Working with clients for over a decade now, I would say most people have the same fitness goals. They also share the same struggles when it comes to reaching them or maintaining them. The goal of losing weight, toning up, getting stronger, eating healthier, are all wants I have heard from men and women of all ages. If we all want the same things, why is it so hard to get there and keep what we worked for?
21, 30, or 60 days are sometimes associated with how long it takes to make a new habit stick. This seems to make sense since so many fitness programs or challenges last anywhere from 1 to 3 months. What if I told you it took much longer than 3 months? What if I told you it took longer than 3 years?
First, let's take a look at the life span of a fitness goal.
Step 1: A wedding, vacation, reunion, the holidays or some event is coming up. You want to look and feel your best and have a time line in which you'd like to get there by. Maybe there is no particular event coming up but rather something inside of you came up and the desire to change was there. Possibly you want to pick up where you left off either recently or a long time ago.
Step 2: You decide to join a gym, hire a trainer, do home workouts, run, or whatever kind of fitness routine you think will get you closer to your goals. The faster you see the results, the better!
Step 3: You make changes to your diet. You either cut back on foods, add in different foods, or a combination of the two. Your determination is strong at this point and your momentum continues.
Step 4: You're in it. You have your plan that you have been sticking to and are starting to see and feel a some of the fruits of your labor. Your pants could be fitting a bit more comfortably or you feel more energetic. On the flip side, you could feel like crap. Hungry all the time, sore all the time from workouts, or just exhausted mentally and/or physically from your new endeavor.
Step 5: You get to a road block. You skipped a workout and for whatever reason it has been hard to get back on track to your routine. You went out for dinner or forgot your lunch at home and ate something you didn't plan on eating and feel guilty. Whatever happened or did not happen, you're off your game and are now determined to refocus.
Step 6: Cruising and trying to stay the course. There's so many directions to go at this point and it's different for everyone. Some will cruise and continue on with their new healthy lifestyle. They might not be as regimented as when they first started, but they're still going. Others may be getting bored with their diet or workout routine, frustrated with not seeing results, or overall unmotivated.
Have you had any experience with any or all of these steps? I mentioned all these steps because they contribute to the inability to stay consistent for most people with reaching their fitness goals. How does one define actually "reaching" a goal? Once you reach it, then what?
The first misstep people make is having the mindset of thinking there is a start and stop point. There is NO stop or start point when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. Unlike other things we set out to do in life with an end goal, this is the one thing you will have to continuously work at for the rest of your life. You will have to make adjustments along the way without "stopping". The mentality of beginning for the sake of one particular end goal on a certain date will have you eventually quitting! Of course, everyone has to start somewhere. Regardless of your situation, any day could be the day you begin your journey and turn things around.
The next misstep is having an all or nothing attitude. If you don't eat perfect and workout every day, then why bother? Perfectionism is the killer of joy. It is also the killer of fitness goals. You are not perfect and the path to becoming a healthier version of yourself will not be perfect either. Like clock work, life will throw hurdles your way when you least expect them. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes dealing with unplanned setbacks and continuing on right through them. Expect them to happen. You'll get through them.
The next one is having unrealistic expectations that aren't matching your actions. I am always honest with clients while still considering their feelings. Sometimes we set our expectations so high that we forget to look at the reality of what is currently happening. I had a client (let's call her A) I worked with many years ago that struggled with her weight her whole life. I was training her twice a week and if she had a tough day she insisted she weigh herself before we worked out. - I don't recommend weighing yourself frequently, let alone right before you're about to workout - Seeing her weight made her frustrated, emotional, and definitely not in the mood to work out. After months of training together, she did make some progress but not the progress she wanted to see. We had many conversations about nutrition where we discussed her crazy work hours and mom life that left little meal prep time or energy to make healthy meals. When she would eat foods like pizza or burgers, she would tell me these aren't foods she usually eats and only ate them because of this or that circumstance. "Your body only knows what you eat, not what you intended to eat or usually eat" I told her. That wasn't really what she wanted to hear.
Have your expectations match what is happening in your life in real time. Have realistic expectations. There are so many factors you could be unaware of affecting your progress. Sometimes you are doing everything "perfect" and you still aren't seeing the results you want. Your body is still telling you something and you need to listen.
For the next misstep let's talk about diet. Do not diet. Diets do not work and never will. I could write about this forever but will do my best to keep it simple. Restricting your caloric intake will slow your metabolism. While you might see an initial change on the scale and in the mirror, your metabolism is starting to slow down. This is why so many people can't maintain their weight loss or gain weight despite eating healthy and exercising. Going from (these numbers are examples I use, but don't advocated calorie counting) 2,500 calories a day to 1,300 calories a day will have your body go into a slow conservation mode. Fat cells are toxins stored in the body and if your body is in conservation mode, it won't want to let these go. Hello fat storage and goodbye consistent metabolism. Each time you cycle through a diet, it slows your metabolism more and more making each time harder than that last. Eventually you are left wondering why all your efforts aren't paying off. Don't count points or calories. Don't diet.
The final misstep in not reaching your goals is all about how you workout. There is only one kind of workout that slowly alters your body composition and allows you to lose body fat, not just lose weight. There is a big difference. Losing weight is keeping your muscle to fat ration the same, just having less of each. Losing body fat and having more muscle on your body is the key to long term weight loss. Muscle is metabolically active meaning the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you burn 24/7. If you lose weight by slashing calories, the second that calories are reintroduced into your diet, the second that weight comes back. Strength training also allows your body to produce fat torching hormones, like HGH for example (human growth hormone). This doesn't mean that your favorite dance class or Pilates class is a waste of time! I personally love to hike and practice yoga. Those workouts bring you joy and are a great way to stay active. What this means is developing a simple strength training routine a few times a week will help unsure your results last. There are so many more benefits to weight lifting like increasing your bone density, balancing your hormones, protecting your joints, preventing muscle atrophy, and more! I will do another post dedicated to this topic down the road.
Above all, stay positive, ask for help, and do the best you you can. If you mess up, you have the rest of your life to make it right.