If you have ever gotten stuck while losing weight you might have wondered if you were in a weight loss plateau. Hopefully I will answer any questions that came up for you now.
Q & A: Weight Loss Plateaus. Are they inevitable? How does one jump start weight loss if in a plateau? Why do they happen?
A: Yes, plateaus are inevitable, and even desirable. Losing weight indefinitely would mean you’d disappear, and the end game of weight loss is arriving at the right plateau. “Right plateau” meaning maintaining the weight you’re healthy and comfortable at.
Why do we hit plateaus?
Weight loss is the result of being in a calorie deficit. Plateaus happen when we transition from a calorie (energy) deficit to being in an energy balance.
If you’re in a deficit you will lose weight, and if not, then not. It’s really simple and it’s also really hard. Our environment conspires against us with 24/7 access to super high calorie food at the touch of a button, and the infinite time sucking powers of technology* make weight loss harder than it’s ever been.
*“Infinite time sucking powers of technology” refers to the infinitely deep rabbit holes that social media, streaming services, etc. provide. TV is now something you must actively stop doing, whereas the shows we watched used to end and you’d need to wait until next week to watch more of it… the next 8 seasons will all play sequentially and now you don’t even need to wait for Netlfix to deliver the next DVD in a couple of days.
Calorie deficits are only the difference between energy in and energy out.
Common factors that reduce energy out:
- Losing weight. Muscle and fat. When you lose 20 pounds of fat it’s like you have removed a 20 pound weight vest. Weight loss also reduces the load on your bones, and our bones, it turns out, have a very big role to play in regulating our appetite.
- Losing muscle. Muscle is your metabolism. It’s where we store carbs, its an important site of fat burning, and they burn a lot of calories. The less you have the less you burn.
- Technology. Smart lights mean you don’t have to get up to turn them off or on. 10 steps each way to turn on a light, one time, isn’t going to make or break you, but when you factor in all of the labor saving technology* in our lives, and how hard it is to find a safe path to walk to an errand, or how using your phone to adjust the thermostat means you see 15 notifications that get you motionlessly absorbed – you see it adds up.
*In my opinion, the simplest solution for labor saving devices involving your phone is to uninstall the apps. If you have to re-install them, and re-login to use them, then it will be easier to just get up and walk to the thermostat, front door, or whatever. When we’re tired we do what is easiest, and most of your success comes down to playing defense against the most tired version of yourself.
Factors increase energy in:
- Kids. They are the best excuse for keeping Oreos and chips on hand at all times.
- Spouses. It’s always their fault…
- Social gatherings. It’s hard to say “no” to cake and ice cream
- Food delivery apps. Having one or more of these on your phone makes it easy to use. Restaurant food is always swimming in 100’s if not 1,000’s of calories. I lost 10 pounds moving away from downtown DC in 2016 because none of my regular places would deliver anymore.
Jump Starting your Weight Loss
Most of the time we stop losing weight because we’ve been nudged off track by life. Having calorie awareness (usually logging helps a lot!), getting your strength workouts, and getting enough steps are all difficult to do. You’re more or less swimming upstream against the current of our modern environment. In other words, getting back to better adherence to the basics is where you start, and we cover that here.
If you’ve also dropped more than 10% of your body weight, then we need to do some things to boost your energy out because your body is smaller. Even if what you have lost was just fat, that’s still 10-20 pounds that you don’t have to carry and move every second of every day. For this, it is probably time to bump your step count goal up by 10%, and to consider wearing a weight vest that’s comparable to the weight you have lost while you are doing chores, shopping and/or walking.