Almost everyone trying to lose weight has had that month where they step on the scale and are consistently not seeing a change in weight. This instance has been deemed the dreaded “plateau” of weight loss. Following the lack of change in weight on the scale, two scenarios may occur. First, people default to the fact their body will just not give off any more weight and quit their regiment. Why waste the time exercising and focusing on nutrition when the “results” aren’t there? The other scenario is a person may decrease their calories consumption further, up their exercise intensity or frequency, which in turn creates unrealistic habits. This behavior will only lead to another plateau and eventually causing them to be right back where they started; wanting to quit.
I know what you’re all thinking right now. You’re preparing yourself for some cliche piece of advice to beating a plateau. Things you have heard hundreds of times before like meal timing discussions, macronutrient balance, hydration, etc. All extremely pertinent information to TRUE plateaus. However my goal of this piece is not to give you feedback to beat a plateau, but to accurately define a weight loss plateau.
The staff at the Mayo Clinic (2015) describes a weight loss plateau as “no change in weight in days or possibly weeks after following a regimented diet and exercise program”. The key to this phrase that most people ignore has been bolded and underlined for your viewing pleasure. More simply said, are you still doing EVERYTHING you were doing when you lost that first 10-15 lbs? Or have you gotten comfortable? Too many times in our field, patients get lax on their weight loss journey. They go on cruise control after that first 10 lbs. They stop tracking their food as accurately, do not following prescribed HR zones and miss workouts, etc. A number of things they were all doing at the beginning that lead to their initial success have now stopped . All of a sudden as gradually as the habits decrease, the weight loss results decrease that much quicker.
I’m not here to argue the science of plateaus. As unfair as it is, we know they occur. I am here to stay, take a step back and look at your data before waiving the white flag to the dreaded plateau. The easiest way to do this is simple, OBJECTIVE DATA (numbers). Always track your food and exercise no matter what. Even on routine days, when you know exactly how many calories you’re going to eat. Still track. Same with exercise, still wear your heart monitor and know exactly how many calories you burn and heart rate average. This way once you do reach an ACTUAL plateau (remember, defined as doing EVERYTHING you started doing and no weight loss results) you have the data to make adjustments that will re-ignite results.
To conclude, if you’re consistently keeping objective data for nutrition and exercise, and most importantly reviewing it, you will decrease the frequency of these “plateaus”. This being for the simple reason that the data doesn’t lie. If you overeat and don’t exercise as much on a given week, you will not lose the same weight you did weeks prior. I realize this may seem like a gross simplification, but you would not believe the number of times people proclaim “plateau!” after a month of not doing what they had originally done to result in their initial success.
Getting past a weight-loss plateau. (2015, January 07). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/weight-loss-plateau/art-20044615