Ahh, the dreaded P-word. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle or increase your fitness level, almost everyone has hit a plateau sometime or another. In fact, I’ve hit several plateaus during the last couple years. The most important thing to remember when trying to overcome a plateau is change. Your body can plateau for several reasons and this often requires a change in either your diet or fitness routine. In this blog, I share my own struggles with plateaus and provide insight on how myself and many patients have overcome challenges, both fitness and diet-related.
Are you eating too few calories? Or over-exercising?
Sometimes we can become over restrictive with our caloric intake. Yes, consuming fewer calories than those that are burned off can help you lose weight, but there is a point when consuming too few calories begins to sabotage your metabolism. Not eating enough nutrients can stress the body and cause it go into starvation/fat-storing mode. When your metabolism is compromised like this, it is very hard to lose weight and actually makes it fertile ground for gaining weight. Over-exercising can also cause this severe caloric deficit. Most research suggests that consuming less than 1200 calories per day can lead to alterations in metabolism and possible nutrient deficiencies.
Be honest with yourself.
With the stress of finishing grad school and planning a wedding, I had gained a few unwanted pounds. I couldn’t figure out where the extra weight was coming from since I hadn’t really changed my diet…or so I thought. It took having a real honest look into my eating habits to realize I had been eating out more often and was enjoying chocolate a bit too frequently at the end of the day as a stress-reliever. Restaurant-prepared menu items and desserts/sweets are two common high-calorie culprits in our diets. A good way to identify trouble zones in your eating habits is to keep a food diary for one week. You will then be able to analyze what areas you need improvements in. (ex: eating out every day for lunch, too big of portions of late-night snacks, frequent consumption of free food at work).
Do you need a snack?
Many patients have told me that they do not snack between meals because they are trying to save calories. If you’re going too long between meals (> 6 hours) or having physical hunger pains 2 hours after having a meal, then you need to plan accordingly and prepare a healthy, protein-rich snack. Remember, those hunger pains are your body’s metabolism telling you to refuel. Try to stick with snacks that have some staying power. Greek yogurt, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs are all protein-packed snacks that can satisfy hunger and increase your energy level during that afternoon slump!
Does your workout need a makeover?
I can happily say that in my first year of marriage, I stayed the same weight. What helped me accomplish this was clean eating and regular exercise. During that year, I found that increasing my strength-training frequency and backing a bit off of the cardio helped me stay happy and healthy. I’ll admit, I like to work hard at the gym and lift heavy weights, but after a year of serious strength-training, my body fat % had only marginally changed and I didn’t see the definition I was hoping for. Then I took a huge leap. I joined my local Crossfit gym. In just a few short months, Crossfit has changed me in so many ways. My arms are more defined, my legs are stronger, I can do several unassisted pull-ups in a row and more! The transformation that I am most happy with is the fact that my back is no longer hurting. Crossfit has reminded me of the importance of daily stretching and taking care of my muscles and joints.
Am I recommending that you should start doing Crossfit? No, it’s not for everyone, but what I do encourage people to do is find a new way to constantly challenge themselves. This could be signing up for your first 5K or walking into your very first Zumba class. Find activities that you enjoy and recruit a buddy! Having a buddy-system can help you both hold each other accountable with your fitness and health goals. Wherever your fitness journey takes you make sure it is safe, fun and filled with new challenges!