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How to Survive a Plateau!

Jul 3, 2008
Plateaus can be most frustrating! There you are, making the correct food choices, moving and exercising, staying positive... and the scale won't move! Learning why they exist can help you understand the science behind the plateau. In addition, we'll provide you with information to help you stay on track while weathering the difficulties of a plateau.

What is a Plateau?

A plateau is the body's natural defense against starvation. In all reality, it is a marvelous protective mechanism and, in time of famine, would help preserve your life. If we can learn to appreciate "what" a plateau is, then we can begin to view it as a benefit to our overall survival and not as such a dreaded enemy.

What Can You Do to Help Get Over a Plateau?

There are both physical and emotional components that are needed to survive a plateau.

Physically, you need to double-check your food intake to make sure you're not exceeding the calories needed to lose weight. Sometimes, we tend to begin eating a little more and push the calories up enough to maintain our weight rather than continuing to lose. Other times, as Ana calls it, we indulge in BLT's (bites, licks and tastes). What we consider to be "little" indulgences, can actually add up to more than a 1,000 additional calories.

To be sure you are physically on track, you may find it useful to journal your food intake. Write down EVERYTHING you eat and the associated calories. CalorieKing is a site I have found quite useful; there are others. This site shows the calorie content, the nutritional values and serving sizes of common food items. In addition, the same information is available for many items featured at national restaurants and fast food chains.

If you are exceeding the caloric intake necessary to lose weight, adjust your food plan and reach out for additional support.

If you are physically remaining at a calorie content that will allow weight loss, then try the following activities to jump-start your metabolism.

Activity #1

Days 1 and 2 - Lower your normal caloric intake by 200 calories (example: if your daily caloric intake is 1,400 calories, lower your calorie intake to 1,200).

Day 3 - Increase your normal caloric intake by 200 calories (example: if your daily caloric intake is 1,400 calories, increase your calorie intake to 1,600). By consuming the additional calories, it sends a message to your brain that you are not starving. It signals your body to release the fat it has been holding in reserve.

Day 4 - Return to your normal caloric intake (example: if your daily caloric intake is 1,400 calories, return your calorie intake to 1,400).

Activity #2

Change your exercise routine from day to day. This keeps your muscles in a state of confusion. In this state, your body does not know what to expect and your muscles stand ready to accept the physical challenges you present. This allows your body to achieve the maximum benefit from your exercise.

You see, our bodies have a remarkable way of adapting to changes in our environment and physical activity levels. If you continue to do the same exercise routine, day after day, your body becomes accustomed to it and knows what to expect... it adapts. In doing so, it no longer requires the same amount of energy to perform a task it is becoming accustomed to. While your effort remains constant, your body has adapted and now uses less energy to perform the same function. It really is remarkable and part of the grand design that assures our survival as a species, albeit frustrating when trying to lose weight.

Emotionally, a plateau can present challenges. You begin to doubt yourself and your efforts and start questioning whether you should just give up.

Is this really what you want? Do you want to give up on YOU and the progress you've made? Do not allow failure to be an option!

Rather than looking at this in a negative manner, why not reverse your logic? Why not look at where you've come from and celebrate your success? Why not celebrate the fact that you are determined and strong and that you are not gaining? Why not reinforce the knowledge that your body will give way to your efforts of healthy eating and exercise once it realizes you are safe and your survival is not threatened?

Attitude is Everything! Here is a story that was recently shared by my friend.

There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed she had only three hairs on her head. 'Well,' she said, 'I think I'll braid my hair today.' So she did and she had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head. 'H-M-M,' she said, 'I think I'll part my hair down the middle today.' So she did and she had a grand day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she had only one hair on her head. 'Well,' she said, 'today I'm going to wear my hair in a pony tail.' So she did, and she had a fun, fun day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn't a single hair on her head. 'YAY!' she exclaimed. 'I don't have to fix my hair today!' Attitude is everything.

How Do You Survive a Plateau?

Understand that the science behind a plateau is the first step to surviving these episodes. Let your brain reinforce this knowledge and calm your fears. You are not failing. You will lose the weight. It will take a little more time and require persistence to continue on your plan when the scale does't move.

Implement one or both of the activities described above to help shorten the length of time you remain at a plateau.

Accept that a plateau is a normal survival response and not anything you are doing wrong.

Persist in the healthy eating and exercise behaviors that will bring you success.

Maintain a positive attitude. Just as the tortoise won the race in his slow and steady pace, know that you WILL win this race as well!

Reach for the support of friends to uphold you during a plateau. They can provide the encouragement and motivation to see you through a plateau and join in celebrating your success!

A Few Final Thoughts...

"A strong mental attitude is built the same way physical strength is gained- by repetition." - Unknown

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." - Robert Francis Kennedy

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." Calvin Coolidge

"Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go." - William Feather

"A man can fail many times, but he isn't a failure till he gives up." - Unknown

Stay true to yourself! YOU CAN DO THIS!!! It is our dream no one has a right to prevent us from reaching it, least of all us.
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