Breaking Through Weight Loss Plateaus

06/08/2011 08:28 am ET | Updated Aug 08, 2011

People tend to have a magic number.

It's that number on the scale that is just on the OTHER side of the gulf. You know the gulf. It's the five, 10 or 50 (fill in the number) pound gulf between where you are and where you want to be.

For most women, the gulf is like the difference between a passing grade and a failing one, between Harvard and The Belmont County Branch Of Ohio U, between third base and all the way, between being nominated and actually winning.

And most always, the gulf is wider than it needs to be. The other side is often unrealistic -- thank you Uma and Angelina -- and I've also noticed that the magic number is usually a few pounds below one's "set point."

Your set point is where your body likes to be, weight-wise. It's the poundage that your body gravitates towards even when Thanksgiving dinner is served on manhole covers disguised as plates or when you spend an evening alone with an open sleeve of Oreo cookies. It is your stasis. Your set point is often where you have to battle to go below.

You often discover the definition of the word "plateau" when you try to challenge your set point.
You could be clipping along on a diet or exercise routine, steadily losing one or two pounds a week and end up with little to show for it. You get within a bicep's reach of your goal weight and you stop losing. You practically have to switch to only celery sticks and run marathon-type mileage to go below your set point. (Actually I've seen women running marathon-type distances and still be stuck at their set point).

What's a girl to do? Two things.

Number one is to think hard about your magic number, your set point and the gulf between the two and see if you can somehow reconcile the two. Can you consider the possibility of inventing a new magic number? Would it be ridiculous to have the old set point be the new magic number?

On a side note, did you know that the feeling that makes you think your stomach shrunk after a few days of the flu or eating less? Well, that's not really your stomach shrinking. The nerves that detect fullness actually recalibrate to detect fullness with less food so you FEEL full with less food. Same size stomach. Different sensation.

So if your gut can do THAT without you having to think it to make it happen, then surely you can do the same type of mental recalibration with your scales. Can you decide to detect less criticism with a higher number?

The next question is what happens when you mentally recalibrate? You stop fighting something immutable. Fighting to get to a magic number (or worse, simply feeling self-loathing at the thought of not weighing your magic weight) is like fighting high tide. At a certain point -- this is where the word "wisdom" comes in -- you (hopefully) realize that it's smarter to turn on your back and float or maybe dog paddle. I'm not recommending sinking, mind you. Or drowning. Just going with the flow. Just facing what is and working with it, rather than against it.

Geriathletes like me usually like to try the "never-before attempted." All my life I've taken chances and attempted the highly unlikely. I used to drive on an empty tank, I used the men's room if my bladder was full enough and the coast was clear enough, and I drank the milk without checking the expiration date -- not that a past due date would've stopped me from taking a swig.

But at a certain Nora Ephron phase of my life, wisdom started whispering to me (in my mother's tone of voice) saying things like "maybe you should gas up," "pee before you get in the car," "have a glass of water instead." Wisdom.

Hoping to get to a magic number that was imprinted in your brain long before pregnancy, childbirth, menopause and supersize is like the kind of praying you do after you've spun the roulette wheel. Which brings me to my last point which is you need to stop hoping and just start.

If you have a GPS system in your car you know that in order to get anywhere, you have to first program in your final destination. Any fitness regime worth it's weight in dumbbells needs to do the same.

Pick a long-term goal (closer to your new magic number) and a long-term date, break it down into weekly and daily goals. And then just get started. And never give up. Never give up does not mean fighting to maintain a weight that your metabolism refuses to maintain. Never give up
refers to continuous dedication and commitment. One week of workouts becomes two. Then a month goes by. You feel better. Your jeans fit better. And so on.

So start recalibrating your brain about your weight by really noticing how you feel about where you are now and where you want to be. Mentally try to let go of unrealistic expectations without letting yourself go. And don't just talk the talk, jog the jog.