Hope Floats

By Adam Glasgow - 8/26/2016

Growing up, I spent my summers at overnight camp in New Hampshire. I loved pretty much everything about camp – playing softball, crazy pranks in the bunk, the green “bug juice,” and the “socials” where the last song of the night was always Stairway to Heaven (still one of my favorites, even after all these years.)  I even loved swimming lessons in the pond, murky as it was, with an occasional turtle swimming by. But there was one part of my swimming lessons that I always hated: treading water. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think I could keep my head above water, but rather that I found the idea of being stuck in one place and moving my legs but going nowhere, extremely frustrating. It felt like a complete waste of my time and I was sure that I was learning absolutely nothing.

Years later, as a swimming instructor myself, I learned that there was indeed some value to treading water. My childhood swimming lessons weren’t just about learning to get somewhere, but they were also teaching me how to protect myself. I learned how use my body as a personal life saving device to stay afloat. Sometimes there are pauses in our journey and we just need to tread water.

Occasionally, I think of my childhood animosity towards treading water when I hear my patients’ frustration about reaching a plateau with their weight loss. It is not uncommon for patients who have lost weight to suddenly find themselves “stuck” at the same weight for weeks or months at a time. For most people the experience is like treading water and it is supremely frustrating. Really, who among us wants to work hard at something and not see any results?

Let me share a few thoughts about weight loss plateaus and why they may actually be helpful events in your weight loss journey.

1)  See the positive. Weight loss plateaus are not the enemy! For one thing, you are not gaining weight – that in itself is a good thing. It means you are doing something right because your body is taking in enough calories to maintain a stable weight (but just not few enough to lose more). So the first thing to do is RELAX! You are stable and that is a victory in itself.

2)  Learn something. Pay attention to what you are eating and how much you are exercising. Keep a journal for a few weeks to keep track. If you are maintaining your weight (and neither losing nor gaining), you have just learned what you need to do to maintain your weight. This is an important piece of data because at some point you will want to do just that.

3)  Listen to your body. When you are at a certain weight for a period of time, your body is sending you a message. Your body is telling you that something needs to change in order to lose more weight. The challenge is figuring out what that is.

4)  Change it up! In order to push yourself beyond you weight loss plateau, something will need to change. Here are some ways to experiment. Journal the changes you have made and the corresponding results.

A)   Try changing one specific thing about your diet. This can be an easier approach than just trying to “eat less.” For example, if you have been eating a certain type of food repetitively, let’s say a banana every morning, replace it with other healthy alternatives. All fruits make a great breakfast choice and there are so many to choose from. Or decide you are going to give up one particular food or beverage altogether. For example, if you frequently eat frozen yogurt or granola bars, try going without for a week.

B)   Try cutting your portion size in half for one meal of the day. Even if you are eating healthy foods, it is possible to eat too much of a good thing.

C)   Try shifting your meal patterns. If you are used to eating a small breakfast and larger dinner, try the opposite. Or if you have been eating dinners at 8pm, try eating earlier in the night.

D)   Add a new type of exercise to your routine, or extend the amount of time you exercise by a half hour a few times a week.

If you have tried eliminating food types and decreasing portions, and adding exercise, and you are still not seeing a shift, what next? While it is rare, I have occasionally seen patients who actually need to eat more in order to lose weight. It is possible that losing a significant amount of weight has slowed down your metabolism. In other words, your body went into a self-protective mode to keep itself from a perceived excessive weight loss. In these instances, adding some calories slowly back into your diet, may re-jump start your weight loss. I would not recommend this approach however, until we analyze and discuss it during a visit.

Ask for help. If you are having trouble moving off your weight loss plateau, schedule a visit to let us help you and create a plan for renewed weight loss. If you have kept a journal of your meals and exercise, bring it along so we can review it together.  If you have been frustrated treading water, remember…. As long as you are still treading, you are safe and afloat, and it may take just a little patience until we can get you swimming again.

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