The Lesson of the Plateau

Kept to my food program all week.  Check.

Kept to my fitness program all week.  Check.

Kept myself hydrated all week.  Check.

Step onto scale.  Pounds lost:



Give me a break – I’ve been sticking to my program like glue for the last three weeks for a grand total of zip!

Before you head off to drown your sorrows in a Cinnabon –  let’s talk a bit about the blessings of hitting a plateau on your weight loss journey.  Yes, I did say blessings.

We are all familiar with the lament “I hate trying to lose weight!”  But if we were to be honest there are times that we really love “trying” – and that’s when we hit a big payday on the scale.  Amazing how losing 4 pounds when we would have been “satisfied” with 2 can make even the most dreary winter day sing like the first day of spring.

And wow – how it motivates us to lose those pounds!

“This is working!” and, because it’s working, WE are more willing to work IT.

Unfortunately, our relationship with our diet and exercise program is well – let’s say somewhat superficial.  We love it when it works.  We hate it when it doesn’t (seem to be).

But the saying “Every dark cloud has a silver lining” is especially true when it comes to hitting a plateau on the path to attaining and sustaining a healthy weight.

At least 90% of those who lose weight gain it (and quite often more) back.  Some of us have made a career out of yo-yo dieting – and most of us have experienced the dark day(s) of simply “giving up” when we hit that plateau and our efforts no longer seem to be working.

Yet, that plateau is perhaps the most important part of the weight loss journey.  Because, ultimately, it isn’t about losing weight – it’s about sustaining a healthy weight.  I use the word “sustain” versus “maintain” deliberately.  Maintain has a tendency to evoke thoughts of “staying the same” whereas sustain more accurately describes a state where one has to “do things” to keep something going.

So, exactly what are those “blessings” hitting a plateau brings?

A plateau offers us the opportunity to be honest with ourselves. Have we REALLY stuck to our food program?  Have we been ignoring those “little bites” here and there while making dinner?  Have we REALLY been putting the energy into our fitness program – maybe we’re just “walking through it” and lowered our weights, our speed, our time, our effort.

Maybe our circumstances or situations have changed and the reason(s) we started the journey just aren’t meaningful or meet our values anymore and we need to re-examine them in order to remain motivated and committed to our path.

A plateau offers us the opportunity to try new things. One way to think of a plateau is that it’s your body’s way of saying “I’m bored”.  I’m bored with what/when you’ve been feeding me.  I’m bored with the activities you offer me.  Most of us are familiar with the concept that our bodies can “get used” to our calorie intake and energy output.  What once told your body it was OK to let the weight go is now sending the message “This is what you’re gonna get – so deal with it and stay where you’re at.”

Shaking things up – say experimenting with calorie shifting, introducing new colorful fruits and veggies, adding a bit of interval training, working with a trainer  – things like this can help your body to shift gears back into weight loss mode.  Not only can it help get you off that plateau – but it keeps things interesting.  And when things are interesting to us we have a tendency to become enthusiastic and motivated to stick with it.

MOST IMPORTANT – A plateau gives us the opportunity to practice.

Practice what?

Sustaining a healthy weight.

Both the process of losing weight, as well as the initial period when we first attain our “goal” weight, for want of a better phrase, “get’s us high”.

We’re flying.

Life is GOOD.  We look GREAT.  We feel GREAT.  For awhile we’re extremely motivated to keep what we worked so hard to get or to keep working to get more of the results that get us high.

But the fact is sustaining a healthy weight is essentially the same as hitting a life-long plateau.

Yes, those of you who know me know I don’t subscribe to idea of ONE healthy weight – that there is a range relatively based on your BMI.  Yet sustaining a weight within that range is going to require that we consistently, for the rest of our lives, find meaning, remain motivated, and consistently engage in methods (tactics and strategies) that will sustain a healthy weight WITHOUT the “high” I’m talking about here.

In many ways our relationship with food is akin to a drug addict’s relationship with their drug (just think of food and inactivity as our “drug” of choice):

  • At first, it gets them higher than a kite,
  • then it starts to take more and more to get them high,
  • then the consequences of using forces them to hit rock bottom,
  • then they go through the process of kicking the habit,
  • then they get high off of how they feel not taking the drug,
  • Finally, the high of not taking the drug wears off and makes getting high seem attractive again.

In the case of sustaining a healthy weight, the point where the high of not being overweight or obese any more definitely can wear off – if we’re already at a healthy weight there may seem to be only two ways for us to go to get high again:  A food disorder (anorexia, bulimia).  Or, most common, by over-eating, not exercising, and regaining our weight.



Learning the lessons of the plateau means we have learned to live without the high – better said is that we learned to get high on ourselves by:



  • Being honest with ourselves and consistently injecting meaning into our lives by regularly examining our values and principles and applying them to everything we think and do.
  • Living a life without limits as we try new things that spark our interest and keep us motivated and vital throughout our lives.

When we pay attention, the plateau teaches us that it isn’t about losing – it’s about growing.


2 thoughts on “The Lesson of the Plateau

  1. And there’s yet another thing to learn from seeing a zero weight loss – appreciation for that your body is made of several tissue types – only one of which you are trying to get rid of. I am very proud of having shrunk two dress sizes in three months and only lost ~5 lbs of weight – twice. MUSCLE BABY! Scales only tell you your aggregate weight – but presumably you’re only trying to lose fat, yes? Otherwise you’d chop off an arm to “lose weight”, right?

    I’ve talked to more than one woman who have started a strength training program, gained weight, and stopped – even though they shrunk in measurements and their clothes fit looser! You may not even BE on a plateau even if your weight isn’t doing anything or even going up! (Of course, if you are, I don’t think I could add anything to what you already said above!)

    • Definitely. From the get go I have been doing some form of strength training. Believe it or not 30 years ago this was considered an “on the fringe” activity for women. Muscle weighs more than fat but takes up less space – which is why we can “gain” weight and “lose” inches. It also takes more calories to sustain muscle – so the more muscle we have on our bodies the more calories we can intake. This fact is especially important as we age because (especially women) lose significant amounts of muscle as we age (research indicates 8-10% every year).

      You don’t have to be a body builder – low weight/light rep is great.

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