Part 4 in my series of blogs about my mental and physical health journey
The mind can be a very tricky place! In my last blog, I touched on the subject of the inner demons – those voices that make you question yourself, maybe even take away from your confidence. And one area that can impact this is that dreaded plateau!
Anyone that has been on a weight loss journey will likely know plateaus very intimately. They appear when we feel like we have “got this”, when we are cruising along and reaching intermediate goals. Then all of a sudden it is like doing an emergency brake at 80mph!!!!
For me personally plateaus are the most frustrating part of my journey. Especially when they show up, when I am doing “everything right”! So why does this happen?
First what is a weight loss plateau? If you are weighing daily (and by the way, this is ok, there is actually a good reason to do this – but more about that another time), and the number on the scale doesn’t move for a few days, this is not a plateau! A plateau is typically when the scale doesn’t move for 2 weeks or more. So if you are weighing in weekly, it still may not be a true plateau, as you may have gone up / down within that two weeks (ahhh… see now think trends – bigger picture, and daily weighing may open us up to understanding more about real life situations!).
A true plateau is when your weight doesn’t move at all for 2 or more weeks. Let us explore this a little further.
Plateaus are annoying, but predictable, well unpredictably predictable! They WILL happen, we just don’t know when. Many folks will say “well at least you didn’t gain” – which on the surface may sound like words of encouragement, but you just did a mini marathon, achieved a personal best, and exceeded your step count by over a 1,000 steps – and yet…the scale went nowhere! But plateaus don’t mean you are doing anything wrong / bad, and they don’t mean you are not making progress!
I reached a 27 day plateau about 4 weeks into my weight loss journey. It tugged on every emotion to the point of exhaustion. However, I was determined this time to not give up! Instead I started working on looking at my food / hydration, what could I do to mix things up a bit, that may kickstart the scale numbers?
What did I do differently? I sat down, I reflected, I cried and then I decided that I would work through this. Through my reflection, I noticed that I wasn’t reaching my full caloric needs. My body recognized that I was consuming fewer calories and so my ghrelin and leptin hormones were at odds with each other. Bottom line, my body realized I was consuming fewer calories, so it became more efficient at using calories – or scientifically, metabolic compensation/adaptive thermogenesis. So what to do to get over this frustrating wasteland plateau?
Review and adjust my caloric intake – make sure I am hydrated, reduce sodium content, and even if this doesn’t appear to work, just keep doing all the right things. As frustrating as it is, just like the predicability of a plateau happening, equally the scale will start to move again! It is a case of battling through that plateau (which in many cases is where most people will fall off the wagon and give up).
Many people will tell you to throw away the scale – “just go by how you look” “use a measuring tape instead of a scale” “use your clothes to see how they fit better” – and while these may work for some people, the ultimate point of weight loss is to reduce the number on the scale to a healthy number that you are happy with.
For myself, I am a bit of a statistic nerd, so I like to see my daily numbers, and look at the overall trend line – so while I do weigh daily, I am not necessarily focused on that number. Although, total transparency here, when I see the number go up a couple of pounds, and especially after a great workout, I do scream at the damn scale! But I keep going. I check I am hydrating properly – I log my water intake, mainly because I don’t want to second guess it. Typically I go for 8 glasses of water per day, and an extra 3 when I am doing longer endurance training.
So while the plateaus are extremely frustrating, I know they will happen, I don’t know when. When they do, I check my hydration levels and my sodium intake. I keep going and reflect on my progress to date.
One of the things I try to do during a plateau, is to focus on other milestones. And of course it is not a weight loss milestone, but there are other milestones that we achieve during this journey.
To achieve milestones (non-scale), I needed to set some goals. Short term, interim, long term goals. Why do I do this?
It is quite simple, I am a statistic nerd, I need encouragement on my journey, I need to not have 1 statistic to focus on. In some cases my milestones may not be statistical, they can also be emotional.
As most people reading my blogs know, I am not just on a weight loss journey. My journey is one of improving my health and fitness, and also my mental health. Many of my milestones and goals are focused around this area. In fact these are my bigger area of focus, that way, when I do hit those pesky plateaus, I can focus on my other milestones and goals I am achieving.
I have weekly / monthly workout goals – number of workouts, miles ridden, steps taken, amount of time sleeping, meditation goals, calories burned, output improvement (on my Peloton rides).
I have joined various Peloton communities that have different challenges that we do as a group / community. I have found that these are really great ways to keep up my routine, and I learn so much from others.
I make sure to take multiple types of workouts, and do something that is called “stacking”. This is where I set up a set of multiple workouts to complete in one session. They typically include a warm-up ride, 1 or two main rides, a cool-down ride, a strength class and a stretch class. Sometimes I will add a yoga workout if I only do 1 ride. If I do a longer Power Zone ride, I exclude the warm-up ride as the power zone rides have a lengthy warm up. But I always do a 10 minute cool-down after those, and a post ride stretch.
My milestones are around number of minutes I worked out in a session, a week and a month. Peloton does a great job of setting up various “activity challenges”, that automatically track this data for you.
As I write this blog, it is the beginning of 2022, and I am currently working on my goals across this year. Certain milestones have rewards attached to them. For instance, when I meet my 50% towards my weight loss goal, I will treat myself to a weekend wellness/spa resort.
I am aiming to complete my 300th ride on my birthday, I am aiming to do regular FTP tests, to measure my overall endurance improvement approximately every 10-12 weeks (some folks do it more often, I find quarterly works for me).
I have a great small community of dear friends that are also on their own journeys, we celebrate our milestones and successes together. I find this a very important aspect of the journey, I may have my own personal goals, but embarking on this journey with others provides a great support network. It is especially useful during those plateaus, and those days you just don’t want to get out of bed.
To summarize this blog – plateaus are normal. You are likely not doing anything wrong, but always do a spot check on some key areas, such as hydration, caloric intake and sodium intake.
Create goals (and not just scale goals) – short term, interim, and longer term ones – and celebrate them.
Finally, just remember this journey is not a straight road. It is full of obstacles, pot-holes, and there will be days we want to give up. But keep a focus on your ultimate goal, your ultimate WHY – why are you on this journey. And remember, this is a life changing journey, it is not a “diet”, we are creating a new landscape of what we want our lives to look like. The weight loss is just part of that journey.
Celebrate your milestones, however big or small they are. Reward yourself, maybe buy a new book, get a pedi/mani or buy a new outfit that actually fits! Or do nothing, have a time out day just for you.