How to Break Through a Plateau
When you have a specific health goal and feel you are putting in the work, it’s tough when you don’t see the changes you feel you deserve. It’s tempting to give up, but here’s what to do instead.
If progress is disappointing, it’s time to check in with how you feel. Progress is not just a number on the scales and, in many cases, the scales can be misleading. If your goal isn’t just weight loss, a temporary stall in progress can be just as frustrating, with symptoms seeming to vanish one week, but reappear the next. Progress is rarely as straightforward as we think.
In this blog, I’ll be focussing on weight loss plateaus but you can add in your own situation.
What is a weight loss plateau?
A weight loss plateau refers to a phase in your weight loss journey where progress comes to a temporary halt despite your continued efforts. It can be both frustrating and demotivating.
Understanding the dynamics of why this happens is crucial for developing effective strategies to overcome them.
Metabolic adaptation: One primary cause of weight loss plateaus is the body's ability to adapt to changes in calorie intake and expenditure. As you lose weight, your metabolic rate may decrease, meaning your body burns fewer calories at rest. This adaptive response can make it challenging to sustain the initial rate of weight loss.
Psychological factors: Psychological aspects play a significant role in weight management. Stress, emotional eating, and other mental health factors can contribute to plateaus. For instance, heightened stress levels can lead to hormonal imbalances that affect metabolism and appetite, hindering weight loss progress. Don't underestimate the power of stress to impact every aspect of your health.
Inconsistent action: It’s easy to be keen and compliant when you first start your programme but, over time, bad habits and inconsistencies can creep in, whether that’s more treat foods, more glasses of wine, or irregular workout patterns.
It’s not simply the number on the scales that can show up.
Lack of change in measurements: A plateau often extends beyond weight loss alone, affecting overall body composition and shape. This might mean measurements such as waist circumference, hip circumference, and other body dimensions stall too.
Emotional and psychological indicators: Forget about the tell-tell signs just being physical. You might also experience heightened frustration, demotivation, or a sense of being stuck in your journey. Emotional eating patterns may also emerge as a response to the perceived lack of progress, further complicating the weight loss process.
Plateaus vary from person to person
Weight loss plateaus are not one-size-fits-all – just like your food plan! They manifest differently for everyone. Factors such as age, gender, genetics, and overall health can influence the nature and duration of plateaus. Some people may experience a brief slowdown in weight loss, while others might encounter a more prolonged and stubborn plateau.
Here are some thoughts for those weeks when things don’t go to plan for whatever the reason.
- If there were things you didn’t do but wanted to, or things that felt difficult, be curious about why you struggled. Making changes to your health is all about learning, and in some cases identifying triggers and finding solutions.
- If you keep a food diary or a habit tracker, review it. It’s often (but not always) easy to spot what has happened. While you are practising making changes to what you eat, it’s easy to slip back into old patterns and many people over-estimate their compliance. These will vary from person to person but can include eating more of the foods that cause symptoms to flare up or adding in more snacks, alcohol or treat foods.
- How are you sleeping? Lack of sleep plays a big role in your health and can stall your results if you’re regularly not getting enough by placing additional stress on the body. For most people, that means having fewer than seven hours a night most nights.
- Check your stress levels. Stress can put the brakes on weight loss and any kind of progress at all. If you’re spinning a lot of plates and you’re not taking time for yourself every day to do some kind of stress relief (acts of self-care, meditation, breathwork, time in nature, etc), you should make this a priority.
- Are you hydrated? There are many reasons why drinking water works for health and, time and again, I have seen that taking action in this area alone can shift the needle in every respect. For starters, drinking enough water allows your body to get rid of toxic waste you don’t want in your body, and it helps support immunity and liver function too.
The basic advice is to keep going. Plateaus are very common and often my clients trust the process and soon things start moving in the right direction again.
In the short term, you can try one of these little boosters:
- No starchy carbs in the evening for one week
- Eat evening meal 1 hour earlier than usual
- Cut out wheat and/or dairy for one week
- No alcohol for one week
One of the most important things you can do is to focus on what has gone well. Ask yourself, what am I pleased with that has gone well this week? What other improvements have you noticed?
Keep your eye on the prize. One of the things I’m keen to do as a coach is to help my clients work out why change is important for them. This helps keep focus when a plateau happens. If you’d like to know more about the support I can give you, why not book in a free call here?