Ask a Health Coach: Real Tips on Breaking Through a Plateau

weight loss plateauHey folks. This week, Primal Health Coach Erin is answering your questions about breaking through plateaus with tips and strategies you can start putting into practice right away. If you’re stuck in a weight loss rut, stalled out on your fitness routine, or need a push getting out of your comfort zone, today’s Ask a Health Coach post is for you. Got more questions? Keep them coming in the comments or over in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group.

Kimberley asked:

“I’ve lost a total of 70 pounds and have maintained my weight loss for over a year now, but I’m struggling to lose those last 10 pounds. Any tips on getting the scale to move again?”

First of all, congratulations. The fact that you’ve lost that amount of weight and kept if off is proof you’re committed to your goal. Even better, I love that you’re not using words like “diet” or “falling off the wagon,” both of which imply that you’ve embarked on a temporary lifestyle change. Weight loss is a long-term process that includes ups and downs. And plateaus like the one you’re experiencing right now are a natural part of that process.

Anytime you’re going through a plateau, you can take it as a sign that something needs to change. It doesn’t need to be a drastic change, but it is an opportunity to take a closer look at what you’re doing — or not doing.

I find that the biggest culprit of weight loss plateaus with my own health coaching clients is that they’ve loosened the reins a bit. In the beginning of your journey, you might have been meticulous about avoiding grains and refined sugars. If you’re following the Primal Blueprint, you might have kept your split at a solid 80/20. But as the months and years go on it’s absolutely normal to let some things slide without realizing it.

Eating more than you think is extremely common. Extra handfuls of nuts. Wine every night. A carb-fest on Sunday that turns into sandwiches and ice cream all week. You get the picture. Occasional indulgences should be enjoyed guilt-free, however it’s important to be aware of them instead of mindlessly refilling your glass. Small changes can be sneaky, and they add up fast.

Tip: Keep a Food Journal for 3-5 Days

I’m not a big fan of tracking calories and macros in general. But taking a few days to get back in touch with what you’re really doing can be a game changer for breaking through a plateau. After keeping a food journal, one of my clients found that the good stuff she was loading her morning yogurt with (chia seeds, flax seeds, unsweetened coconut, and nuts) was packing on about 400 calories more than she thought. Tasting bites of food while cooking or cleaning up are two other common places those extras tend to slide in.

Need more convincing? Researchers at Kaiser Permanente found that participants who kept a food diary lost twice the amount of weight compared to participants who didn’t.1 Writing down your choices forces you to be accountable for your actions.

It could also be that you’re restricting too much during the day, then binging at night. A food journal is a great way to monitor eating patterns and course correct right away. This free online tracker features a huge database of foods (including restaurant options), but if you’re looking for a less fussy way to keep track, just grab a notebook and start writing.

Keep this in mind too. Although the scale isn’t budging, you might actually be losing fat. Notice if your tops are easier to button, if your pants are looser, or your face is looking slimmer. People often look to the scale for validation on weight loss efforts, but what you really want is fat loss, which won’t necessarily be reflected on the scale.

Brad asked:

“I’m training for a virtual half-marathon this summer with a sub-2-hour finish goal, which would be about a 10-minute PR for me. Even though I’m running every day, I can’t seem to run faster without stopping to catch my breath. What gives?”

Just like weight loss, plateaus are an inevitable part of the training process. And while your speed may indicate what you’re capable of right now, it doesn’t dictate what you’re capable of in the future. Well, once you get to the root of what’s holding you back.

You’re putting in the work, however there could be outside forces compromising your efforts. For instance, if work or family life is really stressful or you’re not fueling yourself properly, your body will feel drained and won’t respond appropriately.

There could also be physiological factors at play. And being overly focused on your goal might be one of them. I can tell that you’re highly motivated because you’re out there training daily. But sometimes being too results-oriented can backfire.

If every time you lace up you worry that you won’t run fast enough to reach your PR, guess what will happen? You won’t run fast enough to reach your PR. Seems simple, but your mind has a powerful way of getting you closer to your goals — or further away.

The second self-doubt starts to creep in, you’re already sabotaging yourself.

In this case, training your mind is as important as training your body. Some athletes look ahead to their workouts with fear and anxiety, worrying about their performance and all the what ifsthat come with it. Others don’t let past experiences (or fears about past experiences) influence their workouts.

Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck  studies the impact of people’s underlying beliefs about their abilities and found that those who believe their traits are fixed, meaning you’re either born with a certain trait or not (what she calls a Fixed Mindset), often resist and dread challenges, while those who believe deep down that they can improve (called a Growth Mindset) tend to reach their goals more easily.

Dweck conducted several studies and found that individuals who had a growth mindset achieved higher levels of success in different areas of their lives, regardless of their initial abilities.

Tip: Reframe your challenges as opportunities

Instead of focusing on securing your 10-minute PR, forcing faster speeds, and panicking that they won’t be fast enough, take each run as a chance to grow, without worrying about where you’ve been or where you’re going. Start by writing down your challenges. They might be, “I’m out of breath by mile 3” or “How am I going to keep this pace for 13 miles?” Then, write down the potential opportunity, like “I bet I can make it to 4 miles tomorrow” or asking yourself what you can learn about yourself from maintaining a faster-than-normal pace.

By flipping the script on your perceived obstacles, you’re actually allowing yourself to overcome them. Remember, a plateau is never permanent. And it certainly doesn’t define you as a runner. You just have to get your mind in the right space.

Jeff asked:

“I’m the official definition of a couch potato. I follow the Primal Blueprint and I’m onboard with eating meat, fish, and nuts, but when it comes to movement, it’s a no-go. I find I’m spending a lot of time sitting around, trudging through my day. How do I move the needle on starting an exercise routine?”

Our comfort zones are such a comfortable place to be, aren’t they? But here’s the deal. Comfort zones aren’t really about comfort. They’re about fear. In your case Jeff, it could be the fear of looking foolish, the fear of getting injured, or the fear of being judged. After all, if you’ve been a couch potato your whole life, what are people going to think when you start working out?

No one says you have to go all-in on a crazy exercise regimen. You don’t have to train for a marathon or even join a gym. It’s not a competition either, so what you see other people doing — even Primal Blueprint people is their business, not yours.

Tip: Start with Baby Steps

Assuming your efforts are stalling out due to the need to stay inside your comfort zone, you’ll want to brainstorm things you could do that aren’t so intense and scary. Some people thrive by jumping into the unknown, where others become quickly overwhelmed. I’m guessing you’re in the second camp.

My advice to you is to take small steps toward your goal. What would you say about walking to the end of your street and back every morning? Or following one of the quick free workouts on the Mark’s Daily Apple YouTube channel? Or adding a few microworkouts to your day that you can literally do in 60 seconds or less. You can even use your couch as a squat bench if you like.

The point is, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by activities you’ve deemed are outside of your comfort zone, but by taking baby steps, you’ll notice your comfort zone gradually getting bigger and bigger.

What’s worked for you? Tell me about your experience getting through a plateau in the comments!

About the Author

Erin Power

Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by Primal Health Coach Institute co-founder Mark Sisson.

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