The Plateau is not the Problem. The Problem is your Attitude about the Plateau
You’ve arrived at that dreaded plateau before. Weight loss has stalled despite your hard work in the gym. Forgoing those office donuts and extra helpings of dinner is starting to feel futile. Two or three weeks now have passed and the scale hasn’t moved. Frustration sets in. You begin to question the point of making all this effort. If weight isn’t dropping why are you sacrificing and missing out on everything you enjoy. Or so it feels anyway. Part of the issue may be in your approach, being too restrictive. Thats another topic for another day.
Lets first address what usually happens when we give in and say “to hell with all this”. We never sit at that plateau for long. We go right back to the behaviour that resulted in a steady march of fat gain. We lack the patience to tough it out and the rebound can be abrupt. Weight climbs, stress and frustration mounts, and we feel powerless. We eventually regain the lost weight and more on top. Until the frustration motivates another cycle of diet and unsustainable effort. Rinse repeat.
This cycle of behaviour has trapped millions of people. Locked inside are a number of problems with the traditional approach. Too drastic and restrictive is common and rarely ends in long term success. Throw in popular fad diets that aren’t suited for, or sustainable, for most people. Keto being the big one and I’ll bet you know someone talking a lot about it right now. Not having the right support and guidance is a killer for many. Impulsively joining a gym yet not knowing what to do and dropping off after a few weeks.
Lets go back to the beginning and start with a critical mindset that may help everyone in their weight loss and fitness experience. First accept that weight loss plateaus will happen. Same goes for building muscle and strength but I will focus more exclusively on weight loss in this discussion after this next point. In my 16 very dedicated years of building muscle I have experienced countless weight plateaus I hit periods of months if not years of very stable weight and progress only to push through and make incremental progress that added up over the long run. I began at 24 at 170 lbs and tend to fluctuate between 252 and 259 now at 40 yrs old at an arguably similar body fat percentage. The key is consistency which I know you don’t really want to hear. You want a quicker answer, a simple solution. It doesn’t work that way and even you deep down know it.
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem”
You’ve been conditioned to think of a plateau as a failure. You have trained your mind to be upset when things aren’t easy. Failing to make further progress toward a greater goal. That whole mindset gets it wrong. I’m going to shock you a little with this revelation but it will settle in and make sense quickly. Plateaus are fucking fantastic. Why? They’re a demonstration of success. A plateau by its very definition is sustaining a new level of achievement, progress, and in our specific example weight loss. You have proven that you not only lost weight, but successfully kept it off. Only your impatience to achieve more stands in your way. Sometimes we need adjustments in our efforts, but if we stay the course and remain active, maintain a good approach to our nutrition, we will continue to see progress.
Weight loss is never linear. It moves like a stock market graph, yet trends in the direction of the behaviours driving it. If your behaviours are sustainable, again a critical ingredient to long term success, you will move past the current plateau and onto a new and even better one soon enough. Realizing you will hit, and mentally preparing for, future plateaus is a part of getting beyond those too.
If we can rewire our thinking to understand that each new and successive plateau as a positive, we defeat the instinct to quit each time we feel stalled out in our progress. Our body does take time to adjust to new set points of muscle and body fat. Plateaus can simply be that process.
Additionally important to understand, our bodies have mechanisms meant to resist weight loss. These primitive and evolutionary adaptations are geared toward avoiding starvation. Now rarely an issue in the developed world, these systems tend to be a giant pain in the ass. Our ease of access to a lot of high calorie food and less physical activity needed to survive cause problems at times. Those mechanisms don’t exactly doom you to failure, but it is worthwhile knowing that your body is fighting back a little, making you feel hungrier. These will fight you on your efforts so be on guard against them.
Sometimes what feels like a plateau is more illusion than reality. A lot of factors affect weight. Looking at weight in isolation misses a ton of other valuable positive information. Some people become fixated on weight alone. Now it is true that if weight isn’t moving over long periods of time, we need to make some adjustments. Over shorter time frames we can see notable changes in appearance without accompanied weight loss. We see drops in clothing sizes and changes in how clothing fits. Body fat isn’t the only component of our weight, as shocking as that revelation is. We can gain muscle, though in actuality a obese person who loses a lot of weight over the long run will likely lose muscle weight long term as much of that structural muscle helped bear the added weight. Short term changes in water retention affected by carb intake, sodium, fibre and stress can mask real body fat loss. This doesn’t usually last long and the scale moves again.
What’s the answer? Patience and a positive mindset will carry you through most plateaus. Even when adjustments are needed drastic measures are rarely the answer. A small adjustment of effort, nutrition, rest, or hydration can often be enough to move the needle. For some people the solution is a little more consistency within an already good lifestyle.