It happens. You're ticking along, enjoying an effortless relationship with food, and your body seems to be responding well. Until it doesn't anymore. What now? This is first part of a blog series that will address my top tips for busting through plateaus.
Remember that your Goal is FAT Loss
Don't forget that weight loss isn't even what you want; you want fat loss.
Fat loss may or may not show up on the scale. The scale is ridiculous and fickle. So rather than focusing on that utterly pointless number not moving at all (or moving in the wrong direction), look instead to the markers that your body is losing fat:
Your pants feel looser
You seem to suddenly be between belt holes (in the right direction)
Your face looks slimmer
You have to tighten your bra
People are commenting on your "weight loss"
You feel tighter...
Or, you feel squishier! (We'll talk about this specific phenomenon a little later...)
I can admit that the scale is the easiest way to measure progress. You can just step on it when you get out of the shower and ruin your day in 10 seconds or less! But it's like using a ruler to measure a cup of water: it's the wrong tool to measure the thing you're trying to measure.
If you are really interested in knowing how well you're actually doing, get out the measuring tape. I had a client who measured herself consistently every Sunday, and kept an Excel spreadsheet of every minute change that she saw to each measurement. Of course, from week to week she was seeing only small changes; but when she extrapolated that data over weeks and months it was pretty compelling.
Another abstract concept that springs to mind... fat is pretty light, when you think about it. I mean, relative to the other really important, essential body materials — muscles, bones, water, organs — fat comes in kind of, well, flabby. If you think about it, it probably doesn't weigh much, right?
In a perfect scenario, you'd be losing predominantly fat while also sparing the loss of all of that good, important body tissue. Your bones remain strong or gain density; your muscles stay full, strong, and maybe even grow (a concept that becomes incredibly important as we age). If the only thing you're losing is fat, then it stands to reason that you'll still seem heavy on the scale. I've talked at great length about how I weigh the exact same in my dramatically different After picture as I do in my Before picture, yet I've gone down three dress sizes and my stretchy workout pants are clocking in at a size Small these days (despite being a very tall, strong, sturdy woman).
Why is my Body Crushing my Hopes and Dreams?
I get it; you feel betrayed. You're just trying to get healthier. Meet me halfway, body!
Take a moment to offer some respect. Your body is a miraculous machine designed to run elegant and perfect processes in the background that keep you alive and thriving. When its environment changes in any way, including changing up the delivery of fuel, the body has a lot of protective mechanisms to ensure that we're still safe and secure. One of these mechanisms is to hold court. The body wants to be really sure that you aren't in a scarcity state. It wants to be sure that you really intend to be eating much less (since caloric deficit is the way to fat loss), and that this isn't some accident of your environment. When you are on a fat loss journey there is some element of acceptance that things will slow and stall for periods of time, even if you're doing "everything right." Just long enough for the body to decide that it's safe to consider letting go of all that stored fuel that you put away.
Even though you hate your fat, to your body's survival mechanisms, it's an incredibly valuable tissue. It's gas in the tank! Your body doesn't know why you stored so much excess fat; it trusts that you did it for survival reasons. It needs to now trust that in letting go of your valuable survival fuel, you won't starve and die.
So, I guess what I'm saying is respect the body for what it's trying to do: ensure that you're okay. This is maybe the ultimate Fat Reframe of all time: Fat is actually valuable.
How Long has it Been?
I don't consider it an actual stall unless your body hasn't changed in a month.
Part of this is managing expectations of how weight loss works. If you were told that you should expect 1-2lbs of weight loss per week, I'm sorry, but that's Fake News. In fact you should expect no clear, predictable, or liner progress of weight or fat loss. As we learned above, your body will tell you when it's ready to let go of excess stored fuel, and the body doesn't have a line of sight on your weight loss expectations or how many weeks are left until your beach vacation.
Tricks to Nudge Metabolism
Now that we have set the stage, let's start talking about my favourite tactics to get fat loss moving again.
As you'll see, this is an ordered list, and that's no typing error. I'd encourage you to check these items off this list, one at a time, in the order they're listed.
The list is roughly ordered from least to most fussy. I absolutely hate introducing fussy diet behaviours to people. But, if you're looking to get the needle moving, you may need to move into fussy territory. The choice is yours to make. Decide what's more important to you: accelerated fat loss or maintaining an effortless, fuss-free relationship with food.
Here, in order of importance, are the tactics I suggest to clients who are struggling with a body that won't budge:
Increase daily non-exercise movement
Add high intensity exercise
Add resistance training
Check overtraining: introduce rest day(s)
Eliminate some foods that can be fat loss saboteurs: dairy, nuts, and few others
Check calories and macros
Drop carbs to ketogenic levels
Attempt fasting/longer fasts/fasted training
I'll dive into these more specifically in the follow-up(s) to this blog series.