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?