Sorry for the late post, but it’s a big subject.
If you’ve been working on losing weight for a while, or have tried several times, then you’re familiar with this term, the dread diet plateau.
This is when you’re doing everything right, but you stop losing weight. You just stop. You’re still exercising, still eating right, doing everything you were doing when you were losing weight before, but the scale won’t budge, and it’s been a week, maybe two or three since you’ve dropped a single lb. You feel crazy. Or desperate. Or blue. Or all three.
Yesterday I said, this isn’t a setback. But it sure feels like one. Plateaus do not signal failure at all, but because of what they can do to you psychologically, they are dangerous.
It’s very important to understand as much as you can about your plateau so you know what to do about it, but more importantly what to feel about it. Even arming yourself with a lot of information won’t help you from getting blue when this inevitable time in your weight loss arrives.
Inevitable? Well, nearly, yeah. Especially if you’re a woman and have a lot of weight to lose. You will reach a stopping point no matter what, no matter how good you are. Maybe, in fact, because of how good you are.
The most successful dieters I know experience the greatest number of plateaus. People with diabetes and insulin-resistance experience lots and lots of plateaus. People who overdo dieting experience lots and lots of plateaus.
So, how should you feel about a plateau? Interested.
You should feel interested. You should adopt a scientific stance, and a willingness to proceed with a methodical method to explore this plateau, and how to scoot off of it. See yourself in a little lab coat, looking over your reading glasses at your clipboard, and consider these options, at these stages of your weight loss effort:
After two-four weeks of dieting:
I’ve been hearing an annoying commercial for a diet-in-a-pill product lately. A woman gives a testimonial that she lost 5 lbs. in the first week of using this pill (while following a sensible diet – don’t get me started). So, she concludes, she’s losing 20 lbs. a month. She figures she’ll have lost all her extra weight in just a few weeks.
Right. Well, but our bodies don’t work that way. Our bodies are intricately designed to maintain optimum energy stores. Our bodies don’t like to lose weight, they don’t prefer to burn our fat stores for energy. They like to stay the same. When we reduce calories, the first thing we do is lose water. And then, slowly, we begin burning real fat.
If your weight loss has slowed considerably after just a couple of weeks of dieting, it’s because you’re now losing real weight. And you should plan and prefer to lose it slowly. From .5 to 2 lbs. a week and no more, no matter what you’re doing. If you try to lose faster, you will wreak havoc on your system. This is experience speaking. Please trust me and don’t hurt yourself.
So if you’re not seeing the scale move after two weeks of a plateau, be patient. You might try increasing your exercise. But I wouldn’t change a thing until you’ve experienced three or more weeks of plateau, and then follow the suggestions below. If you’re a woman, please remember that it’s as natural as weather for your body to gain and lose fluid, pounds of it, depending on your menstrual cycle, your diet, your exercise routine. Use the scale to follow a larger trend, but don’t worry about day-to-day fluctuations. (Unless you’ve somehow consumed 3000 extra calories, that lb. of weight gain from yesterday’s weigh-in is just random fluid, and not important.)
After several months of losing, with lots more weight to go:
First remember, you are a successful dieter. You know how to do this. You know how to be patient. You understand that you are experiencing a profound transformation. You know more about your body than anyone else does. Also remember, that you are not now the person you were when you started. You’re smaller, you’re more fit, and you have more lean body mass and less fat than you did when you started. Or that would be true if you’ve also been exercising while losing. You have, right?
Your body has decided it likes this spot where you are. It has adjusted to achieve stasis right where it is. So, you need to rethink your whole program now. You’ve lost the really fluffy stuff, and it’s time to start losing the fat stores your body really thinks it needs. That’s slower and trickier. It will take longer. But you’re not in a great big hurry, right? You should give yourself all the time you need.
So what to do? Begin by rethinking your calorie needs based on both your new body and your goal. Rethink your exercise program. If exercise has gotten really easy for you, shake things up to give yourself a bigger challenge. Try a new form of exercise, a new class, increase the time you put in. Analyze your diet after several days of keeping a perfect record of what you’re eating.
Track your macronutrients: fats, carbs, protein. Then consider changing the ratios. If 70% of your calories are coming from carbs, and 15% from protein, and 15% from fat, try moving that around a bit. Increase your protein and reduce your carbs. If you’re already pretty low on carbs, try reducing your protein and increasing your fats (seriously, but try to increase by eating more mono-unsaturated fats like those you get from nuts and olive oil, for instance).
Or consider taking bit of a diet breather by increasing your calorie load by 2-300 calories a day for a couple of weeks. Or by 500 calories for a couple of days. Then reducing by 200 calories for a day, then going high, then low, for a week or so. But don’t go below 1200 calories. Then start back on your program.
If you know yourself to be metabolically resistant because of the presence or threat of diabetes, consider seeing an endocrinologist to talk about your options.
If you haven’t been lifting weights, doing power yoga or calisthenics or any form of strength training, baby it’s time. Do not fear developing too-large muscles if you’re a woman. That’s a little piece of silly right there. Women body builders need to work bio-chemical wonders with their bodies to build the kinds of muscles you see in competitive weight lifting.
Building muscle will increase your metabolism and help push you off the plateau. Not, you know, tomorrow, but over the long haul. Caveat: If you start seriously strength training, I promise you that in the short term you’re likely to see a plateau or even a gain before you begin to lose through the higher burning power of your new muscles. But you’ll also get smaller and your body will look better naked.
Eat your veggies. Drink your water.
Making metabolic shifts, through diet or exercise, may be just what you’re body needs to wake it up, shake it from its habit, get it busy again.
Within 10 lbs. of your goal:
Oh, you and me, pal. It took me months and months to lose my last 10 lbs. At about a quarter of a pound per month. I didn’t know it was my last 10 lbs., though. I thought I was working on my last 20.
I finally realized that the last 10 I thought I needed to lose I didn’t need to lose at all. I’d reached the clothing size I wanted. I’d reached a very healthy body fat and bmi calculation. My blood pressure is terrific, my cholesterol readings enviable. That is, I’d achieved great health. Do I look like Gwyneth Paltrow? Nope. No, and I never will. But I look like the best me I’ve been in my adult life. So, first, figure out if you’re really in great shape after all and not just being a little freaky about where you think you need to be.
No? So you really have 10 more lbs. to lose? And you’ve decided the number on the scale is more important than the size of your jeans? Well okay. This is the hard stuff, sweet pea. This is the “hard lard,” and it isn’t going to go away quickly or willingly.
Some math for last-10-lbs.-people: Never lower your calories beyond 1200 a day without supervision. Make sure you’re getting enough protein (like a half to a whole gram per lb. of LEAN BODY MASS. That means you get a body fat calculation at the gym or using one of those newfangled scales, or by getting your very own calipers, and subtract your fat weight from your body weight. So if you weigh 150 lbs. and have a bf% of 20, your lean body mass is 120 lbs. Be sure you’re getting between 60 and 120 grams of protein per day. In macronutrient percentages, that means setting your protein requirement to 16-32% of your calories for the day, and revolving your fat and carb intake around that. (I recommend aiming for the higher protein range, then reducing carb percentage to *below* fat percentage, but there are a lot of folks ready to shout me down on that point. A lot of folks who haven’t tried to lose 100 lbs. and keep it off.)
Assume this means you will write down and track the calories and macronutrient values of everything you put in your mouth. Again, BalanceLog for the Palm or FitDay.com can help.
Eat your veggies. Be sure you’re getting lots of fiber.
Drink your water.
And then, of course, it’s a lot about the exercise. It’s finding the time to challenge yourself by becoming generally more active and then when you’re exercising, increasing the challenge by changing what you’re doing, working out harder, building more muscle.
Most importantly no matter where you are:
A plateau is not a setback. A plateau is an interesting response that your miraculously designed body decided it needed for now to sort things out and figure out how best to survive. Be patient. Be respectful. Love yourself and your body’s desire to survive anything. Get rest. Chill out. Exercise more.
Eat your veggies. Drink your water.
Do not be in a big fat hurry to lose weight.
Go online for lots of virtual hugs. Here’s one from me,