I’ve lost 50 lbs since I started cross-fitting and eating mostly Paleo, and suddenly I’m on a plateau. This is a serious plateau. It’s one of those zero-grade, perfectly flat plateaus that one might encounter in a physics problems: “Imagine a perfectly flat plane.” This is like all of Kansas rolled into my metabolism. This is like I’m on Family Feud and the topic is, “Top 100 people surveyed, Things That Are Flat,” and the Number One Answer is “My Weight Loss.” * & **
So I turned to friends and also to the internet for some learning and inspiration. Because surely there has been at LEAST ONE PERSON IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD who has hit a weight loss plateau and somehow overcome it, right?
As it turns out, I am not alone! Here are the most common suggestions I found after examining many sites devoted to weight loss and getting past plateaus:
1. Keep an accurate food journal and count calories for a while; you’re probably overeating for your new lower weight which now requires less energy to maintain. You may also be having little “cheats” here and there which all add up.
2. Seriously, track your food in a journal and see what you’re really eating these days. Tweak as necessary. Are you having too many carbs? Not enough carbs? Too much fat? Not enough fat?
3. Mix up your workouts to boost your body into burning fat and calories in new ways. For example, focus more on cardio “fat burning” style workouts and less on heavy weights – do more reps with lighter weights when you incorporate weights into your routine.
4. Make sure you’re getting enough water, sleep, and stress relief.
5. Try intermittent fasting.
6. Maybe you’re eating too few calories – again, the food journal can help.
7. Maybe you’re not exercising enough.
8. Maybe you’re exercising too much (this can overtax the body, increase cortisol, and actually make it harder to lose fat.)
9. If all else fails, get your hormone levels checked.
After I wrote this down, I though: This is definitely a nice laundry list, and I deserve extra points for the fact that there are several OPPOSING ideas on there! Too many carbs? Maybe too few carbs? Too much exercise? No..too little exercise! Figuring it all out could be the experiment from hell!
But I decided to go through the list and determine which of these things would be the right place for ME to start, based on my own health and activity levels. And here’s my current plan of action:
- Keep an accurate food journal to determine what I’m eating – my problem would be too many calories rather than too few, too many carbs and the wrong kind of carbs, and possibly too much fat. I’ll watch those things carefully.
- Be sure to drink enough water every day.
- Keep getting enough sleep.
- Get to the gym 3x/week, but not more (I need the rest days for sure!)
- Try to attend more fat-burner classes and focus on less weight/more reps.
- Do walks or bike rides with my daughter to the park every night.
- Have less coffee, more cinnamon tea & jamaica tea.
- Stop having all the “cheats” I’ve been sneaking in (yes, guilty here) – Girl Scout cookies, pizza, energy bars with gluten, slices of bread with butter, extra spoonfuls of Maple Almond Butter, French Fries, etc.
- No intermittent fasting, but I’ll add in more green juices (I’ve been slacking off on them lately)
Writing it down like that makes me realize that my plateau may be coming mostly from the unhealthy snacks that keep making it into my diet lately. For several months I was VERY strict; I’d take cucumbers with me to pizza places and I would not eat a single chip if a bag of them made it into my house. But lately I’ve been slacking, having mouthfuls of junk here and there, and it’s adding up. I need to start being more strict about Paleo, and keep my cheats to one cheat meal here and there, not a continuous stream of cheating every day.
One of my favorite quotes about the food journal comes from Jillian Michaels, who says on her blog, ” Truth be told, I mostly think of plateaus as a myth. My philosophy on weight-loss plateaus is that someone claiming to have hit one isn’t paying enough attention to detail. When you first start a diet and fitness program, you make drastic changes — maybe you gave up soda, started counting points, whatever — your body responded to that and you lost weight fast. To continue to lose weight, you’ll need to create a consistent calorie deficit, which means you’ll need to start paying attention to what really matters — how many calories you’re consuming and how many you’re burning. The only way to track this accurately is to count calories at every single meal.”
I don’t want to count calories forever, but it helped me at the start of my weight loss journey by opening my eyes to how MUCH I was eating. Once I got into the swing of Paleo, I found that I could eat almost whatever and as much as I felt hungry for, as long as it was Paleo, and still lose weight. I hope that will still be true if I get back to strict Paleo eating! But for a while I’ll track my food and calorie count to stay honest to myself about what I’m putting into my mouth.
I don’t know about you, but the “get enough rest” really resonates with me. There are people I know who can and do work out daily, completing hard workouts! — but I can’t. Three days of cross-fit a week is right for my body at this point. Maybe a year from now I’ll be doing 4-5 workouts a week, and that would be great, but right now I need to listen to my body. Although I push hard during each workout to be stronger, faster and lift more, I don’t want to push past my body’s recovery limits.
And although I love lifting heavy (because it’s something I’m starting to be good at!), I’m taking seriously the suggestion about incorporating more fat-burning style workouts into my exercise line-up. I hope that will increase my stamina as well as helping me to burn more fat. (Live in the Phoenix area and want to join me? My gym is called Made In Crossfit.)
Here are a few of the websites that I found especially useful when investigating plateaus and how to overcome them:
If you have suggestions on what worked to help YOU get through a plateau when you were already eating mostly Paleo or gluten-free, and already exercising regularly, I’d love to hear them! We can all learn from each other, hopefully. Best of luck to you, wherever you are on your path to health and fitness!
Footnotes: * Other answers might be “that soda that sat on the counter for a few days before you got around to throwing it out,” “the Earth, prior to Pythagoras,” and “not the surface of water in a glass pipette, because it forms a meniscus.”
** Did you ever watch the REALLY old Family Feud shows at your Grandma’s house on her grainy reception TV, fascinated and horrified by how Richard Dawson kissed ALL THE LADIES in such a gross, lecherous way?