What is a plateau, really? It’s a levelling off. And when it comes to health and fitness, plateaus have a universally negative vibe to them. There are, however, good plateaus and not-so-good ones. Knowing the difference can help you feel better about where you are in your journey.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. With weight loss, eventually a good plateau must happen.
2. There are good plateaus and bad ones. Knowing the difference can help you make long-term progress and keep your sanity.
When a Plateau is Good
There are two times when a plateau can be a good thing (and no I’m not crazy).
First, when you’ve made some progress, but it’s taken a lot of effort, it can sometimes be helpful to coast for a bit and take a break from the heavy effort. This will help you get ready for the new effort required to make the next round of changes. For example, in my mother’s journey of losing 170 pounds, she was initially only willing to put effort into making better nutrition choices. She lost 90 pounds, hit a weight-loss plateau and, after some time there, when she was ready, she added physical activity. After plateauing at the 90-pounds-lost mark for a few months, she made her peace with the idea of getting started on the physical side of change. The “break” allowed her to get ready for the next round of change. She never declined, but the plateau gave her time to realize she needed to do a bit more to continue to progress and to allow her to get ready (physically and mentally) to make that choice to change. Personally, I’ve hit a weight-loss plateau that I’ve been happy with for almost two decades.
Second, there comes a time when weight loss must cease to be your goal. It’s a signature feature of all successful weight-loss efforts. It is massively difficult to sustain real and lasting progress and feel the joy of living in a healthy body as long as there is a hyper-focus is on weight. It’s not a standard by which we can find true satisfaction. If you’re obese, then weight loss must be a goal, but it’s not the ultimate goal. At some point in the future that is impossible to pinpoint, a shift away from weight loss and toward living with joy, purpose and happiness must be the goal. The choices that lead to weight loss will ultimately become ones that allow your spirit to shine—to allow you to physically experience whatever it is you love and enjoy about life more fully.
For example, I once had a client who expressed dismay at having hit a weight loss plateau.
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