Well, I must have Friday brain because I simply couldn’t think of a decent title for today’s blog entry. Oh dear, I seem to have given it all away in a single line!
The dreaded plateau
If you look at my 5:2 weight loss charts you’ll see that for the last two months I’ve been on something of an frustrating wibbly wobbly journey between 66.8-67.3kg. Don’t ask me what that is in lbs, I’ve always weighed myself in kilos due to the old Dutch rule my dad taught me “Your ideal weight is your height, less 1 meter”, i.e. if you’re 1.64m tall then 64kg is ideal for you. Seems to hold true to some degree, or at least for me. Much of my adult life (when not hideously overweight) has been spent at around the 64-66kg mark which I can usually maintain at reasonably well.
My goal weight – at least the first of my goals – has been set at 65kg, a nice round number and hopefully a somewhat less round Moogie. It’s hardly surprising then that as I have neared this weight the losses have slowed down rather. Things weren’t helped by an indulgent holiday in May just prior to my birthday (along with which, of course, came more indulgence) when I didn’t fast at all and in fact probably consumed close to double my daily needs at a guess! I got home and decided not to weigh for at least a week so as not to shock myself. After a week of fasting I was still about 4lbs up on my pre-holiday weight, thankfully this came off relatively quickly but since then I have been on something of a plateau and starting to get a little annoyed with it. I’ve had brief plateaus before – a few weeks here and there but this was getting silly.
There seemed to be a reason each week that it wasn’t really changing or had gone up a teensy bit – a friend’s birthday, family occasions, that accidental but oh so delicious tub of chocolate fudge brownie Ben & Jerry’s… I checked my TDEE against what I was eating and realised I was probably more or less breaking even on my calories – not good for weight loss. My own stupid fault then?
Okay, so that was the couple of weeks explained and I decided that rather than cutting back on my intake, I’d try to increase the calories I burned. Now, I’m a desk monkey by trade – I live on my arse most of the day and due to the atrocious weather in the early parts of this summer unfortunately this continued into the evening most days. Probably not wise! I read a little bit about NEAT (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – a fancy way of saying get off your bum once in a while and move about you lazy woman) and decided to give that a go. I set an alarm for every 20 minutes and when it went off I got up and moved around for a minute or two, or worked from a standing position (not so easy with a sitting down style desk) – it felt like it was doing something and for that weigh in I came down just a little bit. Unfortunately with a big project on for work it wasn’t going to be easy to keep stopping my development every 20 minutes every day so I decided to introduce a different form of exercise.
I invested in a folding exercise bike since space is a bit limited at home for something like that and began with it on the lowest setting for all of about 10 minutes a day. Over the next few weeks this setting increased a bit and the time spent on the bike was a minimum of 20 minutes, usually more and sometimes as many as 45 minutes depending on how engaging the TV I park it in front of was I fully expected to only maintain for a couple of weeks as fat hopefully turned to muscle which we all know weighs more. Calories out were certainly higher than calories in and after a few weeks I was surprised that the scales still weren’t shifting on any permanent basis. Still the same half kilo fluctuation for a full 7 weigh ins, argh. I wish I hadn’t gone so mad on holiday, but the food was so good! You’d think that sitting in the boat in the middle of a lake in the pouring rain would be conducive to fasting, but believe you me this is far from the case. A packet of ‘boredom biscuits’ is essential in these circumstances, no nibbles from fish so instead we satisfy ourselves with nibbling biscuits. Sometimes crisps.
A normal experience?
During my time at the forum I have read various stories of plateaus lasting anything from a few weeks to a couple of months – and it seems in most cases they do resolve themselves with time. It’s as if the body just needs a bit of time to catch up with itself and register that it has a new ‘normal’ weight before it is willing to lose any more. I don’t know if there’s any scientific basis for this, but I’ve been trying to go with the theory that as long as I wasn’t overeating over the course of each week the weight would eventually start to come off again.
I toyed with the idea of mixing in some other diets as I know some members have used the Atkins ‘Attack Phase’ to kick start things or have tried adding in extra fasting days (4:3 instead of 5:2), low-carbing etc. – but none of these quite sat right with me. I love 5:2, I trust 5:2 – it has worked for me for the best part of the year and I had to trust that it would continue to do so. I didn’t want to have to try other diets, for me 5:2 isn’t a diet, it’s a way of life and I love it because I don’t feel like I’m restricted. I want to be able to depend on this way of eating to look after my weight in the long term without the need for restricting myself in other ways. I love carbs, that isn’t going to change and 5:2 for me means I don’t have to change that. Yes, I eat more veg & fruit now, more healthy choices in general but don’t you dare take away my potatoes, rice & pasta!
So, what have I done? Well, I’ve continued the exercise biking, no point in stopping now as I could certainly do with toning a bit now I’m near my goal. I’ve continued to eat well (and by well I don’t just mean healthy but also enjoying cakes, biscuits, takeaways etc.) and enjoy my food on my feed days. Maybe I’ve been a little more mindful of calories but if so it’s certainly not been a conscious effort. Truth be told if I kept a food diary I don’t think my noted intake would have changed drastically between the start of the plateau and now. Even in those more indulgent weeks with social occasions I tried to balance the intake as best I could.
On average just prior to my holiday in May I was losing around 250g/half a pound a week – a noticeable slowdown from the prior half kilo/1lb losses but acceptable due to the minimal impact 5:2 has on my life compared with the daily grind of calorie restriction – for which suffering I would hope to enjoy greater weekly losses. In the few weeks leading up to the holiday I had started experimenting with liquid only (up to 50 calories in the form of a low calorie cuppa soup) fasts once or twice a week to try to increase the losses, although this didn’t seem to really make any difference (see my progress chart for April – note the couple of week plateau late March/early April was due to being poorly, coupled with wedding anniversary & hubby’s birthday celebrations!). On returning from holiday and all that overeating I found my next fast was much like my very first fast and couldn’t/didn’t want to stick to a liquid fast. Since then I haven’t bothered at all with liquid fasts and have gone back to 200-500 calories on my fasting days.
Fast forward… (‘fast’ – get it?!)
Imagine then my delight this morning when I weighed in to find I had lost an entire kilo compared with the same time last week. Just over 2lbs in a week! I can’t really explain it – any changes I’ve made in a bid to get through this plateau were started weeks ago, I’ve no idea why it would suddenly kick in now. I can only assume that it’s been nothing to do with them really but what I have gone through is a natural phase of adjustment after such a long time eating this way and when approaching my ‘usual’ weight. I can confirm that my water/body fat % has fluctuated as minimally as my weight, but today the fat has dropped noticeably.
Almost as pleasing as having broken through the plateau is the fact that I have now lost over 20kg on the 5:2 diet and shrunk down to around a size 12!
Other 5:2 Diet Plateau-ers
I don’t seem to be alone in this prolonged plateau followed by a higher than average loss, others on the forum have reported the same (although some can put it down to changes they have made). Here are a few related topics if you’re interested:
…and one of the forum’s most popular topics, courtesy of Caroline:
So if you’re experiencing a 6 week+ plateau on 5:2, be patient and just give it a bit of time. If you want to feel like you’re doing something, check your TDEE just to be sure you’re not overeating and try to move a bit more if you can – it may just be enough to shake things up and get the weight loss going again! Try not to get frustrated, just keep reminding yourself that you are essentially maintaining your weight while still eating the foods you enjoy most of the time. Isn’t that in itself an achievement to be happy about? Give it a few more weeks and things may well get going again.
We’d love to hear about your 5:2 plateau experiences at the forum to improve our understanding of when and why they may occur and what can be done to help people break through them, if anything. It’s free to register at the forum and there are hundreds, nay – thousands, of friendly folks there to chat with about fasting and more.