Anyone who has seriously dieted (the politically correct term is of course “changed his or her lifestyle”) knows what it means to plateau. But, at least in the early stages of dieting, a plateau is a completely natural phenomenon. And it is usually fairly short term.
Have a look at my weight graph (I weigh every day when dieting and so have a very fine-grained graph showing the day by day fluctuations) and note the stages you go through when dieting.
First, we have the top of the final “Yo” in the YoYo sense. I was still in “don’t give a f*ck” mode at the beginning of the year. But was already mentally toying with the “lifestyle change.” Still, one of the symptoms that you are not managing your weight is a refusal to get on the scale :-) … and I am dead serious.
I learned long ago that not tracking and measuring regularly (your waste, you bank account, a project’s progress, and so on ad nauseum) means not improving or controlling. In other words, if you want something to get better, start measuring it.
So when I turned the switch in my head to “ON”, I immediately had that wonderful first week where all the salt and water flushes from your body. Your weight should drop like a stone. Note, though, that I generally start in a seriously draconian mode. It is no accident that South Beach and Atkins diets both have a “phase 1” where you are very limited in your food choice. This is something I naturally do anyway, and you can see how well it works.
After a few days to a week, you start to see fluctuations creep in. And they get bigger, and sometimes they last. This is normal and you should not freak out. Your body is constantly adjusting to your inputs and your outputs and so it is happily going to stop losing briefly at times. Do not throw in the towel!
You can also see that, once in a while, the body goes on a losing streak again and you make amazing progress, if only briefly. Once I am settled into the rhythm, I don’t get too bent about cheating a bit here and there. But I stress two things: Cheat a bit (and that means only enough to satisfy a or enjoy your date or whatever), and make certain that you track it.
This is what the last month and a bit looks like for me …
I am a bit low in calories at 2:11pm as I write this, sitting at 264 – this constitutes one Atkins Advantage meal bar – my favourite by far being the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bar with its 220 calorie count – plus 34g of half and half cream for 44 calories. Cream in coffee is a guilty pleasure I allow myself because I always write it down.
Note the one red day … I went slightly over that day because I allowed myself to enjoy a friend’s company at the restaurant Scores with salad bar and soup, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a huge club sandwich that I finished. My stomach hurt after that but we also went to Kiwi Kraze and had a bowl of very low calorie frozen yogurt. I even stuck a few toppings on it. I was prepared for that meal though, and what I ate was all quite light, excepting the club sandwich.
This, plus a bit of Chinese food the day before with another friend and then again a day or two later with Jon, caused the week long plateau you see in the graph right above the March 2015 label in the x-axis (bottom.) This was a huge spike in weight that lasted most of a week, yet I was not worried. I knew that I had been naughty with a ton of extra salt and that it takes days to flush that out (for me at least.)
But flush it did … the spectacular drop in a two day period at the end of that week was the final result, and I ended up down overall. The slight increase today was simply the body rebounding, and that always happens.
What you should be focusing on in this case is the trend overall, and you can see that on the graph as the dashed green line. The line briefly flattened during the plateau, but was still slightly trending down, and now the trend has again strengthened. Just remember to isolate your cheats to important moments, and not just because you feel like it again today after doing it yesterday.
Now … if you end up in a huge plateau where things just don’t want to move – and I have been there before – it may very well mean that you have spent too much time starving yourself and need a boost to your metabolism. In such cases, I generally schedule a good sized meal so that the body forgets briefly that I have been starving it (in its opinion, anyway.) This often helps, but you should try to still stay slightly negative … i.e. a little green stub. This is better than a tall red spike that would indicate man overboard :-)
One last thing – I use http://caloriecount.com to do my tracking of food and activity. The weight look and analysis panels are what you see clipped above, and they are extremely effective. They are more effective, though, if you don’t get into a false precision mode where you try to get the foods perfectly matched etc. You can usually get really close by choosing a food that is about the same, although you do have to be careful with processed foods as some are much worse than others. Just do your best and be happy that you can see your progress.
As for weighing in daily … I like it. A lot. I like to watch the trend and the fluctuations. It remains interesting even after years of doing it. Your clothes will tell you more than the scale does, so don’t worry about knowing your weight every day. It won’t bite you.
The scale I use is inexpensive yet very effective. The technique for measuring your food is easy. Switch on the scale and put your plate on it. Hit “TARE” to reset to zero. Add a food and jot down the amount. The scale stays on for a while, so you can pick up the plate and walk over to where the food is being served and then walk back for the weight. I keep a stack of index cards around to jot the foods for later entry into CC.com … it works great. I reuse them too, since I can just stroke out the last entry and start a new one. When you take the plate back to the scale, put it back oin and hit “TARE” again to zero it out. Next food … and so on.
You get used to the method and it adds little time. When I go to a restaurant, I just remember approximately what I ate and enter that later on. CC.com has mobile apps that have gotten quite good over the years, so that is an option too, but I would never interrupt an evening with friends for entering diet data. That can always wait in my opinion.
So … best of luck. Fear not the plateau, for it is a natural consequence of the ebb and flow of your diet.