I’m not in a plateau right now, but I have been there many times throughout this journey. I know people who are currently working on losing weight, and some are feeling disheartened because they aren’t seeing the results they are expecting or hoping for. I know how that feels; I’ve been there.
Where I succeeded and many others have failed, however, is that I didn’t give up when the scale stopped showing me smaller numbers. I knew that it was a long-term process, and that losing the amount of weight I wanted to lose wasn’t something that could be done quickly or even easily.
A lot of people forget that when you plan on losing 100 lbs, that last 10 lbs will be pretty difficult to lose. Not because it’s the last 10 lbs, but because while 100 lbs is hard to lose, when you begin, it’s easier to lose a lot of weight because overall, it’s a small percentage of the total weight you need to lose. If I weighed 300 lbs and wanted to lose 150 lbs, that first 15 lbs is only 5% of my total weight. When I’m at 160 lbs, 5% is only 8 lbs. So, losing 15 lbs in a month at 300 lbs is the same as losing 8 lbs when you weigh 160 lbs. That’s just simple math.
But there’s something else to consider as well. When you first start losing weight, your body sheds excess water that it retains as part of a poor diet. When you start eating properly, your body gets rid of a lot of this false weight very quickly. After the first month, the weight you’re losing is more legitimate weight. Once you near your target weight, however, your body has adjusted to the better quality food and it is getting more efficient. It no longer uses the stored energy in your body in the same way it used it when you weighed more because it requires less energy the smaller it is. Walking is easier because you are carrying less weight. Stairs are easier to go up for the same reason. That equates to fewer calories burned.
The first thought most people have at this point is to reduce calories. For most, this is the correct thing to do. However, you need to be careful to not cut too many calories. You can’t starve yourself long-term into losing weight. What’s worse is that after starving yourself for weight loss, there’s a tendency to over-eat afterward negating any weight loss and even resulting in a net weight gain past anything you lost. I’ve been in a situation where I was eating too few calories which resulted in my body holding onto and storing every bit of food I took in. To lose weight, I had to eat more. It seems counter-intuitive, but I’ve experienced this no fewer than three times.
Today, I’m in more of a maintenance mode than anything else. From time to time, my weight may creep up which puts me back into weight-loss mode, but those periods are shorter and farther in between. As I write this, I’m in weight-loss mode for 3-5 lbs before I go back into full maintenance mode. How different is that from weight-loss mode? Not much different except that I can allow myself the occasional drink or dessert without guilt or weight gain.
Plateaus can last a long time. I’ve had some last as many as five months. The key is to get past them by thinking of the long-term consequences of your diet decisions. Eat right for life, not for losing weight, and you will be happier while keeping your focus on what’s really important: your health (and not the numbers on the scale).