When the calendar flipped from 2016 to 217 there were a lot of people who were eager to start losing weight.
The gyms filled up. The Weight Watchers meetings were jumping with new members. Jenny Craig’s phone lines were tied up with callers. USPS, UPS and FedEx trucks were crammed with exercise machines, videos, and magic weight loss pills and powders that wannabe losers ordered online.
Everybody was losing a lot of weight and eager to reach their goals. Now, a mere two weeks into the new year, some of these eager losers aren’t losing weight. They are losing interest in losing weight. Why do people lose interest in losing weight? Could it be that progress has slowed or stalled?
Kaela started her diet January 2, 2016. She wanted to lose 65 pounds.
The first week she lost 7 pounds. The second week she lost 3. She was disappointed that her efforts only took off 3 pounds the second week. She figured even at 3 pounds a week, however, in less than 5 months she’d be at goal.
She stuck to her plan faithfully. When she stepped onto the scale that third week and was devastated to see she’d lost a mere .5. It didn’t make sense. She knew her diet adherence was 100%. She was aware of plateaus, but didn’t think they would happen to her and surely not so early in her diet.
Kaela gave it one more week. The number on the scale only moved down by 1 pound. Kaela was discouraged and thought, “at this rate I’ll never get to goal.” She lost her motivation. Kaela said, “I hit the dreaded plateau.”
What is a weight loss plateau and was Kaela really stuck on one?
According to Kaela, “a plateau is when you’re doing everything right and you’re not losing weight.” Her definition is correct as far as it goes, but there is more to it including Kaela is losing weight even though her progress is significantly slower than in the first few weeks.
She’s half right. Experts define a plateau this way.
A plateau is progress less than an average 0.5 pounds per week for 4 consecutive weeks.
- 7 pounds the first week
- 3 the second,
- .5 the third
- 1 pound the fourth week.
- That’s a total of 11.5 pound weight loss is 4 weeks.
11.5 ➗ 4 = 2.875 weekly average weight loss
Kaela is not on a plateau. Weight loss experts say that an average of 1 – 2 pounds a week is a healthy rate of loss after the first 3 weeks of following a weight loss plan.
Greater losses in the first 3 weeks may occur and in Kaela’s case they did.
In the beginning weeks of losing weight, the satisfying big losses are mainly water weight and not representative of a loss of body fat. Reducing calories and especially cutting back on highly refined carbohydrates forces the body to use stored energy in the form of glycogen.
Glycogen is a form of energy stored in the liver, muscles and fat cells. It is hydrated with 3 or 4 parts water. When glycogen is burned, the water is released causing weight loss. After a few weeks of following a weight loss plan, the stores of glycogen have been depleted. The body starts to burn stored body fat for its energy needs and the rate of progress slows. That is not a plateau. That is a normal, healthy progression when reducing weight.
Kaela was disappointed but not deterred.
Almost anybody would like to keep losing pounds of body fat as quickly and easily as they lost their weight from glycogen. Dedicated dieters understand that isn’t going to happen and getting to goal will take work and time. Giving up because it’s too slow doesn’t make sense. The sensible thing to do is to shift focus from “how fast can I lose weight,” to “how livable can I make my weight control behaviors.”
There may come a time when Kaela will experience a real plateau. If that happens hanging in there and using some evidence-based, plateau breaking strategies can help her get the scale moving downward again.