Colette's Blog

February 22, 2011

There are some things we just can’t seem to get enough of. No, I’m not talking about chocolate chip cookies or salted peanuts! Whether you’ve been on Atkins for a while and experienced a weight-loss plateau first hand or you’re a “newbie” who has been warned about this frustrating experience, Atkins Community members are perennially fascinated by this topic. And it’s easy to see why: who wouldn’t want to shine some light on why plateaus happen and how to overcome them. Plateaus are more likely as you get closer to your goal weight, but they can occur at any time in either Phase 1, Induction, Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), or Phase 2, Pre-Maintenance. Rather than repeat myself, I suggest you read How to Handle a Plateau. This should help you determine whether you are truly on a plateau and if so what you can (and can’t) do about it. Instead, this week I’d like to delve into the relationship of weight-loss plateaus and the emotional issues of control and patience.

Taking Control

For people who’ve struggled with their weight for years, following the Atkins Diet is often the first time they’ve felt in control of their impulses—and overall, of their body. Controlling carbohydrate intake overall and controlling the specific foods consumed provide the reward of weight loss paired with appetite control, what we call the Atkins Edge. When this first happens, usually somewhere in the first week after starting Atkins, it’s almost magical. Virtue seems like its own reward, with the wonderful bonus of being able to eat enough tasty, satisfying foods to feel pleasantly full. Plus the psychological lift of feeling you can control your destiny in terms of your size and shape—and often in other respects, as well—is empowering. Life is great!

Losing Control

And then it isn’t. When you experience a true plateau—no pounds and no inches lost for at least a month despite following the program to the letter—the pleasure of feeling in control diminishes and may even evaporate. For almost everyone, after the initial flushing of excess water from the system, followed by the first few relatively easy pounds of excess belly fat, the pace of weight loss is unpredictable. Our bodies don’t work like clockwork and most of us get used to losing some or even a lot certain weeks and very little or none in other weeks. As long as the forward momentum continues, we can live with it.

But if you’ve been doing everything right and losing weight steadily (even if erratically) for weeks or even months—and then, wham, bam, it stops, it’s easy to feel sideswiped. So not only does a plateau stall your weight-loss goals, you may feel helpless in the face of this roadblock. No longer does counting your carbs and eating right reward you with the results you’ve come to take for granted. You begin to doubt yourself and your commitment to Atkins. At this point, it’s worth mentioning that plateaus can and do occur on any weight-loss program.

Stay in Control

Once you ascertain that you are truly in a plateau and not consuming more carbs than you think you are or adding muscle by upping your exercise level or making other lifestyle changes, you may simply have to live with it for a few more weeks. The risk at this point is that because you’re not seeing incremental results, you toss out the baby with the bathwater. By this I mean that if you decide Atkins just isn’t working for you and return to your old high-carb habits, you’re effectively ceding the very control you’d achieved to date on the program.

Instead of throwing in the towel, focus on maintaining the status quo. This will allow you to stay at your current weight for the short term until your body “decides” to shift back to weight-loss mode. You have every right to feel proud of yourself while staying in control without immediate results. Learning how to eat to maintain a lower weight is a tremendous achievement. Celebrate it along with other benefits, such as the reduction or elimination of cravings, less bloating, fewer GI troubles and perhaps alleviation of hypertension.

Practice Patience

During the maddening days during which you wait out a plateau, it’s worth reminding yourself that you can’t control events, but you can control how you respond to them. Your reaction to this cessation of weight loss is probably something along lines of “Oh great! I thought that Atkins was different from the other diets I’ve tried, but it must be just like all the rest. I might as well go back to my old way of eating because this isn’t working.” Wrong! You’ve probably just hit one of those times when your body recalibrates.

The very fact that you’re on a plateau probably means that your body is readjusting to its new weight. After all, the fewer pounds you’re toting around, the less energy necessary to power your engine. Just think how much easier it is to carry a 20-pound toddler up the stairs than her 40-pound brother! Or think how much more gas you use driving your car up a sharp incline in a low gear, compared to cruising along on a flat road. Rather than seeing your plateau as a failure, see it as an indication that your body is responding to the weight you’ve already shed. Stay the course and you’ll be rewarded, I promise you.

Stuck on a Plateau?

If you want to share some psychological or practical tips on outfoxing a plateau, please share with the Atkins Community. Or just let us know about your experience with a plateau. Have you had more than one? How long did it last? And as always, please let me know what you’d like me to discuss in this blog. 

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