How-To: Break Through A Weight Loss Plateau

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day (there, now this post is relevant no matter WHAT day I post it or YOU read it, unless I post it or you read it right ON Valentine’s Day).  How are we doing with February?  Was Valentine’s Day the final nail in the coffin of a slow and sugary decline since mid-January?  Or did it revitalize you and give you renewed energy for your health and fitness goals for the year?

No matter which camp you’re in, this is the point in many fitness and weight loss attempts (aka the six-week mark) where you can experience a dreaded “plateau.”  This can happen sooner for some and later for others.  It can last days or even weeks (!).

What exactly IS a weight loss plateau?  If you’re failing to see ANY sign of measurable progress after two weeks (this means NO change in measurements, NO change in how your clothing fits, NO change on the scales and NO changes in how you look in the mirror or in photographs and NO change in your performance in the gym), THEN it’s a plateau.  If you’re still getting stronger in the gym (evidenced by lifting heavier weights and/or for more sets), or your cardio is improving (resting heart rate is decreasing) and/or you can go for longer and/or at a higher intensity than you could before, your progress hasn’t really “stalled” – it’s simply taken you in a different direction than you expected.  Like just about everything else in life, fat loss isn’t linear, and there are a lot of routes to get you from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to go).

The good news if you really ARE experiencing a weight loss plateau?  1) It’s totally normal.  2) There ARE things you can do about it!  I shared just some of those strategies in my weekly Instagram video series (and Facebook posts), and you can read about them in more detail, next!

Stay calm

This is where I need one of those “Stay Calm” memes with the crown, and some sort of saying like “Stay Calm; Worry Doesn’t Lose Weight.”  Or something catchier than that?  I’m open to suggestions!   Basically, what I’m trying to say is: don’t worry, stress or fret. They don’t really burn any calories, and they focus your attention and energy on the problem, not on the solution.  You don’t need to focus on the problem; it’s there!  This is where I can get all wise and philosophical and tell the tale about two wolves…which one is bigger?  The one you feed.  It’s all metaphorical, but boils down to the point that you should focus your energy and attention on what you WANT, not on what you don’t.  So much for me sounding wise.  Ha!

When your subconscious mind “hears” you talking or even thinking about that “darn 2/5/10lbs” the only message it gets is that 2/5/10lbs is really important, and it has better find a way to find those pounds and bring them to you! That’s the opposite of what you want!

Focus on the lean, light, happy, confident body you DO want. Focus on eating foods that make you feel lean, light and clean. Focus on movement that makes you feel lean, light and clean. Embrace and welcome lightness and leanness into your life. Tell yourself “you’re looking lean and lovely today!” And your subconscious will work to make that statement true. Yup, it might sound like “woohooery,” but it works!

Pay attention to your eating

When you’re not getting the results you’re expecting, it’s time to pay just a little bit more attention to what and how much you are eating. Are some extra snacks sneaking into your day? Are your portion sizes creeping bigger? Are you mindlessly munching on your kids’ leftovers as you put away the dishes? All these little things can  and do add up and slow you down.

Also, are you eating mindfully and really paying attention to your body’s signals? Remember you’re stopping at about 80% fullness, regardless of whether you had planned to eat a certain amount of food in one sitting.  This can be the downside of meal planning – you just wolf down whatever is in that Tupperware container without paying much attention because that’s all you “get” to it – satisfaction, satiety and sanity go out the window (my three S’s of nutrition).  On the other hand, if you’re struggling to make nutritious choices, especially if you’re on the go a lot, you might want to check out some resources on planning and preparing healthful meals and snacks.

As for mindful eating, practice putting the fork down between bites. Breathe, chew thoroughly and eat slowly, savouring your meal and using the power of your intention to use that food to build and fuel your lean, light body.

Pay attention to your activity

Just as you can be in a rut with your eating (the same foods for the same meals, week after week), you can also be in a rut with your workouts.  Have you been doing the same routine for so long that you could do it in your sleep (with about the same amount of effort)?

Are your workouts still challenging you? If not, it might be time to increase the intensity and/or duration and/or frequency of your workouts. You might add an additional set of each exercise to your existing workout. Or you might an extra workout in the week.  All these little extras can and will add up to get you past the plateau.  Remember good ol’ NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)?  You can increase your non-exercise activity, by doing more walking or even housework (!) – as much as it pains me to admit it, vacuuming burns calories (just don’t tell my husband I told you that; it’s always been “his” chore in our house).

Get adequate rest and recovery

“Gee whiz, is Lauren STILL harping on about sleep?”  Why yes, yes I am.  It’s THAT important (and that under-rated) when it comes to fat loss.  Proper night-time sleep is pivotal for happy hormones and underpins key physiological processes.  And recovery, including between sets at the gym AND between workouts is also required to optimize your muscle growth and overall performance.

Crazy gimmicks

Let’s call these the “sprinkles” of the fitness and weight/fat loss world.  Once you’re sure that you’ve got the basic “ingredients” for fat loss in place (great mindset with positive self-talk, mindful, slow eating with awareness, intense workouts, adequate rest and recovery), THEN (and only then), you can break out the “fun stuff.”

It’s time to crack open every (sane) fat loss trick in the book – try adding a spoonful of apple cider vinegar to a large glass of cool water and drinking it each morning to enhance your digestion. Have a cup of green tea every day for the antioxidants and mild caffeine boost.  Add spices like cinnamon or cayenne to your foods to speed up your metabolism.

At best, these tricks will work to move the weight, especially if you believe in them (mind over matter). At worse, none of them is “bad” for you, unless you’ve been specifically told to steer clear by your primary health practitioner. What have you got to lose (pun intended)?

Total credit to James Smith for the metaphor of baking a cake – you don’t worry about the sprinkles if you haven’t got the flour, eggs, milk, oil, sugar, etc., as well as a proper pan and oven and knowledge of the right length of time and temperature.

If you’d like to bring on a professional, it might be time to talk to a coach.  I’m happy to offer a complimentary strategy session to quickly audit what’s going on right now and offer immediate, free steps to implement, as well as chat about whether my coaching services could be a good fit to help you reach your goals.  Grab a spot in my calendar and let’s chat!

Have a fit day!

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