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How to Handle a Plateau

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Plateau’s are one of the least understood (and frustrating) parts of weight loss and usually what causes people to quit.  On the flip side, when you really understand what is happening in your body, it can be a complete game changer!

This is going to be helpful for two sets of people:

  1. Those who made a big lifestyle change and don’t feel like they are seeing the results they deserve.
  2. Those who saw some results at first but now have hit a stalling point. You are still working just as hard, but it no longer seems to be working.

Typically, we refer to this as a plateau and our knee jerk reaction is to overhaul what we are doing and try something completely new.  This is actually the exact opposite thing that we should be doing.

What’s Happening in Your Body?

In order to understand why, we need to understand the science of Set Point Theory.  The fact is, our body does not like change.  It prefers to be in a state of homeostasis.

An example of this is body temperature.  Our body likes to maintain a certain temperature so when it starts to raise or lower it is going to take action to get back to where it is most comfortable.  If it’s too hot it will sweat to cool it off or if you are too cold it will shiver to warm it up.

The same thing happens with weight.  Your body gets comfortable at a certain weight.  Then, when your body starts to see evidence of you moving from that weight it starts to create physiological changes.  This includes, changing your metabolism and increasing your hunger.

The severity of these symptoms is going to correlate to how extreme your weight loss method is.  So, if you are doing something where you are seeing very fast weight loss, you can expect a more dramatic increase in cravings or longer plateaus.

Sounds like terrible news, right?  Well the good thing is that if you give your body a little time and consistency it will eventually create a new normal and you will see a drop in weight.  This is why weight loss tends to happen in chunks rather than like perfect math.

What do you do with this information?

Celebrate

This probably sounds silly, but these points of stagnation are actually a great sign because you know that your body is adapting so it can establish a new normal. 

The best analogy I have is muscle soreness.  Soreness is not a fun process. Seriously, it hurts! But  you know that on the other side of it is a stronger body.  The is the same with plateaus.  As long as you know that you are doing the right thing and caring for yourself in the best possible way, these stalling points should let you know that your body is adapting, and change is around the corner.

Get a Second Opinion

We can go a little crazy during this time and get insecure about whether or not we are doing the right thing.  This is when it’s not a bad idea to get another set of eyes.  Find an expert to look at your nutrition or workout program and give you honest feedback. They can either validate that you are on the right track or help you tweak what you are currently doing so you continue to get results.  My only caveat with this is to make sure that the person you are turning to has the experience and the capacity to assess what is best for you, not what is best for them.

Find Other Barometers of Change

This is the most important.  As a person who has been weighing about 8-16 people per day for the past 15 years, I can tell you…weight is crazy.  There are so many things that impact weight and can cause it to fluctuate.  So, if you are putting all of your eggs in that basket, at some point your heart will be broken.

Instead, I want you to look for other smaller changes.  Perhaps is a better mood, or clothes fitting better, or better sleep, or less cravings, or more energy, or better blood sugar, or less stress or shame around eating, or more confidence.  Set point theory refers only to weight.  It doesn’t mean that progress or the benefits are going to stop.  And in all honesty, although we sometimes assess change based on a number on a scale, what we really want is everything I just listed.  So, make sure to pay attention.

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