You make “special exceptions” for certain foods… frequently.
I see this especially with alcohol and sweets and snacks – we all have blind spots, but the foods and drinks we use to soothe/entertain ourselves metabolically play by the same rules as all other calories.
Plateau Culprit #2: Activity
You’re walking and moving less.
This can happen circumstantially – because of bad weather, for example. But it can also happen as you’re losing weight because your body is sneakily trying to get you to slow down weight loss (this is called “metabolic adaptation”). You might feel more like you’re dragging, like a Netflix binge would be more fun than a walk.
Trick yourself into more activity by listening to or watching a fun show or podcast while exercising.
You’re not tracking activity, or working out on a schedule.
It really helps to track – to know definitely that you’re getting 10,000 steps a day or not. It also helps to work out on a schedule, even if it’s not every day. Many of my clients do Monday/Wednesday/Friday strength sessions. Tracking and routines greatly help with consistency, rather than waiting to “feel like” exercising.
Workouts have decreased in intensity.
This can also be because of metabolic adaptation. Switch up your program so that you’re including more high-intensity work that fits your level of fitness. Hold yourself accountable by attending a class or checking in with a friend.
Plateau Culprit #3: Stress, Hormones, and Sleep
You’re not getting enough (consistent) sleep at night.
Sleep helps to promote healing/regeneration of tissues, as well as to decrease stress (and thus stress hormones). Poor sleep also tends to cause more food cravings, and to weaken willpower.
You’re emotionally stressed.
When stress hormones are high, it’s easy for many people to turn to food for comfort. Plus, cortisol tends to promote storing incoming calories as belly fat.
You’re in a part of your cycle where you typically hold onto water weight.
If you have a menstrual cycle, there are probably times during the cycle when you hold onto more water weight than is typical. This is why I recommend that clients track progress over 2-4 week blocks, so that you’re comparing apples to apples in terms of your cycle.
Is This Simply Your New Weight?
This is something to consider. Are you at a healthy weight for you? Your plateau may be a signal that your body doesn’t really want to lose much more weight. Your new weight might be a happy, healthy place to hang out, at least temporarily.
Something else to consider is that you may be undergoing a period of what’s called “recomposition” – especially if you’ve incorporated strength training into your weight loss plan. This means that you’re not losing scale weight, but you’re still losing some inches. This is because – yes – the cliche is true that muscle weighs more than fat. The key to remember is that muscle is smaller than fat at the same weight. So if you are not losing weight but you are loving the way you look, that’s not a plateau – you’re still losing fat. It’s just not showing up on the scale.
Maintenance Is a Good Thing
Periods of maintenance have absolutely no negative ramifications for a weight loss journey. In fact, they can be huge positives. They give you time to regroup, solidify healthy habits, and not stress about weight loss. Periods of weight maintenance also give your metabolism time to rest and adjust to a new weight, without the stress of dieting and losing weight. This helps your metabolism to stay healthy.
If you haven’t lost any weight for a month or more but you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, feel free to get in touch if you want to troubleshoot together.