It can be quite a Herculean feat to start an exercise program. Sticking with it can be even tougher. But, if you manage to do that, it seems like all should be well. And it is – for a while. Inevitably, the steady weight loss and fitness improvements, which you may have started taking for granted in the first few months, suddenly start to slow down or stop.
This event separates the Women from the girls, the Men from the boys. Many people decide that exercise doesn’t work and give up. Or, they feel satisfied with the amount of improvements they’ve made and, for some reason, think they can go back to their previous lifestyle. Or, they panic and turn to extreme measures which prove harmful and dangerous.
First, I want to take the stigma away from the plateau. We tend to view plateaus as something bad or wrong. In reality, your body has reached a level of natural equilibrium. When you started exercising, assuming you ate the same or less, you started burning more calories than you were taking in. Your body was not used to exercise, so you were really sore the first day. But then you started to get better. After a few weeks, you noticed you could lift a little more weight, and walk or run a little faster. Your clothes started to loosen up a bit. You stopped getting drive-thru on the way home every day. You started eating complex carbohydrates, like Ezekiel bread, instead of simple carbohydrates like doughnuts and white pasta.
Your body responded to these changes because these actions were so different from what you used to do. But, eventually, your body reached a new normal. Your body came to expect a run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, for example. And it stopped getting hungry after 6 p.m. because you stopped snacking. So your body has reached a new status quo. This is a good thing.
Our bodies evolved to do physical work for a purpose. In the old days of our evolution, there was no need to walk in place on machines, or climb stairs that went nowhere. People got enough exercise just taking care of their daily needs. So, it was a good thing that the body learned to do all that work efficiently. In those days, losing weight was not desirable; it meant possibly not surviving long enough to reproduce, or take care of one’s family.
So, now that physical work is scarce, and food is abundant, the only way to reach new levels of equilibrium is to keep introducing new challenges. Either the exercise intensity has to go up, and/or the amount of food has to go down. But, here’s the thing: everything is determined by lifestyle and desire.
You have to be realistic about your current lifestyle and priorities. If you’re raising small children, for example, a few minutes of exercise may be the best you can do right now. You can increase your intensity, of course, but if you’re not getting much sleep – which you probably aren’t – that might not be the best course of action. You may have to practice a little self-love and self-acceptance for the time being. It doesn’t mean give up and indulge. It means that you have to match your desired outcome to what you can realistically do right now.
And you may have to change tactics altogether. For example, you might want to try Intermittent Fasting or a low carb diet, to shake up the routine. Or you might want to introduce a different type of exercise, or do your current exercise at a higher intensity. Sometimes changing the routine can inch you past the current equilibrium so you can reach another new normal.
But this process will continue for a lifetime. Our bodies change as we grow older, and new equilibriums are always reached. Each “plateau” is an invitation to reevaluate our priorities, consider a new plan of action, and practice continual self-love and acceptance.
Our bodies are more than what they look like. And our lives are more than what we can achieve. Focus on the basics: eating high-quality foods in reasonable amounts, and moving your body, every day, in some capacity. If you do that, your weight will stabilize over time to a level that’s right for your genetics and lifestyle.
Remember, you are not in competition with anyone. Your health matters because you matter.
Peace and love,