7 Ways to Maintain Motivation during a Weight Loss Plateau
Let me first say, I get it. Plateaus can be painful!
Even if we mentally prepare ourselves to expect them on our weight loss journeys, they can still be extremely frustrating when we actually hit one. For many, plateaus prompt self-doubt or even desire to quit the program.
Before we throw in the towel, however, it’s important to understand what a plateau really is as well as the many ways we can overcome one.
Insight into this common part of the weight loss process can help us see past the temporary stumbling block and ahead to the definite progress to come.
Before we get into ways to maintain motivation when we hit a plateau, it’s helpful to understand what’s really considered a plateau. During our journeys, we most often are measuring weight loss on the scale each week. When that number stops changing and stays the same, it’s considered a plateau.
The plateau experience is different for everybody. I’ve had clients stay in that phase for a few weeks, while others stay in it for months. These differences exist because the function of everyone’s metabolism is different. Some may need a few tweaks to recalibrate it toward optimal, while others need consistent practice of new behaviors for several months before the weight budges. When we find ourselves in these lulls, we can both trust our body’s individual process – and explore key strategies to boost our personal metabolism as well as our mental resilience!
Because we get so focused on that ultimate goal weight, we forget about all of the other miraculous changes that are going on in our bodies as the pounds start to shed. I always encourage my clients to re-assess any fitness markers (e.g. strength, flexibility, etc.) as well as (and especially) blood markers. Your blood doesn’t lie! When blood markers show significant changes (such as decreases in triglycerides and fasting glucose or more optimal thyroid levels), that can be all the motivation in the world to remind you that what you are doing is indeed working.
If my clients didn’t start their journeys with comprehensive blood testing, this is the time when it becomes a must, particularly because blood work can help us identify if there are any underlying concerns (e.g. suboptimal thyroid hormone levels, sex hormone imbalance, stress, etc.) that could be hindering optimal metabolic functioning – and the desired shedding of those final pounds.
Affirm the changes you’ve made.
Weight loss isn’t about adopting a single strategy. It’s about incorporating a whole multitude of behavior changes that we weave into our daily lives. Recall and/or record all of the changes you’ve made thus far, and remind yourself of how they not only positively impact your underlying health but are helping to make your metabolism more functional to allow the weight to come off.
I often do this exercise with my clients to remind them of how far they’ve come. Even though their goal is weight loss, the full journey improves their health on the inside as well. This practice also gives us the opportunity to identify any changes we haven’t explored and can experiment with going forward.
Remind yourself that a plateau is a good thing.
Seriously! You have to have lost weight and kept it off prior to reaching a plateau. Losing weight and keeping it off is a great thing. I often remind my clients that losing weight can be easy for many individuals. More often, it’s maintaining that weight loss that is much more difficult.
Think of your plateau not as a pit-stop on your journey but more as an opportunity for your body to recalibrate and catch up to the changes going on inside of it. Remind yourself that plateaus are common, in part, because our bodies tend to resist change. Progress will begin again. Don’t be too hard on yourself in the meantime.
Reassess the reasons you wanted to lose weight.
When you first embark on a weight loss journey, your motivation tends to be at its peak. Many of us have a time frame we are competing against to look good (e.g. in time for an upcoming vacation, wedding, reunion, etc.), while others may have had a life-changing event that sparked motivation to lose weight. Whatever the case, when we come up against a plateau, it can be easy to forget why we started the journey to begin with.
Spend some time thinking about why you initially wanted to lose weight and how important it was to you. Is it still just as important? Have your reasons changed or become more multi-faceted with time? Maybe your initial motivation came from wanting to look good in a bathing suit, but along the way you realized you also want to be a healthy role model for your children.
Record your reasons as they stand today for why you want to lose weight. Rate how important they each are to you. The reflection will help stir up more internal motivation as well as remind you of why you started the journey to begin with.
Do some tracking.
Usually in the beginning of the journey, my clients are really good at recording what they eat along with their total daily steps, exercise, sleep and stress patterns. Once we start to see progress after behavior changes, they usually become a little lax in their recording.
When they hit a plateau, I always tell my clients to bust out the food journals and/or online tracking tools again. Perhaps they aren’t eating as many vegetables as they thought or getting as many hours of sleep as they should. Journaling gives us that opportunity to confirm – or contradict – our perceptions. The results can give you direction for re-engaging the basics and overcoming that plateau.
Give yourself a break.
Plateaus often create stress for my clients. They may find themselves upping their exercises or cutting back on their food to fight through the phase and see that number drop again on the scale. But most often, if the frustration is rising, I give my clients a written prescription to take a week off.
During this break, their goals are simple: get enough rest and recovery, and reduce their stress. That means focusing on good quality nutrition, ample sleep and better stress management. Sure, the idea of taking a break may initially incite its own stress (and maybe questioning of my judgment!). I’ll tell you, however, that more often than not, most of my clients come back from their week sabbatical feeling refreshed, refocused and ready to go after their goal.
Shake up the routine.
We are creatures of habit! Once we figure out what foods and what exercise help us lose weight, we sometimes find ourselves practicing the same workouts each week and eating the same meals. Simple tweaks in these routines can help stir up new enthusiasm.
Maybe you’ve been drinking the same homemade protein shake for breakfast and would enjoy trying something new. Instead of going to your typical group fitness class, maybe you’re ready to incorporate some more weight lifting.
Whatever the case, healthy change for the sake of change can be good. It can rekindle your interest and engagement with your program – and maybe even shift something metabolically that will reignite weight loss progress.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Are you experiencing a plateau in your program? Talk with a weight loss coach today!
Written by Anika Christ, Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.