At first weight is coming off consistently and you’re happy. Then the weight loss progress gets a little slower. You’re trying not to get discouraged. Then It doesn’t come off at all. You’re light years away from your goal and the weight you lost thus far isn’t where you want to be. You’re not ready to stop and stay there.
People use the word plateau to describe a slower rate of loss, stalled weight loss progress and gaining back some weight that was previously lost. Slowing down weight loss progress and gaining back weight are not technically a plateau.
What is a Plateau and How do You know if You have hit a plateau?
Just one or two weeks of unsatisfactory results does not mean you aren’t making progress. To figure out if you’ve hit a plateau, calculate your average weekly loss over the past four weeks. If it’s less than 0.5 pounds per week, and you’ve been sticking to your weight loss program with the same level of effort, care, and dedication then you have hit a plateau.
Why do plateaus occur?
There are two possible explanations. (1) For some people a plateau is part of the natural weight loss progression. (2) Some people are experiencing an attitude plateau, meaning they’re getting a little too relaxed in their efforts.
There is much we don’t know about the physiology behind plateaus. It could be that losing weight can lower metabolism since a smaller body carries less lean muscle mass and burns fewer calories moving around and at rest.
It also helps to know that the gratifying pounds that come off at the start of a weight loss effort are often simply water weight, not body fat. Then as you stick to your diet you are no longer burning the energy that was stored as glycogen (which is why you lose the water weight), you are now burning actual body fat. Body fat does not release water the way glycogen does, so what feels like a plateau because it’s slower progress is in actuality, real body fat loss. A safe and healthy rate of weight loss progress is one half to two pounds weekly on average.
Most plateaus, however, are caused by getting a little too relaxed in your efforts. After you lose some pounds and start to feel the better about your body and the fit of your clothing you might get a little sloppy about things like serving sizes and unaccounted bouts of eating. Your activity level may drop off too as you tell yourself, “I have a little headache; I’ll workout tomorrow.”
Could you just be having an “attitude plateau”?
- Go back to basics. Approach your plan like a beginner.
- Track! Carefully record both your food and your activity. Be precise tracking amounts of food. Don’t forget to track every single bite, lick and taste! There’s no such thing as eating something “too little to count!” Be equally as precise with your activity and don’t forget to record both duration and the intensity level of your activity.
- Try mixing up what you have been doing. Trying new recipes and kinds of physical activity require you pay more attention to what you’re doing. That extra attention may be exactly what you need to get off the plateau. It also keeps things interesting and usually more enjoyable too.
What happens if the scale still doesn’t move or you continue to gain?
If you are close to your weight goal and participating in muscle-building (resistance) exercise, there is a (slight) chance that you’re building muscle faster than you can burn off pounds of body fat. Don’t despair, that’s a very good thing!
Even though the scale is showing no or reversed progress, the muscle you’re building is lean body weight. It looks good on you and does good things for you! You’ll notice the good things it does when you go shopping for clothes. Not only will you be wearing smaller sizes but they’ll be looking better on your muscle-toned body!
If you are not working on building muscle and you’re carefully following your weight loss program there could be a medical reason for your lack of progress.
If you haven’t had a physical in a while or if you have other symptoms in addition to weight gain it would be a good idea to see your doctor.
If everything checks out and your doctor agrees your goal is a healthy goal for you, keep the faith, keep following your program and keep believing! The only thing that could possibly stop you from reaching goal is quitting!