Phase 4 will happen, and may occur more than once. Hitting a plateau is an unfortunate roadblock your body will put in your way a few times as it readjusts to losing weight. I found this utterly frustrating because I knew each time I had been doing so well following the plan and BAM! All the sudden I was stuck. I wouldn’t lose another pound for sometimes two or three weeks.
It’s likely I experienced this in the first several months of my lifestyle change, but since I didn’t weigh myself, I thankfully wasn’t aware of it. I think this was a good strategy because I didn’t get discouraged or derailed early on in reaction to reaching a plateau. Plus, I had more than 100 pounds to lose, so cutting calories at that point would have undermined my overall plan.
By the time I was well into my lifestyle change, I was better prepared to accept that sticking with the plan worked. I reminded myself that it wasn’t just about losing pounds, but also inches. First, I tried to push through it without that reward from the scale or tape measure. Even though I didn’t see the quantitative changes reflected in the numbers, I tried to consider how my clothes fit. If, however, I found that more than three weeks went by and the scale still hadn’t budged, I cut back on calories.
The commercial weight loss plan I first adopted started at 1,800 calories, which included an extra 300 calories because I was so overweight. I start by cutting the extra starchy vegetable at dinner, later the extra yogurt, and so. By the time I got close to my ideal weight (whatever that is…for me, I had decided it was when I felt like I was healthy and comfortable enough to stop actively losing pounds), I was down to 1,500 calories a day.
Studies on how the human body burns calories are all over the place. The bottom line: humans burn calories at different rates, making it impossible for food scientists to make daily recommendations for calorie intake that apply to every ‘body’. In How Many Calories are You Eating?, I talk about how this issue makes it difficult to have set recommendations for people–even for exercise, which was another strategy I employed.
When I hit a plateau, I tried in increase some aspect of exercising. Depending on exercise as the sole source of weight reduction, or doing it in excess (I read that The Biggest Loser participants would work out for several hours a day, which is quite unrealistic in the real world) is not advisable, but coupling exercise with calorie reduction can be effective. I tried to push myself harder, go longer, or add in some extra movement when I hit plateaus.
The most important thing I kept in mind was that I felt better and was happier than I’d been before I began my lifestyle change, even if I was stuck and it meant I’d never lose another pound. It was really important to try to stay positive and remind myself that if I stuck to the plan, as I had, I’d get past this short-term barrier. And guess what? Every time I was right.