I have had the opportunity to speak to many new people over the last few weeks, and they have given me useful ideas to write about. I love that! One topic that has come up over and over is “the plateau.” People hate them! I’m going to say something that I know makes me the odd woman out: I love a plateau. Yes I do. Even during the five months between August 2012-January 2013 when I pushed as hard as I could and lost 45 pounds, I was happy with a plateau. I weighed myself daily, I still do. I know, I know I shouldn’t, but it is what works for me. I only record it weekly and pay attention to the trend. But when I get on a roll losing weight, I tend to downplay it in my head. “I will never maintain this loss.” “This loss is only water weight! I’ll probably gain next week!” “I haven’t exercised much-I’m not losing fat, I’m losing muscle!” Maybe this sounds crazy but I am my own worst enemy and will sabotage myself at any opportunity. I say it’s just a blip, a bounce. Not real, body-changing weight loss. So to me, a plateau is my body’s way of telling me that my success is real; that’s it not imaginary or due to fluctuations in my body.
Another reason I have made friends with plateaus is they give me time to adjust, breathe and learn to live within these new habits and patterns for a while. A plateau allows me to prove to myself: Yes I can. Wherever on the scale the plateau occurs, not only is it not a blip or fluctuation, but I can actually control this new weight over time. So, if I’m on my way to my goal I begin to understand: this is real. Now I need to figure out what I am willing to change next if I need to continue on my weight loss journey. Or, if I’m at my goal, that this plateau isn’t a plateau, but the NEW ME. Either way, a plateau that is closer to my healthy weight is a major victory because I believe I am in control and I am not ever going back.
I know we love numbers, at least I do. I love to check on them, chart them, aim for them, and beat myself up over them. We have “dream” numbers, “realistic” numbers, “current” numbers, “weekly” numbers, “ceiling” numbers, etc. But your body does not actually give a hoot about your numbers. You can aim for whatever you want, and work as hard as you can, but your body has a pretty good idea where it belongs. We have all read so many articles and messages and conversations and advice columns about “those last ten (or five) pounds.” As someone who for years had 50+ pounds to lose, I was always mystified by the people complaining about their last ten pounds. Really? THIS is their problem? I would have been thrilled to be at the ten-pound mark! What a victory! When I was at the far end of my journey, I thought that I would be happy to get within ten pounds of my goal. But I did that once-got within a few pounds of my goal, stopped believing in it, and started gaining back weight. Being close was indeed NOT enough. I needed to be THERE. I truly believe that one thing I got really, really right was to PICK THE RIGHT GOAL. If you are within ten pounds of your goal, and weeks and even months go by and you stay within that close-range, are you sure your goal is reasonable? I would NEVER tell you to give up on yourself-but you know it doesn’t do any good to chase down something you’ll never reach. Or that even if you do reach it, is so severe and restrictive that you will be miserable there. At least for me, that is when I let my weight bounce up, label myself a failure, and spiral back out of control. For example, in college I weighed around 140. That seems a reasonable weight! But right now I’m around 155, I’m a size 6-8, and I’m happy in this balance. I can do this–I’ve done it for well over a year now. I’m starting to believe I can actually keep doing this! I know that it may be possible to hit 140, but I know that I would not be happy there. Just make sure, if a number is what makes you happy, that it is a happy number for you!
At the end of the day, your goal is to reach a plateau. A permanent one. But there is a difference between a plateau and denial. If you hit a “plateau” very early in your journey, I would venture a guess it’s not a plateau as much as a clue that something is amiss. Maybe somehow you are not actually maintaining a weight-loss producing ratio of calories in versus calories out. I would call this a stall and not a plateau, it is a signal to reassess your efforts and search for ways to bring your net daily calories down. If you hit a plateau much closer to the goal-end of your journey, it too may be something else. It may be your body’s happy place! Ask yourself about your current health and happiness. Maybe the day for your celebration has arrived but you haven’t stopped obsessing over the numbers in your head long enough to hear the message from your body: “I like it here. I think we should stay here. We can do this for, say…forever.”