When it comes to weightloss, one of the most prevelant questions I hear most often is all about plateaus. Plateaus can challenge even the most dedicated woman and cause a cascade of emotions (and reactions) when we aren't seeing the results we want on the scale.
For most of us, the response to a plateau is to panic. We automatically assume we are doing something wrong so we get hyper critical of ourselves and give ultimatums like "this better work or else ..". We look for the easiest and quickest diet product or supplement to solve the problem for us when there are far healthier options and strategies we can adopt to get us to our goals.
When you are on a weightloss journey, the best way to make objective and healthy choices for your body is by gathering data and assessing it. Losing weight requires a moderate calorie deficit so its important to track what you are eating - at least for a period of time - to assess how much food you are actually eating.
Once you know that, then you can compare it to what you should be eating based on your lifestyle and unique body make-up. If you don't know what that amount is - consider working with a nutrition coach like me. As part of my nutrition program, the Better Body Composition Program, I provide each of my clients with a personalized nutrition protocol based on their unique body type, age and lifestyle. If you have been working towards a bodyweight goal for awhile, it's highly likely that your weight has changed, so you will need to adjust your daily calorie intake to keep making progress.
Lowering your calories by a modest amount can lead to big differences in terms of fat loss.
If you find you are undereating, this is a cue to start slowly adjusting your calories up so that you are providing your body with enough food to function properly. Too little food causes health issues not to mention its the perfect way to set yourself up for quitting and going back to 'normal' eating.
Limit Your Time in a Calorie Deficit
One of the biggest mistakes I see women making is staying in a calorie deficit for months and months on end. Not only is this tough to maintain and sustain, but it also puts undue stress on your body which has a negative impact on your stress hormones. If the deficit is too extreme and goes on too long, your body will respond by switching on your fat storing hormones so you start ADDING body fat, not shedding it.
Second, your metabolism is highly adaptive and responsive. When your body is stressed or you eat too little food for too long, your metabolism adapts by running slower and slower. This means your body stops burning calories efficiently and that when you start to eat more food, you naturally gain back your weight again.
When I work with clients, we cap phases in a deficit at a max of 4 months. This gives my clients ample time to slowly and sustainably shed body fat without causing their metabolism to slow down. Once you're out of your deficit, you should increase your calorie intake and eat at maintenance for a month or two to get your metabolism running again and improve hormone balance.
Macros, or macronutrients are what our calories are primarily made up of and include protein, carbohydrates and fats. When someone tells you they are tracking their macros, it means that they are tracking how much of each of those macros they are eating everyday in addition (or instead of) tracking their calorie intake.
Macro tracking can be very beneficial simply because it places a lot of emphasis on the quality of foods you are eating - not just the quantity. For many women who grew up on fad diets, they ate a lot of overly processed diet foods that were low in both calories and nutrients. While they might hit their calories goals everyday, they were in fact depriving their bodies of much needed nutrients ... and potentially doing more harm than good.
Tracking macros is a great way to change that and to optimize our nutrition. A great way to break through a plateau is to make adjustments to the balance of macros without adjusting calorie intake.
Increasing protein is a very effective method to fuel weightloss and a key way to minimize muscle loss. So don't be afraid to adjust your protein up by 5% and see if that doesn't make all the difference for you.
As a final note about macros, many women believe that they need to heavily restrict carbs in order to achieve weightloss. The science simply doesn't support that theory. While many of us (myself included) do better on a lower carb diet, that generally means our carb macros should make up between 20 - 25% of our food for optimal health.
When it comes to losing weight, activity plays a huge role in helping us burn calories and get in shape. Often, if our nutrition is on point then it's our activity levels that need adjusting so we can keep seeing progress.
That doesn't necessarily mean adding in more workouts either. Often we are really good about working out 2 - 4 times a week but otherwise we are quite sedentary. By adding in daily, mindful activity outside of our workouts, you can start seeing visible changes within a short amount of time. So add a 30 minute brisk walk in at lunchtimes or start taking the stairs daily at work. If you have a fitness tracker, start increasing your daily step goal so you move your body more on a consistent basis.
With respect to your workouts, your body can get used to doing the same thing over and over and stop making progress. So change up what you are doing. If you are always doing cardio, add in a session of strength training each week. If you are strength training regularly, start increasing your weights. Weight lifting benefits women by helping them increase their lean muscle mass which in turn boosts their metabolism and spurs fat loss.
A weightloss journey involves many different factors beyond nutrition and fitness. Often when a woman hits a plateau and her nutrition and fitness are on point, then other lifestyle factors are probably to blame.
Our hormone levels play a significant role in any weight loss - specifically fat loss - efforts. If those hormone levels are out of balance, then they can cause a cascade of reactions in our bodies that impede us from losing weight. And in fact, they will instead increase fat storage which is the last thing we want.
Stress and sleep affect those hormone levels as much as fitness and nutrition do. So when women hit a plateau, its important to look at our lifestyle to see if there are areas where we can improve. I openly encourage my clients to create a sleep ritual that will enable them to be consistently better rested. Getting a good night's sleep is important for many reasons beyond weight loss and is key to optimal health.
Dealing with stress is equally important. Sometimes that simply involves adding mindful relaxation exercises or activities to your day like meditation, yoga, reading a book or taking a hot bath. Often, as you continue the journey, this involves more than simple activities, and can include setting boundaries, dealing with negative self talk and joining a support group or getting counseling. As I often tell my clients, a lot of the weight we have to lose is not on our bodies - but is baggage we carry with us from all aspects of our life. Dealing with these issues can be life changing.
When it comes to weightloss, it's a journey - not the Amazing Race. Plateaus are just part of the process and often they are just a period of time when your body is changing and adjusting to your new lifestyle. Continuing to follow your plan, staying positive & patient are key to making long-lasting progress.
So when you hit a plateau, don't immediately jump to conclusions. Assess your nutrition, look at your activity and your lifestyle. Make one change at a time and wait a few weeks. It will take time for your body to adjust but if you approach it in a healthy, positive way then you will continue to see results.
As you continue your journey, be careful not to judge yourself and instead work on assessing what is going right and what might need a little tweak. This is one of the core healthy habits I teach as part of the Better Body Composition Program.
The more patient you are and the kinder you treat yourself, the better chance that this will become a lifestyle you love vs a diet you can't wait to ditch.
Curious how you can learn how to lose your weight without resorting to another restrictive diet? Learn more about my nutrition programs and book a free Clarity Call with me to discuss your individual needs and goals today.