Emotions, Weight, and the Plateau
If you’re an emotional eater or comfort eater who’s ever lost weight, you’ve probably experienced the dreaded plateau.
Either a pause in your emotional and mental recovery, or your weight just gets totally stuck. You’ll be moving forward, and feeling like you’re really working through stuff…. and then it just hits a wall.
You just want to throw up your hands and eat ALL. THE. THINGS. I mean, why bother working so hard when you’re not even getting results?
It’s doubly frustrating because plateaus are not only caused by emotional eating, but the plateau can make you feel so crappy, you turn back to food to feel better.
Vicious cycle, anyone?
But, no need to panic. Here are 4 actionable ways you can kick your plateau to the kerb.
(Gently… lovingly… but still kick its butt).
If you’ve just found your weight loss or healing stalling, don’t panic yet.
Plateaus are totally normal and most will clear themselves up within a few weeks. Weight loss and emotional journeys are both really complex process for your body, mind, and hormones, and sometimes it all needs a little time to catch up and get re-organised.
But, if you’ve been steadily moving forward and then get stuck on a plateau for a month or more, then it’s worth looking deeper.
Here are 4 causes of plateaus AND what to do about them.
Yup, that old thing.
Stress will stall any kind of change or recovery you’re trying to make – especially with emotional eating, cravings, and losing weight.
Emotionally, stress can not only take your focus away from working through your shit, but it’s just exhausting. Emotional healing and exploring your inner self is pretty tiring stuff, and you’ve just got to have enough time and energy for self-care as you go.
Weight loss is also totally derailed by stress. Scientifically speaking, this study from Yale suggests that the stress hormone cortisol made ladies who had a “normal” body weight (so weren’t even dealing with weight loss) actually gain fat around their mid-section.
So, no wonder stress can cause a plateau. What can you do about it?
What to do about stress-plateaus
Option 1: Remove the stress.
Yeah, ok, duh. Hang on a sec before you click away in frustration 🙂 I know you can’t quit your job, stop your annoyingly immature sister from calling you, or suddenly have paid off all your credit cards. That’s not what I’m talking about when I say ‘remove’.
What I mean is work on re-framing your stressors (the things that make you stressed) as challenges, opportunities, or messages from the universe/God/your inner self/aliens/quantum physics… whatever. Can you creatively think of a way to see this stress as something other than ‘Oh boy, this just hard-core sucks so bad and I am SO stressed about it’?
Can you creatively think of a way to see this stress as something other than ‘Oh boy, this just hard-core sucks so bad and I am SO stressed about it’?
Option 2: Meditation
You’re probably sick of putting this on your to-do list and then never actually doing it. I know I am.
But recently researchers took a whole lot of studies on meditation’s effect on binge eating, emotional eating, and food habits and they found that an overwhelming amount of the studies (86%!! – which in science is a lot) found that meditation had positive effects on eating.
When you eat, your body digests all the carbohydrates in your food into sugar. The sugar then enters your blood stream (when this is measured, it’s called your ‘blood sugar’ to regular non-scientist humans). Too much sugar is poisonous, so the body makes and releases the hormone insulin to take care of any and all sugar. Not just when there’s ‘too much’, but every time you eat.
However, when you eat a lot of carbohydrates every day, and your blood sugar is constantly high, your body learns to have more insulin floating around to deal with the high blood sugar.
That sounds good – everyone likes a body that adapts well to food. BUT, research shows time and time again that higher blood sugar, which equals increased insulin, is the strongest predictor of weight gain, regain, and plateaus.
For emotional eaters, having a lot of insulin and eating carby foods means your blood sugar will go up when you eat, and then quickly drop as all the insulin does its job. This is ‘unstable blood sugar’ and it leads to serious sugar cravings… which are a huge part of healing (or not) your emotional eating.
I won’t go into why here (this is a great discussion if you want more science), let’s focus on how to bust that plateau.
What you can do about blood-sugar-plateaus
If your way of eating includes a lot of higher-carb foods – flours, corn, sugars, alcohol, starchy vegetables, or ‘junk food’, then you might have too much insulin floating around. This stalls weight loss and makes you experience the blood sugar ups and downs that cause cravings, which derail your emotional eating recovery.
For some people, this threshold isn’t even *that* high. So, if you’re experiencing a weight loss plateau or are struggling with healing your emotional eating because of sugar cravings, gently lessening the carbs in your diet, and thereby reducing your blood sugar and insulin, can REALLY help.
This has to do with meal timing, which can be a surprisingly powerful tool, both for emotional eating and weight loss plateaus.
So, you body deals with food in different ways depending on when you eat it. For example, did you know that Sumo wrestlers eat in the middle of the night because that’s the most effective time to eat if you want your body to convert calories to fat?
Ok, they also eat in excess of 20,000 calories day, all day, which is probably more where their success comes from BUT research shows that if you do the opposite of a sumo, you can achieve opposite results!
This means ‘time-restricted eating’. This is where you eat all your daily food in a 12 or 8-hour time span each day. Usually, this looks like having a later breakfast and an earlier dinner. You don’t change what you eat, you just adjust the ‘when’. It sounds weird, but both research and regular folks who try it are finding some great results.
This can also have positive emotional effects because you’re having to think about food less. Your ‘food time’ is reduced, so outside of that time, you’ve got all that extra time and space to move forward with your emotional healing and transition from plateau to back-on-track.
Diet Creep and Thought Creep
This happens to us all over time, and might be the culprit of your plateau.
You’ve been having some success, you’ve been losing weight or feeling like you’re really moving forward with your emotional stuff, so you relax a bit. Maybe you use a little food as a reward, or do a little self-critique in the mirror
Maybe you use a little food as a reward, or do a little self-critique in the mirror – and nothing bad happens. So you slowly do it a little more. And a little more. Until you’re doing it so much, your weight has stalled or your negative self-talk is no longer quite so contained.
But it’s so slow, and tips the scales from ‘healing’ to ‘stalled’ so gently, it hard to pinpoint.
What to do about creep?
Take a good, hard look at what you’re doing. Not what you WERE doing, or how great it WAS going, but what you’re really doing now. Keep some notes, or track calories, carbs, negative thoughts, whatever it is you were doing well with and see if they’ve quietly crept back into your life.
It might be as simple as returning to what was working before things ‘crept’.
There are 4 causes of plateaus AND what to do about them. Don’t panic if you hit a period of less-than-awesome change. Take it easy, wait it out, and try some of the techniques above.
So, have you ever busted through a plateau? How did you do it? Share in the comments.