Are plateaus your body’s braking system?

Losing weight is hard. But keeping it off seems to be even more difficult.

When I started my weight loss journey, I was resolved to not become one of the statistics of folks who would regain their lost weight back.

I had decided that I couldn’t afford to regain my lost weight. It was going to stick.

That doesn’t mean that the road to my success was linear. I certainly had set backs, I did a lot of stupid things (and learned from them – you can read ALLLL about them here   In the 7 Mistakes I made during my weight loss journey & the fixes to prevent you from doing the same). I emptied my wallet to buy supplements; I scoured every magazine to find my magic bullet (there isn’t any).

I was tenacious. And for about 10 years, it was what I was singularly focused on – my weight.

It really wasn’t until I gave up, and really tried to understand and accept what my body was doing/how it worked that I was able to get to and maintain a healthy weight. Or maybe a better term is ‘gave in’ – instead of fighting my body, giving it what it needed.

Research shows that slow, gradual weight loss results in the best, most lasting results.

I can’t say that my journey was intentionally slow and deliberate: I’d do something, it would work for a while – until it didn’t. I’d get stuck, and then I’d pivot to something else.

blog-graphicSo, why is it that slow weight loss is best? There are a few reasons:

  1. Mentally, you can’t change that quickly
  2. Hormone imbalance

I don’t think most people realize how much the brain is involved in how much we weigh. It’s our brain that talks us out of exercising, or convinces us that since we already broke our diet with one cookie, that 1/2 a cake won’t make much more of a difference.

  • If you don’t think that you deserve to be lean, you will figure out a way to sabotage yourself.
  • Your cravings and habits (foods you gravitate towards) all stem from your brain unconsciously making decisions for you.
  • Mindset – judgement on good foods or bad foods, cheating, overeating, and the WHY behind your goals – those all come from the way you think about food.

I’m not saying that you can’t train your brain to think differently quickly – but it usually takes a while to change how you think about and perceive such big concepts. After all, we’ve learned how to eat, what to think about ourselves and food for as long as we’ve been alive. That’s a lot of retraining to do.

And your body likes homeostasis. It fights to stay the same (as is evidenced with plateaus. It only gives in after a significant time – and changing the game. This is your hormones at work.

You may have read in the New York Times a few months ago, a story about how all the contestants on the Biggest Loser have gained all of their weight back  (and then some for a few). This is a classic example of losing weight quickly disrupts the body’s hormone levels, and ultimately leads to weight gain.

So, what do you do instead?

Experts suggest that the best technique for losing weight, and not regaining it, is to lose about 10% of your body weight, and when you hit a plateau, stay there. Stop dieting for a period of 6 months. Then, after your body has adjusted to that weight, start again.

The problem with this method is that we want what we want when we want it. Right?

We’re motivated to lose weight NOW. We don’t want to wait 6 months to try again. Even if it does help ease up on the mental aspect of dieting.

Focusing all your attention on losing weight all the time is like trying to get your can off of a patch of ice: You can’t continually push the accelerator down to the floorboard. You have to ease up every once in a while to regain traction.

Your body needs a break.

Have you ever heard of a set point? We normally only notice set points when we’re trying to lose weight, but they work on the other side too.

Your body’s set point is a weight where it naturally gravitates: lose 5 lbs, and then soon after you’re right back where you were.

In the course of my weight loss journey, I had several different set points. And it wasn’t until I kind of went with it, didn’t fight it, and then a few months later, re-dedicated myself, was I able to get over that sticking point.

Your brain needs a break too.

Typically when we hit a plateau, we double down on our efforts. We go harder: increase our exercise time and effort, and cut back on calories.

And although sometimes we need to push harder, after a while, you realize that what you’re doing isn’t sustainable (at least, that’s what I realized). Sometimes, your body may rebel, which shows up as binges or lack of enthusiasm to exercise.

If you find yourself in one of these two patterns, sometimes the best thing to do is to ease up, focus on maintaining, regroup, and have someone else look at your habits. Maybe there’s something that you’re overlooking?

Regardless of what weight you’re at, your body tries to regulate itself. Your body fat releases hormones. And so, when you lose body fat, your body is used to putting out a certain amount of hormone, but you might not need that level any more.

Let’s take Ghrelin – your hunger hormone as an example.

Regardless of how much body fat you have, when we cut our food intake, our brain sends out signals to eat more as a survival technique. So your Ghrelin levels increase. As you shrink, your body doesn’t need as many calories, but your body is conditioned to put out the same levels of Ghrelin. So, that means that you’re hungrier than you should be.

By backing off of weight loss mode for a while before moving on to the next level of fat loss, you’re letting your hormones stabilize. By doing this, you’re not only letting your mind get acclimated to your new habits and lifestyle, but you’re also reducing the hormonal imbalance that plays with the way our body chemistry works.

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