Recently a client complained that she’d hit a “plateau” because she hadn’t lost any weight in several days. My clients lose fairly rapidly and consistently if they follow my program and they start to expect that this will continue daily. But it doesn’t always work out that way. This can lead to feelings of self-doubt and frustration. Let’s explore what a plateau is what you might be able to do about it.
Lesson #1: What I mean when I say “Weight Loss Plateau”
I consider a weight loss plateau staying at approximately the same weight for 3 weeks or more. It’s very easy to get excited with daily losses at the beginning of your weight loss journey, and easy to get discouraged when this stops. BUT this is exactly the time when you SHOULD dig in and stay the course.
Lesson #2: Weight Fluctuates Daily
You might not be at a plateau. Weight fluctuates daily. This is why I recommend that you get on the scale every morning at the same in the same clothing (or none at all). If you do this you will quickly see that your weight goes up and down on a daily basis. This might be because you had a treat or because you are retaining water because of salt or carbohydrate intake or perhaps you are nearing your period. Whatever the reason, the first thing to understand is that weight naturally fluctuates and if you stick to your eating plan, it will gravitate to your natural weight. Weighing yourself daily will take the drama out of this natural occurrence.
Below is graph I made for one of my clients who felt she had plateaued over the course of a few days (clearly she had not). This shows approximately one and half months of weight loss. This is a perfect real-life example of how we take weight off.
Lesson #3: You might be at your natural weight
Eventually, when you are eating mainly foods that fuel and practices regular movement (I so prefer that term to exercise) and NOT overdoing exercise (more on that below), you will find your “natural” weight. Not all of us are going to look like Kerry Washington but the good news is that you are going to look like your most amazing you and that’s pretty great!!
Lesson #4: Calorie counting is usually ineffective. Focus on foods that fuel and you will find your natural weight.
So often when we get frustrated or discouraged we turn to the old ways like cutting way back on food or calorie counting. I never tell clients to count calories or severely restrict portion size. Time and again the “calories in, calories out” theory of weight loss has been proven ineffectual. Yes, there is a point that calories do matter but what matters more is WHAT you eat and only eating. I suggest primarily focusing on what I consider “fuel” foods: unprocessed animal proteins, healthy fats and lots and lots of non-starchy vegetables.
Lesson #5: Find something that works and STICK TO IT.
Be super honest with yourself…have you been slacking off, even a tiny bit? If so, no big deal, just get back on protocol. If you have been 100% committed and are not losing weight, look carefully at your food. Are you still eating dairy? Are you snacking? Are you having a few drinks? Are you eating carby veggies, fruits, grains and beans? Are you getting in enough nutrients? Are you overeating?
Lesson #6: Eating “healthy” snacks may keep weight on you
Are you eating nuts and nut butters? Nuts are amazing, they are a beautiful blend of carbs, fats and proteins but they often interfere with our weight loss goals because they are such calorically dense foods. If you are at a plateau and regularly eat nuts and nut butters, try stopping for a few weeks and see what happens. How about those packaged snacks like protein bars, dark chocolate, gluten-free chips etc.? While these foods may not contain the same unhealthy oils and sweeteners as other brands, they are still highly processed, high in carbs, and are not what I consider “fuel” foods because they are unnecessary and will sabotage your weight loss goals.
Lesson #7: Carby vegetables, grains, fruits and beans can do it too
Corn, potato (even sweet potato), squashes and other carby veggies eaten on regular basis can keep you from your goals. I also recommend stopping (for a while) intake of fruits, grains and beans since they are higher in carbohydrates than my suggested fuel foods and may prevent weight loss. It’s also really easy to overeat certain fruits, especially the super sweet ones like watermelon, grapes and pineapple. Once you reach your weight loss goal, you might consider strategically re-introducing them. I would suggest starting with the less sugary, more nutrient dense fruits like blueberries and raspberries.
Lesson #8: Reduce or stop alcohol
I know we’ve all heard that wine has potential health benefits but if you are trying to carve off some pounds, consider stopping drinking for a while until you get past your plateau.
Lesson #9: Your body needs fuel
Are you undereating the important fuel foods like high-quality protein, healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables? I typically recommend that my clients eat from these three food groups at every single meal. If you are not consuming nutrient dense foods, you are more likely to have cravings due to undernourishment and eat foods that may sabotage weight goals.
Lesson #10: Overeating counts (even healthy foods)
Are you paying attention to whether or not you are really hungry? Are you eating more than three times per day? Overeating is THE PRIMARY reason why we as a nation are overweight. For more about our hunger signals, check out my guide to your hunger signals.
Lesson #11: Stay accountable
Are you writing down what you are eating – every morsel? Are you pre-planning your foods at least 2-3 days in advance (I’m not talking about elaborate meal plans here just 5-10 minutes 1-2 times per week on a basic outline). Are you strategically planning your weekly treats (I call them “joy eats” rather that cheats) or just allowing yourself to eat whatever you want on these occasions? Are you strategically pre-planning before meals out and parties?
Lesson #11 Not sleeping can sabotage weight loss goals
Lack of sleep has a direct impact on your hormones, which may affect your weight loss efforts. Read my sleep guide here.
Lesson #12: Over-exercising may be preventing your weight loss
Over-exercising, especially cardio may actually PREVENT weight loss because of loss of nutrients, loss of muscle mass and changes in hormones. Think of defining what you do as “movement” instead of “exercise.” If you are a cardio fiend, consider trying other forms of movement at least for a little while until you start losing weight again.
Lesson #13 Work on your stress
Although I stress a decrease in insulin spikes through low-carb dietary interventions as an amazing way to lose and maintain weight, there is another hormone that affects weight deposition which is our stress hormone – cortisol. If you are going through a highly charged time in your life, consider working on reducing stress. There are so many ways to do this – movement, meditation (read my guide to meditation here), breathing, yoga, tai chi and more.
Try the 4-7-8 breath, introduced to us by Dr. Andrew Weil:
- Start by placing the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth (you will keep it there for the entirety of the exercise).
- You will be inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth around your tongue
- Exhale completely through your mouth making a “whoosh” sound”
Inhale through your nose for a count of 4
- Hold the breath in for a count of 7
- Exhale completely through your mouth making a “whoosh” sound for a count of 8.
- Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Lesson #14 Start learning to love yourself right now!
If you start having self-sabotaging thoughts about your weight loss plateau and start criticizing yourself and giving yourself a hard time, you will create stressful feelings which may lead to weight gain. Find a way to love yourself in the skin you are in right now. Practice saying “I love my body at any weight” even if you don’t believe it right now, it’s ok to “fake it till you make it” on this one. I promise that you can’t hate yourself thin.
Lesson #15 Practice Self-Care
Are you taking some time for yourself to enjoy your life? Taking a walk or enjoying a bath or movie, calling up a trusted friend or family member, reading a good book or taking a few minutes a day to journal or reflect can help you avoid turning to overeating or drinking to relax and self-soothe. Commit to spending 5-10 minutes per day (at least) on self-care.
Remember, whether you implement one or all of the suggestions above, give yourself several weeks to see what works and practice loving patience with yourself and your amazing body.