The truth about weight loss plateaus
Plateaus are one of the more frustrating aspects of weight loss because it often feels like no matter how hard you're working, you can't seem to progress any further. The reality is that no matter what plan or program you're on, weight loss is not linear or 100% predictable because each body and metabolism is different. You will at some point experience a plateau, and often more than once so it's worth being prepared for them, both mentally and strategically.
If you're plateauing first be really really honest with yourself. Have you been following your plan? Often when we've been on a nutrition program for a little while we start to naturally be less vigilant. Some snacks might sneak in here and there, portion sizes might starts to creep up in size. We stop drinking water, add in too much coffee. Or sometimes, we just think "I've been really good, I can afford to treat myself" just a little too often.
If you suspect that maybe this is where you're at, reign in the extras for a week and see what happens. If you still see no progress, then you might be at a genuine plateau and you need to ask yourself a few questions.
How close are you to your weight goal?
If you're within 15-20lbs of your weight goal, things are going to start slowing down. Our bodies, particularly if you're female are designed to hold on to a little extra just in case we are faced with a famine. At this point, ensuring that you're doing weight bearing exercise to build or retain muscle is important. The more muscle you have, the more efficient your metabolism. Adding more cardio here is not useful here so don't be tempted to run harder. Weight lifting, Pilates, calisthenics and even yoga are going to be helpful.
What's your stress level like?
If you've had a stressful few weeks at work or just have too much going on in your life, stress may be the reason for your plateaued. High stress means consistently high levels of cortisol, commonly called the stress hormone. Among the many effects of cortisol is the way it causes your body to store fat, particularly around your midsection.
If this is the case, it's time to work on your stress management and ensuring that you get some down time. At a pinch, work some deep breathing exercises or quick meditations into your day as these are shown to help lower cortisol.
This is also when you want to avoid coffee and alcohol, tempting as they both are. Caffeine raises cortisol levels and alcohol interferes with sleep.
Is it time to switch up your plan a little?
As you get closer to your goal weight your bodies needs are going to change. Very simply, a body that weighs 160Lbs does not need as much fuel to maintain itself as a body that weighs 200lbs, so it may be worth talking to your coach at this point and assessing where you can safely make some tweaks. It's VERY important that you don't jut drop calories here as you could potentially put your body into starvation mode and its will plateau even further.
Some coaches recommend a short time out or a cheat meal. Be very careful if you chose this option as people often try this and never get back on track. Only try this if you're planning to get straight back on plan afterward and have a coach to support you through it.
Plateaus aren't permanent and it's important to remember to prepare yourself mentally as its easy to get frustrated and it's often at this point that people go "Whatever it's not working" and give up. This is where consistency and routine are the most important and where remembering that this isn't about the short terms wins, it's about the long-term changes.