How to Escape the Plateau of Madness

How to Escape the Plateau of Madness

You’ve done everything right. You measured your boneless, skinless, chicken breast down to the ounce. You counted your green beans. You did not eat the extra helping of brown rice. In fact, you even exercised on your rest day and skipped dessert for two weeks straight. Still, the scale won’t budge. So you stand there staring at it, having emptied your bladder, stripped off every stitch of clothing and maybe even cut off a few pieces of hair. But the stupid scale says the same thing it did last week or maybe even the week before that. No change. Or worse, maybe you even gained a few ounces.

Congratulations! You have reached that dreaded milestone called “the plateau.” It’s a barren place, filled with prickly cacti, stinky dead fish, and the bleached bones of your goals grinning at you from the blistering hot sand.

So let’s be candid, you are really aggravated—so much so—that you are at this moment driving to Chick Fil A to make up for lost time. French fries and fried chicken it is. And don’t forget the best part, the vanilla ice cream cone. Because doggone it, you deserve better than a measly 12.8 pounds lost, and as Obi Wan Kenobi once said, “These are not the results you’re looking for.”

But before you gobble all that garbage, let’s pause and contemplate. Did Superman stop fighting for truth, justice and the American way when faced with a giant helping of kryptonite? Did Jan Baalstrud quit when faced with snow-blindness, frostbite and starvation? Or maybe less obscure, did Sam Gamgee give up on the mission when his best friend Frodo gave into temptation and decided to keep the ring after all?

Several people have approached me in recent days and asked for my advice on how to escape the plateau of madness. Rest assured I have stood on that dreadful precipice more times than I care to remember. I even aimlessly wondered if my weight loss dreams had come to an end. But take heart, diet-sufferers! There is hope (and not of the “death by chocolate” variety). You CAN escape the plateau of madness. You CAN achieve your weight loss goals. You CAN resist the temptation to slip back into old habits.

First and most importantly, one must realize that the body is a very resourceful machine. Therefore, once it learns that body mass is diminishing, it learns something interesting; “Hey! I can be conservative!” The more resourceful the body, the fewer calories it needs. Also, the majority of the weight you lost that first month might actually have been water weight and now you’ve settled in to hard core burning fat mode. Also, I hate to break it to you, (please don’t hit me!) but unlike those television programs that make weight loss look fast and easy, it isn’t. As your body adjusts to functioning on fewer calories with a higher nutrient content, it is slowly figuring out a new normal. Years of giving in to instant gratification has wreaked havoc on your brain. So you may think those pesky pounds should just slip off as easily as you slipped them on but the reality is more sobering.

So stop the car! Do not eat those French fries! Because if you go for the gorge you will only undo all the hard work you’ve put in thus far. This is not a fad diet. And if it is, stop it now. If you truly want to lose weight you need to make permanent lifestyle changes. No one ever said it would be easy and if they did, they were selling something.

Now that you have stopped the car and are sitting on the side of the road, take a deep breath and relax. Ignore those vehicles that are honking. They can wait. If you have hit the plateau of madness, it’s time to take a self-evaluation. I know, it doesn’t sound very exciting but it is important nonetheless.

Revisit why you began this journey in the first place

Has anything changed since you started working to remove the excess poundage? Do you want it to stay gone forever or do you want it to come back? Think of those pounds like the sinister villain in a shady detective novel. James Moriarty was the arch nemesis of Sherlock Holmes. Just when Holmes thought he had defeated him and his criminal organization forever, James grabbed Holmes and pulled him off a cliff.

Not unlike Moriarty, we are often defeated by our previous bad habits. We think we can eat a cheeseburger and get back on track the next day. But then a day turns into a week and a week turns into a month and suddenly we have regained each and every sinister pound. But take heart! This does not have to be the case. We do have power over our choices! Our preferences do not have to make us slaves to our passions. We can break free. Do not listen to the discouraging words you hear whispered into your mind out there on the barren range in the plateau of madness. You will break through this plateau, even if you have to poke every McDonald’s employee in the eye in the process. (Though I do not advocate assaulting fast food workers in order to avoid eating greasy unmentionables.)

Revisit your goal

Now that you have revisited where you came from, think about where you want to go and be realistic. If you want to look like Cindy Crawford I have bad news for you… But seriously, if your goal is to lose 15 pounds or 102 pounds, your goal hasn’t changed. Keep your eye on the prize and remember you did not get here by eating French fries and ice cream.

Revisit how you got to the plateau in the first place

How did you feel when you lost that first 5 or 10 pounds? Has anything changed since then? Would you negate that success just because you’re discouraged today? Celebrate your successes! Rejoice that you have conquered part of the mountain. Remember you are on a journey, not a sprint. And no, your life is not like a paperback novel. You cannot lose weight and still eat cheeseburgers and fries every day. Besides, if you could, you wouldn’t be reading this blog entry.

I remember reading Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” and rolling my eyes at one of the characters. Mikael Blomkvist’s blond cop girlfriend was described as working out at the gym compulsively, so much so that she could eat “whatever she wanted”. I remember thinking, “Sure she can because SHE’S NOT REAL.” But I digress.

Shake it off!

Burn-out, that is. Your compulsion to re-poison your body with high calorie food may be a symptom of lifestyle change burnout. After all, you miss those oldies but goodies. But remember, M&M’s, chocolate shakes and endless tacos did not make you happy. Grieve the loss of them and move on. And don’t pick up that diet Coke either. It’s filled with enough sodium to destroy any hope of weight loss no matter how healthy Coca Cola Company purports it to be. (Remember, they are selling something!!) Sodium is salt. Salt dehydrates. Fat cells need water to flush them out. Whenever I drink water I imagine my fat cells melting away. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to dream, right? But there is some science that backs it up.

Get excited

Sweaty Margaret after intense cardio fun with Cathe Friedrich.

So you’ve hit a little bump in the road. That doesn’t mean you need to go back to the beginning. Start where you are. Living a healthy lifestyle should never be boring. Switch things up. If you are fresh out of ideas, visit Pinterest and see what others are cooking and finding success with. After that, try a new workout. When it’s too cold in the winter I have fun with step aerobics. Cathe Friedrich is my go-to guru for fun and challenging workouts. And if you can’t muster the energy to make exercise fun, get angry and then use that anger to break through that plateau. I distinctly remember running around my basement with earbuds in at 5:00am while I listened to Maroon 5 and punched out every inkling to eat from my psyche like they were one of the girls who broke Adam Levine’s heart. I don’t eat things I don’t like. I don’t do workouts that are miserable (at least not unless I’m torturing myself for overdosing on cookies as a form of motivation). And I always feel better after I get my sweat on.


Listen, maybe you just need to get some sleep. I know it sounds silly, but it’s true. When the body is stressed out it remains in fight or flight mode and hangs onto to fat. Now maybe I am the only person on the planet who loses weight when I go on vacation, but I do. I always lose between 5-10 pounds when I have a week off and get at least 8-9 hours a night. I attribute that to rest and relaxation. Try it. Even if you don’t lose any weight, you’ll still feel better. Sleep has an amazing effect on a tired body.

And most importantly of all, never stop trying. If you regress, try try again! Don’t let the plateau of madness hurl you into the abyss of permanent weight gain. That place is a swamp. You’ve been there, done that, and (hopefully) burned the t-shirt. Today if you are seeking comfort on the barren plains of the plateau of madness, don’t lose heart. You need that heart to hike the rest of the way and Chick Fil A will not get you there. It won’t improve your mood no matter what those cows promise. There is real hope. And remember, we are in this together. If you think I’ve “arrived” just because I’ve been at this a smidgen longer than you have, stop by some of my other entries. I’m still trying to lose my cookie pounds from Christmas!

Onward and upward, my friends! (oh, and you can pull back into traffic now in the opposite direction of those pesky cows!!)

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