You know the story: It’s a new year, you set new goals, you start off strong, you see those pounds and inches fall away, and then…BAM! The scale gets stuck; you’ve hit a weight loss plateau. It’s a common tale, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Before you throw in the sweat towel and call it quits, however, you might want to dig a little deeper and discover why you’ve hit that weight loss plateau. Identifying and addressing a few common causes can make getting “unstuck” and back on track easier than you think.
As a trainer and cycle instructor, I see the same faces week after week. I love the dedication and consistency, but there’s a big difference in showing up FOR class and showing up TO class. Showing up FOR class means you are present physically in the room, checking the workout off your list of to-dos without any real intention. Showing up TO class means you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and committing to the work. In other words, if you can complete your favorite fitness activity without breaking a sweat, then it’s time to step up your game. Add more resistance to the bike in your cycling class, add some sprint intervals to your treadmill or outdoor run, or grab a heavier pair of dumbbells on the gym floor. So many people equate struggle with weakness, when in fact the opposite is true. Struggle means that you are asking your body to do something that it is unaccustomed to doing and forcing it to work harder. Otherwise, it will become accustomed to the demands you are placing on it and you’ll be the equivalent of a hamster spinning on a wheel but going absolutely nowhere. Be honest with yourself about the effort you are putting out before you cash it in.
One of the most common causes of a weight loss plateau is diet. You can hit the gym five times a week, but if you follow your morning workout with a big stack of pancakes dripping with butter and syrup or celebrate a strong sweat session with a sugary cocktail (or two) you aren’t going to get the changes you want. Even if you consider yourself someone who eats “healthy,” you need to consider things like serving sizes and hidden ingredients. For example, is that protein bar you love full of sugar? Even a salad can become a problem if you are covering it in a calorie-laden dressing. Get familiar with food labels, specifically calories and serving sizes. Keep a food diary or download an app like PLATE or My Fitness Pal to track your food, and record everything that passes your lips. You might be surprised to see that your healthy eating habits aren’t as healthy as you think.
Starting a new workout program and seeing results is exciting and can make you want to spend every second in the gym, but more isn’t always better. In fact, sometimes more is just, more. Without proper rest, our bodies are not able to fully recover, which can lead to injury, reduced training capacity, and more. When we sleep, our bodies are busy doing important things like repairing muscle tissue and regulating hormones like cortisol that keep your appetite in check. Schedule rest days and make sure that you are getting a good night’s sleep by creating soothing nighttime habits like drinking hot herbal tea or indulging in a warm bath. Power down your electronics at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime to allow your body and brain to power down and go into sleep mode as well.
Setting goals is great, but make sure they are realistic. One size does not fit all when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. If your best friend got in great shape through running, but you hate to run, don’t make running a big part of your plan. You will find an excuse not to do it. The same with foods. If all of your friends are going vegetarian and you hate veggies, it’s probably not a good idea to jump on the bandwagon. If your squad is hitting that 5:30 a.m. cycle class but you know you’d rather hit snooze, then don’t sign up. Defeat is a powerful thing, and it can quickly spiral out of control until you give up entirely. That’s why it’s better to look at the big picture. Rather than commit to something specific like eating a salad for lunch or going for a three-mile run every day, be more general. Commit to moving your body three times a week or making a healthy food swap every day. Broader options give you much more freedom and eliminate any excuses that could trip you up like working late or eating out.
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Unfortunately, weight loss plateaus are just part of the weight loss journey. As your body changes and adapts, you have to learn how to change and adapt with it. Rather than view it as a setback, look at it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your habits. Once you start identifying the areas where you can make some adjustments, you can overcome the plateau and get back on the path to success.
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