My Experience of Hitting a Year Long Plateau

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From start to end, and afterwards, weight loss is one huge physical and mental challenge.

The experience of hitting a plateau near your goal weight feels like this: You've been driving for 7 years, without any incident, then one day, you feel a little too confident in your abilities take your eyes off the road for a spilt second, just while you change the track on your iPod. Before you know what's happened, you find yourself smashing through the fence on a bridge into the river underneath. 

I have a confession to make. At the beginning of my weight loss journey, I fell into a very comfortable trend of losing 1lb a week, clearly a result of keeping my calories in check (read: not starving myself, or overeating) and working out consistently. Coincidentally I'm pretty sure I also had more time on my hands two years ago! 50lbs fell off in the course of a year as a result of this beautiful trend. Nearing my goal weight, I was utterly convinced I'd mastered weight loss and I'd reach goal somewhat effortlessly thanks to my newly found love of exercise and new foods.

Until I hit a plateau that is.

Hitting a plateau can happen for a whole wide range of reasons. Perhaps you've been eating on a calorie deficit for so long that your metabolism's slowed in an attempt to adapt to it and conserve it's precious energy supply. Or perhaps you're lacking the desperation/ motivation you had at your heavier weight and as a result you've got sloppy with counting calories and you're eating more (or burning less) than you think. These reasons relate to one underlying problem: You got too comfortable with your previous ability to lose weight loss and didn't adapt to the situation around you (your changing body, changing metabolism, or your declining motivation).

I still haven't figured out what the cause of my year long+ plateau has been. I originally thought that my metabolism had slowed down, but then after resetting it and beginning a smaller calorie deficit (see the site EatMore2WeighLess for info) I realised that it was more than that alone. The last 14lb were not melting because I'd also lost my motivation to lose weight, as my motivation in the beginning was to save myself from the very near fate of type 2 diabetes and size 20+ jeans. 

Being a healthy size 10/12 who was still going to the gym regularly, I'd given myself a little too much slack. On top of this, my routine changed considerably, from an undergraduate student with multiple days off a week and plenty of time in the evenings, to a trainee social worker (yep, changed career again, now swapped from teaching, police force and finally settled on social work!) on a full time work placement for a masters degree. This has bought with it the chaotic mixture of eating out for lunch at work every day as a way of keeping my energy levels up throughout the long day, along with endless hours of commuting and meetings to sit through. 

To get around all this in order to reduce my body fat % and lose them last few lbs to finally reach a BMI that reflects how I feel (healthy), I've had to effectively start again. Instead of thinking of it as "losing the last 14lbs", I'm re-framing it as simply "losing 14lb". 

I'm having to apply the same 'damage limitation' logic as I did when I first began losing weight, whereby I won't completely give up on a week because I've messed up on a few days at the weekend. I'm also having to get back into the habit of declining desserts when eating out, even if other people order them. Basically, I'd taken boosting my metabolism by lifting weights a little too far! It'd be fine to have dessert occasionally, but given the frequency I eat out with friends, this isn't viable for me generally - and besides, I need to lose weight, not maintain the same weight (I'm excellent at that, as the last year has proven!).

I also have a new problem nowadays, that I didn't have when I first started. For instance, as a regular gym goer, I'll give myself a hard time if I miss a gym class because I was working late, or because I was on holiday for 10 days, or ill with the flu. I recognise that this is a ridiculous way of thinking as my career is important, and it's just as important to have holidays and recover from illness. Realistically, I'm not going to lose my strength, flexibility or any other measurable fitness quality by missing a week of gym classes, providing, of course that it doesn't become a habit (which it hasn't fortunately). My life is forever going to be this busy (if not get busier) and I need the same damage limitation logic with my fitness to that of my food: "so I haven't lifted weights because I'm feeling ill and weak, I'll just do some gentle yoga at night or a bit of extra walking while I'm at work". I shouldn't feel bad about missing one type of exercise, when I've replaced it with an exercise more appropriate to how I'm feeling at the time - especially when at one point in my life, I did no exercise at all!

In fact, none of us should give ourselves a hard time for hitting a plateau, no matter how long it lasts. Only give yourself a hard time if you decide to stop trying and give up completely. Simply have an honest look at what's going wrong (or rather, less well than before) and make some changes, just like when you first started losing weight.

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