We have all been there. Making some progress on a strength-gaining and weight-loss program of our own design or that of others, finally having a bit of success…and then suddenly, the scale shows no movement. We’re stuck. Perplexed. Unsure what to do next. We may feel a bit defeated, a bit heavier, a bit more tired, a bit less capable, and somehow, between determined mornings and the end of a long week, illness, family emergency, and so on, we give up. We wonder why we, out of all people, are having trouble.
Here’s the secret – you are not the exception. You are the rule. Most people have trouble with sustained and sustainable weight loss. This includes me at various times in my life as well so trust me when I say, I totally get how it feels to plateau. In fact, it was not long ago that I hit a benchmark that made me search for something more. But, whatever I needed I knew had to honor the simple sophistication of our bodies natural rhythms. So, when life throws my mind (and my waistline a curveball), I have learned to take a hard look at the following eight components of my diet and lifestyle. In fact, I used this process during the development of my book, Glow15. Dive in with me to these must-do’s and ask yourself, Where am I strong? Where can I make beneficial changes?
Let’s discuss the simplest solutions to your plateauing problems that actually work.
You might be plateauing because your diet:
…needs more variety.
Our bodies seek to do the least work possible to get the most benefit with the available resources, just like our minds do. When you hear nutrition professionals speak of a “balanced diet,” what that really means is a diet that contains multiple types of foods from multiple groups of whole foods. One of the benefits of the program in Glow15 is using similar types of meals in the difficult-to-manage parts of your day (like a hectic morning), while encouraging diversity in the meals you enjoy later in the day by filling your plate with different colors, proteins, healthy fats, herbs, spices, and cooking methods! Keep your body adapting to different foods and digestion challenges and you will encourage a more flexible metabolism. After all, intermittent fasting and protein cycling works based on the scientific understanding that changing up your metabolic demands on your body boosts its ability to adapt.
… needs more micronutrients.
Do you get enough vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants? Many of those seeking to burn more fat and less sugar allow a lack of variety to reduce their intake of plant foods, which I recommend you do your best to avoid. Indulge in colorful berries and lower-sugar fruits, a diverse array of vegetables that includes all the rainbow’s hues, clean proteins of many types, and herbs, including teas. The more regularly you color your diet full of the antioxidants that reduce inflammation, autophagy-activating polyphenols, and the regular complement of vitamins and minerals that plants provide, the more likely you are to become more insulin sensitive and less susceptible to toxic burden. The more micronutrient diversity you find in your diet from whole food sources, the less likely you are to have cravings stemming from a nutritional deficiency. As an added bonus, you’ll fill up more quickly on fiber that stabilizes your appetite, feeds your bowel health, and balances your energy levels. You won’t just feel lighter- you’ll be lighter.
… needs more (or less) fat or protein.
A surefire way to sabotage any weight-loss program is to eat too little (or too much) protein, as well as too little variety, for several reasons. Simply not eating enough can sabotage the protein and caloric intake you need to maintain a healthy, happy thyroid with a thermostat turned up for energy-burning…and leave you so hungry you fall off track more easily. Also consider that protein deficiency can negatively affect your neurotransmitters, rendering you psychologically unmotivated to pursue your goals. To avoid eating too much or too little protein, I developed a pattern of cyclical protein intake I call IFPC so that not only do you ensure moderate protein levels, but so that you also provide the metabolic benefits of short periods of decreased or low protein intake. I call days with lower protein intake, “low days.” As long as you limit your “low days” to three to four times a week, it has a very beneficial impact on your health and your weight. To learn more about the science and logistics of incorporating these “low” days into your diet, please read about it in Glow15.
Moreover, it is important to get certain nutrients from your proteins that specifically nourish fat burning in your mitochondria (cellular engines), reduce inflammation, and support insulin sensitivity, all of which can help you feel more energetic and lose weight. For instance, many important B vitamins that help you burn energy come from your protein foods. L-carnitine helps you get fats into your mitochondria (engines) so you can burn them. L-carnitine is made in your body to an extent but is also abundant in meat (carne), so vegans may wish to supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation, boost insulin sensitivity, and support cellular health, are easier to obtain from sustainable seafood sources such as sardines and salmon than other foods. Zinc, critical for insulin sensitivity, immunity, digestive health, glowing skin, and more, is highly available in oysters, red meat, poultry, and pumpkin seeds. Magnesium is critical for energy production and reduces anxiety, and is more abundant in plant proteins (legumes, nuts, seeds) and seafood. I could go on, but I think you get the point!
Too much protein can overstimulate insulin production and cause weight gain, just as overeating in any context can. Specifically, however, your body utilizes its amino acid pool every day. Unnecessary or unusable protein is converted to either sugar or fat and stored. This is why timing your higher protein intake days, or what I call “high days” in Glow15, with exercise is a great strategy to get your body to use what you feed it and reduce your likelihood of over-or-under-feeding with protein. Start with the numbers, but listen to your body and you’ll find your sweet spot!
You can load up on good fats and lose weight if you do it intelligently. If you don’t give your body enough variety of good fats, you will not adequately train it to burn fat – simply fasting does not boost your fat-burning metabolism – you need to add fat. I know, it sounds counterintuitive that to burn fat you’ve got to eat fat. I’ve seen people eat a poor diet but have a decent fasting window and expect that the fasting will erase the junky eating but it doesn’t work that way. The fast only serves your health when it’s combined with a nutrient dense diet, full of good fats. Trust me when I encourage you to load up on these good fats – especially organic MCT oils. Using medium chain triglycerides (like those in organic coconut oil) with your AutophaTea can retrain your fat-burning metabolism. If you give your body fat with insulin-boosting carbohydrate, you are telling your body to store it as fat. Choose higher fat meals when you are in fat-burning mode (earlier in the day at the end of an overnight fast) rather than in mixed meals later in your day in order to have more success on a higher fat diet.
… needs more patience.
You may have heard of mindful eating. For optimal health, we should be mindfully doing everything…and a great place to start is with your meals, because you have two to three opportunities every day to sit, relax, enjoy, savor, and just be with yourself – having a human experience in this moment. Respect and nourish yourself from the inside out and from the outside in. Make each bite a mini-meal. Take a breath as you see, smell, and recognize your food. Then chew your food slowly and curiously until it liquefies and you can swallow without drinking fluid. Swallow completely. Take another breath. Let that bite be in the past. Start again. Watch as your mealtime becomes a meditative moment, you fill up more quickly, stay satisfied longer, and improve your digestion from top to bottom. Notice how learning to slow down and appreciate mealtime can give you the patience to step back and observe in other realms of your life and lifestyle. This mindfulness is not just about digestion, body composition and how you look – but this type of “good” stress helps to activate autophagy – the cellular self-cleaning process you definitely want more of.
You might be plateauing for other reasons too. Check back in on Wednesday to read about some non-food related reasons why your weight loss has stalled!