Crossing over Those Dreaded Plateaus

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By Beth Donovan (~INDYGIRL)

Since I weighed 460 when I started my journey and I weigh 334 now, you can bet that I’ve had my fair share of plateaus. They are frustrating to say the least and sometimes are the one thing that can break your resolve to stay in a healthy lifestyle, even after months or years of successful fit living.

Personally, I blame the scale. It takes itself too seriously and convinces us that it is the only way to judge whether we are making progress. We want so badly to see those numbers go down. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience or not, but I can be having a perfectly “thin” day (where I feel good about myself and my body) and then I jump on the scale. If that number goes up even slightly, sometimes it’s like putting an anvil on my back. All the bounce goes out of my step and I feel sluggish, depressed, and as if I’ve failed. Sometimes I feel as if I should just give up.

Since SparkPeople has come into my life, I’ve learned that sometimes the scale goes up or stays the same because my body decides it is time to rest and adjust. I suspect my mind needs time to rest and adjust too. My mantra? Lose, maintain, but just don't gain. Gains do happen, but bodies are alive and changing by the minute. Haven’t you noticed that you weigh differently at different times of the day? Picking one consistent time and not weighing as often, for example weighing weekly or monthly, helps avoid the pitfalls of the body just doing its thing.

There are many reasons why you might plateau. Sometimes we become less vigilant about measuring, take more bites, licks, and tastes, we retain water, gain muscle and the list continues. The thing to remember is that your body is changing more than in numbers. Think of your body saying to you “I can’t change everything at once; I’m working on inches for awhile.” Inches are nothing to sneeze at either; losing those are what will get you into the new clothes you’ve been eyeing. Maybe this plateau is building some healthy lean muscle tissue for you. Studies have shown that when people begin to exercise, they sometimes gain weight. Don’t forget the comfort factor with your eating habits. Maybe you’ve become lax with weighing, measuring, and aren’t counting some of the “little” things you have throughout the day. There is also the possibility that your body is just being stubborn and you’ll just have to wait.

So how do you break through a true plateau? First you have to be honest with yourself and ask if you’ve been treating yourself a little more, measuring a little less or taking too many bites, licks and tastes. If you think any of those may be the culprit, that’s a good place to start.

Here is how I break my plateaus:

  • I go to the SparkPeople Start Page and recalculate my calories and decide on a new goal every time I hit a plateau. Sometimes you may have lost enough weight that you need to recalculate calories. I try to do this every 10 to 20 pounds. I also refigure my fitness goals. I am very realistic, however. I usually try to lose about 25-50 pounds a year and keep my exercise in a doable range of 20 minutes broken up through the day or swimming for an hour.

  • I amp up my exercise. This may be by adding 5 or 10 more minutes in a separate workout for me. Being disabled makes increasing a workout difficult but not impossible. Just get more activity in at some point in the day. If you have trouble exercising while disabled, you still have workout options. (Read this blog for more details.

  • There is evidence to show that mixing up your exercise, as in trading out different workouts keeps your body guessing, and therefore unable to settle in to an autopilot for lesser calorie burn. If you swim, you might try weight training for a workout or two. If you bike, you might try running or aerobic once or twice a week.

  • I read blogs daily and earn points, because the points make sure I have my good habits in place and I'm building on them. Everything you do to earn Spark Points has a goal to it that results in healthy activity. There are things to do such as read articles, blogs, take polls, answer trivia, and get on the Message Boards. All of these things will help immerse you in the SparkPeople world and theory.

  • I make sure I’m getting fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and water in my plan and try to avoid processed foods even more vigilantly while on the plateau. Processed foods seem to make me crazy hungry and add to my weight issues, so I eat less of them at these times. I cut out sodas, diet or otherwise unless for a special occasion. I avoid salt, it tends to make you bloat with water weight.

These same tips help me turn it around when I'm spiraling out of control.

Sometimes it just takes your body time to come around. Be patient and kind to it. You will see weight loss again, but in your body’s time. Give it all the love and help it needs.

Need help breaking through your own plateaus? Check out our three-part series: Plateau Busters.

How do you break through a plateau?

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CECELW 1/15/2021
wow! I so relate! Report
GMACAMI 12/20/2020
interesting article and comments... helpful suggestions Report
Thank you for sharing this great article! Report
The loss maintain just don’t gain mantra is one to remember Thank You Report
I love the Lose, Maintain, just don't gain! Made progress, so far, and not giving it up! Keep going, and thanks for the inspiration!!! Report
when I plateau I shall remember this! Report
Good thing to stay with it. Report
thanks for sharing Report
I just finished having a fruit smoothie! Thank you for this great blog. Report
Thanks for the blog. Reading this article was just what I needed since my scale has been stuck on the same number for about 3 weeks now. Have a great day! Report
Lose, maintain but just dont gain

great mantra! Report
Lose, maintain, but just don't gain.

It is a good mantra... I try to change exercise for plateaus... eat 300 or 500 more calories and then less by that amount and stay on the less.. I read plateau busters under secrets here Report
Dear Indy, What an inspiration you are. I am so grateful for you and your knowledge and generosity at sharing with us just when I needed it most.Blessings Nancy Report
Thanks for the reminder that change takes time. I'm going to continue staying on track. Report
Timely blog for me! I was several days behind in reading e-mails, but I needed it today. I even had blogged this morning about the different measurements that have been getting smaller for me. This was an important reminder that weight is only one of the many important measurements. Report
I was disappointed when I got on the scale this weekend so... I ate a lot of unhealthy foods this weekend but this blog is the motivation I need not to give up on myself. Today I am going to try hard to stay on track. Thanks for the blog! Report
Thank you very much for sharing. You have given me inspiration when I'm at a low. Thank you!!!! Report
I wish I could say I was out of my plateau but I am not yet. It is very frustrating with weekly weigh in challenges and there are weeks that I gain 2 and then lose it. But, I have noticed my body is changing. My chest and upper abs have gotten smaller and are starting to look more toned! The hardest part is losing my belly, but I know it will come off in due time! And thanks for the tips about extra bites and nibbles...I can honestly say that with kids it is second nature to nibble their food or nibble bites of food when I cook! I will have to get myself to stop that! Thanks! Report
Awesome blog, Indy, you always inspire and motivate me but today especially since I have been outta control this past week....and this reminds me that it is not the scales that I need to worry about but just staying on track it one day at a time, one moment at a time.....I know that I have lost because my clothes are looser and every one is commenting on how great I look. I have to wonder; am I afraid of looking good, or is my inner child being rebellious and just a bit letting go....of those pounds....I know that I have sabotaged myself this past week, in eating emotionally , in letting things get to me that haven't not previously the whole time that I have been making this lifestyle change..again thanks for sharing this blog, for it really hit home for me tonight...
*hugs* Report
Great blog. We have to remember that the scale is not inherently evil, nor is it the end all, be all. It IS however a tool, one of many available to us to help us gauge how we are doing. As you pointed out, there are many reasons why weight doesn't come off as quickly as we'd like or even why we gain (I've literally lost inches while gaining a pound - the result of building muscle I'm guessing.) If the scale is the only tool used, it can be pretty depressing at times. Too one dimensional for me. I weigh myself religiously, I check my body size against clothes in my closet, I pay attention to my energy level, how strong I feel, and even my emotional state/well being. All those things combined tell me the true story, the scale is only one piece of the puzzle! Report
Great Blog..I will share it with several people on the boards going through the same decision processes. I to have hit plateaus and became discouraged. Like you I hit the calculators and re-figure my calories and amp up my exercise program to break through the plateau. Report
I'm in a plateau right now, but to break it, I'll up the exercise, and cut down on my eating. I notice I'm eating far more, than when I first got on this program. I do weigh everyday, I think my weight would get way out of hand if I didn't. Report
I only had time to read part of this right now, but I bookmarked it so I can read and re-read it later. Thanks for sharing! Report
At one plateau, I couldn't break through. I ate less calories, I ate less Sat fat, kept it under 10 each day, I changed my workout completely and after four weeks, I started to gain weight again.

Looking back at a spark article, one of the things I had put down as a "Yeah, right", was to eat MORE!

My calorie range was about half under and half over the 1500 calorie recommended, so I increased everything exponentially to get above the 1500 calorie mark.

That week I lost a pound and a half.

Since then, I've been averaging a pound per week of lost weight, I've taken my belt in three notches and I can start to see some ab definition.

I also tried another suggestion about eating in my calorie range by eating low in the range one day, high in the range another, then eating in the middle of the range. I've started eating all over the range, up, down, higher protean, lower protein, high carbs, lower carbs, higher fat and lower fat.

It's fun, it provides a lot of variety to my meals, and most importantly for me - it's working.

I had a take-it-slow goal of 1.5 pounds a month (18 pounds in a year) and since I've changed my style of eating, I've exceeded my weight loss goal every month, Instead of 26 months, I'll reach my goal in 13 months.

That was a plateau buster! Report
I appreciate your blog so much. I feel as though I have been treading water for a very long time. Going shopping yesterday, the thought went through my mind, "I'm so sick of being fat". Although we're supposed to think positively, in my case sometimes the negative is more effective @ getting me to move.

I am not disabled but I do have a sever form of arthritis and am frequently in some amount of pain. I used to say, "I'll be in pain, anyway, I might as well exercise..." but lately I haven't followed through. You have inspired me. I am going to get my rear in gear again.

Thanks so much. Report
Congratulations on your success! You are truly an inspirations, no fast fixes, quick losses, just lifestyle changes. keep up the good work! Report
I sort of stumbled across your message today, but it was one I badly needed to read. 42 pounds sort of came off rather easily, but no longer. I've been the same weight for about 4 weeks now. I know plateaus happen, but knowing it and accepting that fact is difficult for me. Thanks for addressing the issue. Report
Hi Beth, I am always so thankful I have found you here on my Spark journey to Health and Fitness. YOU give me so much hope and tangible techniques to continue and become successful. THANKS and HUGS, Paula Report
Thanks for sharing and congrats on the weight loss.
You are an inspiration. Thank you Report
Excellent blog, excellent advice. Thank you. Report
You are a beautiful woman, Indygirl. I love your take charge attitude and your resolve. You are awesome. Report
Great blog. I will try to shift my thinking to include celebrating not gaining any weight, instead of only focusing on always losing (which can lead to disappointment when you just maintain). Report
Thanks for the blog! When I'm stuck in a plateau, I like to shave 50 calories off the top end of my range. I tend to forget I even did that, so I wind up eating a lot less. For example, I like to stay more than 100 calories from the top of my range, so I'm actually staying 150 calories from the top of my range. Report
What a great Blog post. . .THANK YOU!! and with such great timing. I was just going to see what others were doing about plateaus. . .as I have been on one about a month. . .and then your post!!! Thanks again! Report
Wonderful blog!!! A plateau is exactly why I signed up for SP! This blog has been very helpful to me, as I have gotten frustrated lately. I lost five pounds after signing up, and the last couple days I've gained 3 pounds back! It's SO frustrating, as I'm sure you know. I do have a few ideas of what it is that caused the gain and I am sure that in a matter of days it will be gone... Hopefully by the time I need to record my weight on here next week!

Thank you so much for this blog, I'm sure I'll visit it again! Report
Having let a plateau derail me, not once but twice, I was very encouraged to read your blog, Beth. You have such a wonderful attitude, and the patience and love you display for your body is such a good example. I know how often I get frustrated and even angry at myself when I don't feel my body is "cooperating." I'm learning so much from you, and respect for my body and its own wisdom is one of the best lessons! Report
I needed to read this one! After losing my first 20 pounds, half of what I want to lose, in 6 months, the past several weeks have seen very little "loss" on the scales, and this article made me realize that I am counting on the scales too much! I usually weigh every morning and what that scale indicates determines my attitude for the day all too often. I love the SP program and know I am learning to both eat and exercise to make me more healthy. The last 20 pounds may come off more slowly than the first did, but with this being a true "lifestyle" change for me and not just another "diet", that's okay, too. Report
Thanks for the great blog, I am a daily scale person, should stop but still my impulse. Thanks for the good advice. Report
Excellent! I've heard these words of wisdom before, but your reminder is what I needed. I've been struggling the last couple of months and gained weight but after reading your blog I'm taking a realistic look at what I've been doing to cause this gain. Thanks so much! Report
Your blog is just what I needed! Thanks for your info and inspiration! Report
I consider it a platform not a plateau. A platform to spring from... Report
As always, you have put it so well, Beth! Plateaus are frustrating- I know because I've been there for months. But reading your blog reminded me to look at things besides the scale. So, I got up from the computer and did a waist measurement. Yep, my waist has gone down a full 6 inches! In 3 more inches, my waist will be considered "healthy" for my size. I measured my hand and found my middle finger is 3 inches long. So from now on I'm going to look at my middle finger and just think about how "little" distance my goal is away! Report
Thank you thank you for another perspective on plateaus! It made sense and I always appreciate hearing that I am not the only one that gets sad because of the scale!!!!!!! Report
Wow, I never even considered that a plateau could be a "good" thing for my body. Who knew?! Thank you for changing my outlook on plateaus! Report
You are a jewel, a real inspiration. As a Hoosier myself (Indpls is my hometown) I fee a special bond with you. Keep the blogs coming. Report
Thanks for the suggestions! And I love your mantra, I am adopting it as my own. Keep up the good work! I'm wishing you much success on your journey. Report
I do a lot of the same things. Now that I am getting close to my goals it if more difficult to get away from the plateaus but I just kick it up a bit and make adjustments and the weight starts to come off again slowing. Report
Great blog! Great reminders! Don't forget: you weigh LESS the first thing in the morning.

Thanks for sharing your suggestions for getting off those plateaus. They are definitely helpful.
I so agree with everything you said about the scale. I even wrote a blog about it yesterday, describing the scale as a mistress. The link is below if you want to check it out.