Meet my client Sue. This isn’t actually her name, but wanted to keep her anonymous 🙂
I met Sue in January of 2017 at a time when she was ready to start her lifestyle change journey. In her early 50s she felt she finally had time to commit to herself as her kids were older and she wasn’t working quite as many hours running her business. Sue had been a big runner in her 20s but after kids had sacrificed “me” time for her kids and business. Well almost twenty years later (which included intermittent bouts of exercise, trainers and nutritionists) she was at her heaviest weight and ready for a change. Nothing she had tried she had truly committed to, but I could tell this was different for her. She said she NEEDED to see me twice a week and the way she said it I knew she meant it. I wasn’t really looking to add any more clients at the time, but her desire to get going immediately changed my mind. She started with a lot of motivation. This is important, but won’t last forever. I will get to that later.
Over the spring of 2017 she saw me twice a week for 60 minute sessions where we mainly lifted weights and talked nutrition. She hit the gym twice a week for cardio and tracked her food EVERYDAY. I am talking everyday. The combination of her initial motivation, new stimuli for the body (less calories, more movement, lifting heavy for the first time in her life) gave her great results. Down 27lbs in 5 months! One pound per week is awesome progress for most people. This gets us to end of May 2017 and things are slowing down weight loss wise and motivation wise. Someone can only track and track and track and stay motivated for so long. Some times it is 6 months, sometimes it is 18 months. But, eventually we are all human and your desire to track everything you eat will wane. This gets me to my first main topic of the post…why do weight loss plateaus happen? There are three reasons. They can happen independently or concurrently.
- You just stop doing enough of what it takes to continue seeing progress. Often times people think they are doing what they did 6 months ago, or eating the same amount calories, or moving the same amount. But, often times people are wrong (I have been guilty of this too). If you hit a weight loss plateau, first check yourself. Make sure you are actually doing what it takes to continue seeing progress. Are you in a calorie deficit most days still? Are you missing workouts? Check these things first.
- You are losing interest mentally and are on the verge of a burnout. This takes some time to figure out. It takes a lot of self awareness to feel this coming. There is nothing wrong with getting close to this moment (again, we are all human), but how you handle your next actions is important. If you are losing motivation, the best actionable steps are to pick a few BIG habits (eating enough protein, not skipping lifting sessions, continuing to have a coach etc) to not drop. Then you can drop the other “things” such as tracking your calories daily, doing extra cardio etc. Remember, a weight loss plateau is a good thing. Gaining all your weight back is NOT 🙂
- Your body is simply telling you its time to take a break. This will happen to everyone…once again…we are all human aren’t we? Your body can only lose weight for so long before it has adapted to about everything you can throw at it. Being in a “weight loss” mode for months and years on end is very stressful for the body. The key to sustaining your weight loss is learning how to properly MAINTAIN your weight loss. If you are in a constant state of “weight loss” your body is never learning how to live at any weight range. All it knows is “loss.” This brings me back to Sue.
Sue, was hitting a plateau for all of these reasons. Five months in of heavy dedication and she was due to relax a bit. It was also summer now and if you have followed me long enough, I always recommend being in a “maintenance mode” over summer. Her habits of tracking daily were starting to slip and her body was telling her it was time to rest from weight loss.
Although, at first frustrating for Sue because she wasn’t at her goal weight range, I kept reminding her that a break from weight loss was a good thing. Fast forward 15 months with a kid going off to college, more hours and stress at work, some minor joint injuries popping up and Sue was back at a point where she was ready to hit weight loss hard again. Over these 15 months we continued to chat about nutrition each session to make sure she wasn’t falling back on ALL of her old habits. We continued to lift and lift heavy twice a week. She continued to do cardio a couple times a week most weeks. Sue continued to be conscious of a few big nutrition habits: protein intake, water intake and fiber intake. Doing all of these things was enough for her maintain her weight…literally to the pound…over 15 months. We weighed in at the end of August this year and she had not gained one pound since June of 2017. I was very happy with this! I think she was surprised but happy as well 🙂 This brings me to my next topic of the post. Three reasons why weight loss plateaus are good and why it has been helpful for Sue this fall.
- You need a mental break. Trust me you do. No one can be on a weight loss journey their entire life, with no breaks, and not burn out. I have seen it happen too many times. Constantly thinking about the scale, your measurements your bodyfat % is totally OK in the short term. But, every day for the rest of your life? That ain’t good. Sue, needed a mental break. The timing wasn’t right anymore for her to be tracking daily. I was OK with this and it has paid off now because she has the MOTIVATION again.
- Think of your plateaus in weight loss as a positive. You have accomplished a lot and have moved up a ring or two on the ladder of success. This plateau is allowing you to move on from certain things you had to do right when you started your journey. You are on page 200 of your book, so to speak, instead of page 20 anymore. If you also embrace the whole process of a lifestyle change journey, you will know that learning how to maintain weight loss on these plateaus is the key to your long term success. You must learn the habits to maintain before you can ever hit your goal weight range and sustain it. Think of these plateaus as a practice run for “maintenance,” so when you DO hit your goal weight range you know how to keep it.
- Your body also needs to learn how to live at a new bodyweight range. Linearly losing weight, every single week until you hit your goal weight range, has been proven to be less effective for SUSTAINING weight loss. Instead, losing some pounds, sustaining it for a few months, then losing a few more and repeating this process is ideal. Once Sue gave her body 15 months to relax (but not go back to old habits…that is also important), it has adapted to living at her new weight. Guess what happened when we threw a new stimuli (lower calories) at it? Yup…weight loss was immediate. She is down 7lbs in 6 weeks, to her lowest scale weight in YEARS. Her body was ready for another change again.
This brings me to my last topic of the post. Three ways to break through a weight loss plateau:
- Simply go back to what was working. Check your yourself and your habits. Evaluate if your actions are enough to provide results. Often times your plateau has happened because you have gotten complacent.
- Add some more movement. This doesn’t have to be an extra workout each week or staying at the gym an extra hour. But, simply going for a walk on your lunch break. Or walking the dog after work. Or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. This extra calorie burn can be enough to spark a change on the scale.
- Change up your exercise. Add more lifting. Add intervals to your running. Maybe stop doing intervals and go back to some easy jogging! Remember, I lost weight this summer each time I added in more EASY pace jogging.
How did Sue have the patience to not lose any weight over 15 months and still come back strong to tracking her calories this fall?
Well, she has developed the right mindset towards weightloss. She plays the long game. She is not worried about losing as much as she can in the next six weeks or by Christmas. She is looking long term now and knows that this whole process will take years.
But, guess what?
She has time. She has all the time in the world to lose some pounds, learn to maintain it and the repeat. It works. She has nailed it 🙂