Monday, April 09, 2012

Everybody Plateaus Sometimes

It's true and we all know it:  everybody plateaus sometimes.  But that doesn't stop us from struggling when it's our turn to hit the weight loss desert  Those weeks when we show little to no loss, though we know we're doing everything right.  It almost feels like our bodies are our enemies and it's hard to be good when being good doesn't seem to get us anywhere.

It always makes me think of that song, you know the one...Everybody Plays the Fool Sometimes.

That plays through my head every time I think of plateaus because my mantra for those weeks when the scale doesn't reflect my efforts is - and let me say it again: Everybody plateaus sometimes.  It's important to remember that plateaus are as much a part of weight loss as those weeks when we unexpectedly lose more than we'd hoped for.  Not as much fun to be sure, but true all the same.

I love the way my husband looks at plateaus because he has them every few weeks and they last a week or two - but his steady progression downward has still been amazing and inspirational.  He always reminds me that we all travel along over that plateau desert at some point, but if we stick with it and don't give up - BAM, excess weight is just going to fall right off the cliff.  Those extra pounds have no more chance against our determination than the sheep in the picture. :)

The key here is not giving up, not allowing the depressing thoughts to lead us to doing something self-destructive - like eat a half-dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. ;-)

But just keeping on keeping on can get really tiring, and's not the thing to do.  Sometimes we need to change things up.  Our body may actually need a high calorie, high fat meal (I said ONE, not a weekend's worth ::wink::) to shock it out of a rut.

That's not to say every plateau should be met with a trip to Baskin and Robbins.  In fact, there are some really straight forward reasons for plateaus that we can meet with action that will propel us through them.  And we all like action, right?  The chance to *do* something?

Unfortunately, we first need to face the truth of  probably the most common reason for a plateau: some weeks we just aren't going to show weight loss.  We can hope those weeks are few and far between but we are not going to get nearly as depressed by them if we acknowledge they *will* happen.

However there are times we plateau because our bodies retain water.  Whether that's from excess sodium, hormone fluctuation (and even menopausal women and men have that), or something else out of balance in our bodies, we need to realize this does not reflect our true weight loss.

To counteract water retention, we should always be aware of our sodium intake and how much water we're drinking.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more water we drink the more water flushes out of our systems.  Drinking too much water can cause serious side effects, but imbibing 8-12 cups of water in a steady pattern throughout the day (NEVER all at once) will help our fat cells slough off the toxins and unnecessary energy reserves they are holding.

Sometimes we plateau because our bodies have gone into starvation mode.  This is a particularly vicious cycle and the only way out is with patient determination.  Eating less is so seductive when it comes with bigger numbers in weight loss to begin with.  But the price comes later, when your body refuses to lose weight no matter how little you eat.

There are bloggers and even fitness experts that deny the existence of what is commonly referred to as starvation mode, but there have been scientific studies done that confirm not only its reality but the horribly destructive long term effects of it.  And frankly, I've seen it first hand and will never let anyone tell me to eat less than my body needs again.

We really need to make sure our caloric intake is consistently meeting not only our nutritional but energy level requirements.  That means that while eating 1200 calories a day might be the RDA for meeting nutritional needs, your body may need more nutrient dense, healthy calories to function properly.  What calories you do consume need to be predominantly good calories: complex and fiber rich carbohydrates, lean proteins, a variety of vegetables and fruits, healthy fats and let me repeat: nutrient dense.

As an aside:  while taking a multi-vitamin is essential in my opinion, I strongly suggest taking one that digests easily so you are actually getting the benefits of the vitamins and mineral's listed on the side of the bottle.  The number of undigested multi-vitamins found in sewer water reclamation is testament to how many vitamins are on the market that give very little actual benefit to the body.  Take a Gummy Vitamin, a liquid gel cap or those made from whole foods that digest more easily in the average person's stomach. :)

Eating frequent meals throughout the day will also keep your body from going into temporary starvation mode.  This is particularly important for diabetics like myself, or those who suffer from hypoglycemia or people who have energy slumps during the day.

A personal trainer I consulted explained it like this:  your body is on a four hour cycle for eating.  That means that 4 hours without food and it starts to go into a hibernation mode.  Your body is an efficient and inexorable machine and it will store energy as fat for later when it perceives the need to do so.

Going several hours between meals will simply result in your body deciding it has to store more of the calories you do eat.

This is particularly true when you first wake up in the morning and why breakfast is such an important meal.  And skipping breakfast is made even worse when you exercise upon waking. You will basically null your exercise by not fueling your body beforehand.  Some people get nauseated eating first thing in the morning.  Some people, like me, take a medication that requires an hour before eating or drinking anything else.  So, give yourself that hour, but don't exercise in the meantime and eat *before* you rush into your day.

Simply put, if you eat the same number of calories as someone else who does it over more frequent intervals - chances are, your body is going to store more of those calories and that could lead to a plateau.

Some people need to eat 4 times a day, some 5 and some - like me and most diabetics - need to eat 6 times a day (which means smaller meals and smarter snacks).  Is it inconvenient?  Sometimes.  But it's also worth it.  I have enough frustrations from my health challenges, having dips in energy and times I simply can't function because my blood sugars spike or drop alarmingly doesn't have to be added to them.

Ultimately, you need to find *your* optimum eating schedule and stick with it.  You're worth it!

Sometimes, we plateau because our exercise regime has grown stale.  Most of us have heard of muscle memory which impacts strength training, but cardio exercise can be impacted positively by not doing the same thing all the time as well.  Doing something different from the routine just one day a week can tip you off the plateau and back on the path to your goal weight.  Just please don't add ankle weights to exercise to increase your calorie burn.  The long term cost to your knee joints isn't worth it.  Not even sort of. :)

There are more reasons to plateau, we know that - far too many and complex for me to cover in a single blog post, but the fact is if we eat healthy foods at healthy intervals, drink an adequate supply of water and get a healthy amount of exercise, we *will* find the point where our excess weight drops off that cliff at the edge of the plateau. :)

Hugs and happy healthy endeavors,


marybelle said...

I think the thing is not to be discouraged when you plateau.

Carol L. said...

It's definitely a difficult process but so worth it. I read somewhere (and can't remember where0 that the starvation mode is used with Suma Wrestlers.They aren't allowed to eat until 6pm. Then it's like a stew with beef, pork, chicken and so on. The point being that basically starving all day causes or body to store all that fat.
Carol L.

Judy said...

Lots of great information. Thanks, Lucy!

I used to be discouraged by plateaus, because I didn't understand it happened regardless of what I did. It's like the body needs a chance to re-evaluate and reset.

Also, thank you for encouraging the water intake. It also helps to flush the kidneys, which clean out toxins. I know the new health experts are saying you don't have to drink 8 oz of water if you take it in in the foods you eat, but I tried it, years ago, long before this study was done, and discovered that I can't even substitute other liquids for water.

It's hard to learn to listen to your body, especially when we're trained not to with fixed schedules and experts declaring one policy and then changing it, frequently in the opposite direction. Eggs are the perfect example as experts have bounced back and forth between them being healthy and being horrible. I think they're back in the healthy column, for now.

Wow, Carol. How interesting.

Lucy Monroe said...

Absolutely, Marybelle! :)

Carol...that *is* interesting and makes absolute sense. Many years ago, a study was done (can't remember where but it was a teaching hospital) and people who found it difficult to gain weight were put on a low calorie diet for an extended period. When they went back to eating normally for them, they gained weight and some ended up with weight problems because their metabolisms just didn't work the same anymore. are so right about the water. There's a reason both our bodies and the planet are made up of so much of it. Sometimes, we need to emulate the balance found in nature. This world was made with a purpose and in a purposeful order. :)