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Stuck in the Middle with You: Weight Loss Plateaus

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Five Saturday mornings. For Five Saturday mornings the same freakin’ number has stared back at me from my bathroom scale, mocking me. It never ceases to amaze me how an inanimate object can have such profound effect on a person’s emotions.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t give it that power. It’s just a number. At least it’s not going up. Remember how far I’ve come. Yadda, yadda, yadda. No matter how prepared I feel I am, or how much preamble I give myself about how it shouldn’t bother me, it still does.

Plateaus are major suckage. Period.



You see, I’ve been doing everything right. Keeping my calories where they should be, regular cardio and strength training, no carbs after 3 p.m. But short of lopping off a limb (which I have not entirely ruled out) I can’t seem to get the needle to move. I’ve also heard every kind of advice. Eat less. Eat more. Take this supplement. Drink this shake. More protein. Less protein. Increase your workouts. Decrease your workouts. Wait ‘til the full moon, run naked through the streets and howl at anyone you see. I’ve tried everything (well, except for that last one…but we’ll see what happens this Saturday morning).

There is no clear-cut answer for why plateaus occur. As Weight Watchers puts it, “While plateaus are an almost inevitable response to losing weight, the physiological reasons for why they occur [are] not well understood.” But there are different theories that make sense.

For instance, as you lose weight, you burn fewer calories (seems unfair, doesn’t it?), so you may need to cut more to keep losing. In my case I really can’t imagine living happily on less than 1,500 calories a day, so if this is the reason I’m stuck, girl, I’m staying stuck.

There are all sorts of theories that piss me off, too. Like, are you consuming more calories without admitting it? NO! Perhaps you need to exercise more! NO! Isn’t every day enough for you? I do not need to stand here and take these accusations!

Okay, I’ve calmed down now.

But I found the explanation that made the most sense to me on caloriecount.com. “A weight loss plateau happens when (around) 10 percent of initial body weight is lost. Many clinical studies have confirmed the phenomenon. Through a series of changes in the hormones that regulate energy balance, the body adapts to the downward spiral of declining weight by taking a break. Most people reach a plateau after losing weight for about 6 months or so, but people who insist on losing more quickly reach a plateau quicker too…Embrace the plateau. A weight loss plateau is normal and good…”

Okay. Finalmente. Thank you. That makes total sense to me.

As for advice on how to break a plateau: Clearly I’m not the one to be dispensing that – yet. However I truly believe that if you are being totally honest with yourself (and only with yourself, lie to everyone all you want about what you’re eating, you are the only one who will suffer) about your calorie intake and your exercise habits, the only way to break through a plateau is to forge ahead. You’re doing something right if you’ve gotten this far, so put your head down and push onward. That hunk of metal and plastic can’t determine your self-worth! It isn’t going to negate all your hard work! (Do you hear me Ms. Scale?)

Here’s my theory. I think that most weight loss efforts fail on the plateaus. For whatever reason, your weight loss slows and most people give up in frustration. Perhaps it is some kind of test from the weight loss gods, a test to see if you’re truly worthy to be trim and fit. (I’d be willing to build them an altar of carrots and low-fat mozzarella sticks if it would help.)

Here’s the most important advice I can give you: Learn from my mistakes. Measure your BMI and your inches from day one! Because though the scale has not moved, your body will change. I zipped up the size-eight jeans the other night that did not fit five weeks ago, yet that ho of a scale claims I weigh the same. This is called an NSV, or Non-Scale Victory. Take them when you can get them.

I’m not a good hiker. I’m asthmatic, my arthritic knees hurt, and I whine a lot. I used to imagine weight loss plateaus like the plateaus one hits going up a mountain. You stand there, hands on your knees gasping for breath (well, maybe you don’t, but I do). You suck on your water bottle for dear life, and glance up at the trail snaking up ahead with trepidation and anxiety. Will it ever end? But just the other day it hit me: this is about your weight going down. So now I think of it as the plateaus you hit on the way down the mountain. Where you know the hardest part is behind you. When you stop to admire the view and feel proud you’ve come this far.

I think I can see my car in the trail’s parking lot. I’m not going to be on this plateau forever.

Just in case, remind me of all this on Saturday morning, will you?

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • Ann Cardinal

    Oh Agnes, you just made me day. I’m at 6 weeks right now. Perhaps the end is in sight! thanks for reading!

  • Hang in there!
    I’ve experienced more than one plateau on my weightloss journey. I’ve lost 30 kg in two years. Yes it took me two years but it’s worth it. The plateaus never lasted longer than 6 weeks.

  • Ann Cardinal

    I know, I usually get shown the photograph of 1 lb of fat versus 1 lb of muscle. But what you weigh is what you weigh and my number is still too high!

    And thank you, but I do have more to lose, you’d be amazed at how much I can pack on these old bones! 🙂

  • chris duca

    Love your insight. Muscle does weigh more than fat.i hate when people say that. Makes me feel like they’re placating me but it is true! You look amazing. Are you sure you need to lose any more?

  • Ann Cardinal

    Thank you for the words of support! I’m pumping that iron, baby! Honestly, Cynthia, that is totally my favorite part of working out. I have delusions of bodybuildingdom.

  • Hang in there, Ann! You’re doing great. Given that you’re exercising so much, could it simply be a matter of gaining fantabulous, sexy-strong muscle?