posted by catie & christie
Christie Weight: 170.0 lb
Catie Weight: 200.8 lb
The Dreaded Plateau
From September 2016 until this past August we were both losing weight steadily. We got used to seeing the scale go down nearly every day and having people comment on how good we looked every time we were around them.
Sometime in August after our Mexico trip, something changed and we both virtually stopped losing weight. We weren’t gaining and we’ve gone down a little bit since then, but it’s not the constant weight loss that we were used to. And it felt bad.
We felt like we were doing all the right things – all the SAME things – and we weren’t losing weight at all. Now, this has happened a couple times before, but things got back on track after about a week. This time, though, it was months with no real change.
It’s really frustrating when you feel like you’re getting your steps, sticking to your training plan, restricting calories just the right amount and still not losing weight. Consistently losing weight is hard and you want to see some payoff for it (factually we know that exercising and eating a healthy diet have many benefits other than weight loss, but it can be hard to remember that sometimes…).
What Exactly is a Plateau?
We are people who get a lot of comfort from facts and science, so, of course, we did our research to find out why this was happening. It’s a lot easier to fix a problem if you understand exactly what the problem is. Here is some of the stuff that we found out.
A weight loss plateau is any time when you are following a weight loss plan and fail to lose weight for days, weeks, or months.
You’re not following your weight loss plan as carefully as you once were. Once you’ve been following a weight loss diet for a long time (in our case about a year), you start to get good at guessing what you can have and “know” how many calories are in all of the foods you eat. But, if you aren’t recording ALL of the food you eat, you’re likely eating more calories from things like a piece of candy at the grocery store, a free sample, a taste of something that you’re cooking, and hundreds of other pitfalls like these that you experience in a day.
You’ve lost so much weight that your calorie needs are much less than they were when you were at a higher weight. So, when you started losing weight, you were able to eat 3 medium-sized meals, a snack, a coffee, and dessert in a day and lose weight. Now, eating those same foods in a day puts you in more of a maintenance mode because smaller bodies need less calories to function.
Physical stress on your body from things like not getting enough sleep, stressing too much about work, or increasing your exercise routine without proper rest and nutrition can cause your body to hold onto weight. This happens for multiple reasons. For example, if you aren’t getting enough sleep you are awake for more hours of the day and will want to eat more. In addition, your body will experience stress from the lack of sleep which can cause your hormones to tell your body not to let go of anything. It’s not only the hormonal effects of stress that cause a problem. If you’re stressed at work, you might grab a couple of extra snacks from the break room vending machine or drink an energy to help you stay focused. All of these little things can contribute to additional calories or your body holding onto fat that you want it to let go of.
After evaluating our habits to try to figure out what was going on, we settled on reason 1 with a little bit a reason 3 mixed in (spoiler alert: reason 1 is the most common and also the easiest to address).
During our plateau we would have promised you that we were doing exactly the right thing and exactly the same things we had been doing all along. We both got our steps every day, followed a rigorous running training program, recorded all of our food and maintained a 750 calorie deficit, and drank, at minimum, 64 oz of water a day. We were the picture of health, but for some reason, we just couldn’t lose weight.
Well, we were wrong. When we actually evaluated each of these things to see how we were doing, we noticed that maybe we weren’t being quite as strict as we had been. We got our steps most days, but missed getting them at least one time per week, we skipped at least 1 run per week (sometimes more), we didn’t REALLY record ALL of our food – sometimes we guessed at calories in something, ate “free” pieces of bread with butter, forgot to record dinner, but assumed it was fine because we had “lots of calories left”, and we definitely didn’t drink 64 ounces of water on most days. Maybe not quite the perfect picture that we had been imagining.
In addition to all of those issues, we were also working a lot more than we had been which left us sleeping only 6 or 7 hours a night, eating foods that we could grab or make really quickly without thinking about their nutritional value, and trying to start a new running training program. This combination of lack of sleep, work stress, eating nutritionally-lacking foods all while trying to run more, probably added to the problem.
Our Plan for Busting the Plateau
1. Calm down and stop worrying about it.
This was actually the tactic that we had used for all of our past mini plateaus. We would feel frustrated, tell ourselves that we had to wait until the end of the following week to change anything, and we would suddenly start to lose weight. That didn’t work for us this past time, but we’re still incorporating it into our plateau-busting plan because you can never go wrong with decreasing stress and worry.
2. Check that we’re actually doing what we think we’re doing.
We did a quick rundown of our plan and were really honest about where things were going off track. It’s hard to be honest about this sometimes because we want to think we’re doing a good job, but the truth is the truth and we’re better knowing where we are.
3. Record EVERYTHING.
Food, snacks, bites of things, water, exercise…if you can dream it, quantify it.
4. Avoid eating in restaurants.
We love to go out to eat, but too many meals in restaurants means too many meals where we have to guess at the calories, eat more than we want to, and still be hungry going to bed at night. So, for now, we limit restaurants to date nights and plans with other people and that seems to be working a lot better.
5. Follow our training plan without deviation.
We want to be great runners and we want to lose weight, but sometimes we’re tired and don’t feel like running. Or sometimes we’re busy and don’t want to make the time. It seems like skipping a run or a strength training session here or there wouldn’t make a big difference, but it makes a difference in how many calories you burn and how hard each subsequent run is (go back to the part about the stress of exercising and training).
At the start of November we made a really solid plan with a GREAT prize for completing all of our goals. Among those were no workouts skipped, 15,000 steps per day, and staying within our calories and recording EVERYTHING (along with this one, we have a goal to eat at least 70g of protein per day #vegetarianproblems). We’re about halfway through and we’ve been diligent in tackling these goals and we’ve [maybe] seen some improvement in our weight. The plan is to be strict with these things through the end of the year in the hopes that we will see our weights go down. If January 1 rolls around and we are still sitting at the same weight, we will re-evaluate and try something a little more extreme. Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed.