The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

Realistic Expectations and Exercise

Quick note:  This is a longer post.  I was going to break it down into two posts, but felt that it was better as one. 

Without being a “Debbie Downer,” within health and fitness we’ve all been duped by rapid body transformation.  I’ve been working at the same corporate gym for the past 4 and a half years and EVERY single amazing body transformation that has occurred, has been attained through consistent effort and good old hard work.  There has been no other thing that they’ve done (besides also watching their diets), that has gotten them towards their goals any faster or slower.  And it really didn’t matter how that was obtained.  Either they attended group exercise classes religiously, asked for a workout plan and then followed it or just started doing something every single day and would just do a bit better each workout.  Three main components have been evident amongst all of these amazing changes..  1-A true decision was made backed by a strong, motivating desire.  2-They did the work needed to get the body they want, and 3-they were consistent and had patience with the process. 

All of this writing, all of these fancy workout plans don’t amount to anything without those three elements.  What typically happened is that they would start on day 1 and no one would say anything, or really notice anything, until month 7 and that person would say, “Wow!  You look great.  What did you do?”  The person would respond in a humble way, not wanting to get into the details, simply saying, “Oh, you know, just worked out a bit and watched what I ate.”  That person hears that and automatically thinks that all they have to do is “work out for a bit” and eat a bit better.  Although this isn’t wrong, it doesn’t take into account the level of time and commitment to those habits.  Even rapid change, 3 months or less, doesn’t happen overnight.  You can start your journey overnight, but this isn’t commercial airlines, where you can get to your destination overnight. 

I like to compare fat loss to a journey that must be walked, and thereby earned, in order to get to the destination you want, which is ultimately the body you want.  There may be shorter routes to your destination, a straight line of sorts, but the only thing that will get you there, fast or not, is your own effort and the right directions. 

You see, what I’ve seen from people, is that they think that fitness is a destination and really it’s nothing more but the road you travel on.  People say things like, “I want to be fit,”  “I want to look better and lose 50 pounds.”  In other words, they want to look better naked…and who doesn’t?   The problem is they see fitness and think if they exercise for 6 weeks or 3 months, they will then have the body of their dreams and hence have “reached their destination.”  They think that they can arrive at that “destination” and then start to resume their old habits without any consequences. 

The reality is almost everyone that has lost a significant amount of weight will fall in line with the 94% of the National Weight Control Registry individuals who both maintained a modified version of a “diet” and worked out at least 5 days per week. 

The bottom line is that with a “quick-fix” mentality, an instant gratification society, and rare stories of success that get built into the daily repertoire, we’ve come to expect “The body of our dreams” far earlier and with a lot less effort than we realize. 

The Golden Rule with Weight Loss, though, is It’s not about how quickly you can take it off, but instead, how long you can keep it off. 

I think the biggest problem with shows like The Biggest Winner, infomercials that show us crap machines, and constant testimonials from individuals whose “Results are NOT Typical” is that they undermine the true nature of what health and fitness should be. 

Sure, we want inspiration and we want to know that “It can be done,” but too often we neglect that these are the exceptions to the rule and not the rule (Thanks for the quote “He’s Just Not That Into You” Movie).  The rule for those that have succeeded and kept it off, is that they have made it a part of their lives.  It has become a part of who they are, their identity.  It is what they do and what they will continue to do.  It isn’t a sprint, where you race to a finish line, only to stop exhausted afterwards.  Instead it has become a daily walk (or, depending on who you are, an ultramarathon), where it is a part of your life day after day, because it’s something YOU want and/or believe in enough to know that despite not liking it so much, it is definitely worth it. 

With that said, if you take on a healthy diet and workout plan, then AT BEST, you should lose 1-2 pounds per week…that is, if you want to keep it off (Highly obese individuals can see rates that are a bit quicker, at least initially).  At times, especially at the beginning, there may not be any progress, but after an initial period, it should come off at about that rate.  For those of you that love The Biggest Loser, you know that you can’t out-train a bad diet.  Those participants workout on average of 5 hours per day.  5 hours per day!!!  Most people don’t work out 5 hours per week.  And I’ve still seen people not lose ANY weight, because despite having trained 25 hours,  they ate like shit when they weren’t working out to show they were “in control” and not the trainers (which is a whole other issue). 

The bottom line is that exercise is imperative to keeping the weight off that you lose, but diet will ultimately determine the rate at which you are losing weight. 

The question you might be having is, if diet is so important, why don’t I just diet?  The answer is three-fold.  1-When you ONLY diet, you lose bodyfat, but you also lose muscle.  When you lose muscle, you lose metabolically active tissue, ie you slow down your metabolism.  If you ever were to return to normal eating, your metabolism would have slowed and “eating regularly” will not only cause you to gain the weight back, but also to put more on.  For example, say your body was burning 2000 calories per day, and before you went on the diet you were eating about 2000 calories a day.  Then you went on a diet only.  If after you went on that diet, you lost 20 pounds, 12 coming from muscle, you have effectively slowed down your metabolism to 1800 calories per day.  If once again, you start eating 2000 calories a day again.  You will not only gain the weight back, but you will continue gaining even more weight afterwards. 

The second reason, is that when you go on a diet only, you have too many limiting factors.  You have hormones, particularly your thyroid hormones (which control the rate of your metabolism) and leptin (which controls the amount of fat loss), that slow down and you hit a plateau.  Your ONLY option then, is to eat even less.  That can only go on for so long before you either start to break down serious muscle and it becomes dangerous or you revert back to eating ‘normally’ which is, as we’ve seen, going to only put the weight back on. 

And the third reason is that when you go on a diet only, you will lose muscle mass.  Besides slowing down your metabolism, you simply become a “Skinny-Fat” person with no tone or definition.  When someone touches you, you are flabby and feel like a “fat person” although you may actually be skinny.  I’m pretty sure that isn’t what you want. 

When you do work out, you allow your body to undergo a myriad of changes that help with not only fat loss, but with keeping it off.  If you strength train, you are preparing your muscle cells to become more insulin sensitive, which helps you handle carbs better.  You will also be raising your metabolism after the weight training session (depending on how intense it was) and building muscle, which although slight, will build up to a higher metabolism over time.  The cardio is effective for burning those extra calories, without negatively impacting your weight loss hormones, allowing you to eat more “normally” and therefore, have your body adjust to the increase in calorie burn by losing weight, while not slowing down your metabolism. 

One of the other problems I’ve seen is that people tend to workout for ONE WEEK, literally 4 days out of 7, will sweat a lot, and not having lost any weight complain to me that they are, “Working so hard, eating right and not losing any weight.”  My response is usually nicer than my thoughts, but my thoughts go something like this:  “Are you f’n kidding me?  You’ve come into the gym for a TOTAL of 4 days at 40 minutes each time, equalling a total time of 3 hours for ONE WEEK!!!  And YOU are complaining that you haven’t seen any results.  IF this was week 10, I could understand, but you don’t get to have any valid complaints until at least week 4.  And “eating right” is something I would like to see.  Keep a food journal for a week and show me that you’ve been ‘eating right’.” 

And that is the whole point of this post.  Stop having Stupid Expectations.  Almost anyone that has a body you may desire has been at it FOR YEARS.  Not days, weeks or even months, but YEARS. 

This may not be too “inspirational” to hear, but it’s the truth.  Sure you may want to see results quicker than YEARS, and if you do the work and watch what you eat, I am highly confident that you will, but that doesn’t mean that after you see those results that you are free to return to the shitty habits that got you in trouble in the first place. 

On the other hand, if you are a guy trying to gain “mass” and more muscle, naturally, there is a whole other aspect of mitigating expectations that you must confront.  You see people on magazines who are HUGE and yet if you look at some of the best professional football players, they are “big” but they aren’t HUGE.  They are respectable.  And these are the BEST PRO FOOTBALL players.  If you are a natural and have average genetics, and have been at it for a while, expect to hit some plateaus.  Here are two links that explain the maximum natural bodyweight and measurements you can expect to achieve, far better than I ever could: 

So, to wrap this up, what can you do in order to stick to an exercise routine when you aren’t seeing the results as quickly as you’d like?  In his book, 59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman talks about studies which have shown those that visualize their ideal selves tend to fail to realize the amount of work necessary to achieve their goals.  Instead, those who envision the work they’ll need to do in order to get to where they desire, worked harder and longer than those that didn’t. As stated in the book, those that fantasize usually don’t take the actions necessary:
“A two-year follow-up revealed that the students who had reported frequently fantasizing about success had submitted fewer job applications, received a lower number of job offers, and commanded significantly smaller salaries than their classmates. 
Why should it be so bad for you to imagine yourself achieving your goals?  Researchers have speculated that those who fantasize about how wonderful life could  be are ill prepared for the setbacks that frequently occur along the rocky road to success, or perhaps they enjoy indulging in escapism and so become reluctant to put in the effort required to achieve their goals.  Either way, the message from the research is clear: fantasizing about your perfect world may make you feel better, but it is unlikely to help you transform your dreams into reality.” 

With that said, take these five steps to start and continue on a lifelong journey of fitness:

1-Get a journal, a word document or something where you can put down your overall goal along with the perceived benefits associated with achieving your goal.  This isn’t the same as imagining your perfect self, but instead knowing the benefits of sticking to your goal. 

2-Next, set down BEHAVIORAL GOALS (not outcome) and write down a plan to get you to where you want to go. 

3-Set up the first step.  Remember that during change, there are only two things that you should keep in mind ~ Your NEXT step (not 5 steps down the road) and your end game, your goal. 

4-Expect to be in it for the Long Haul.  Don’t expect quick and stupid success only to see it turn into a complete failure in 6 months.  Which means, make sub-goals along your path and have rewards set up for hitting those sub-goals.  Just make sure that those rewards don’t conflict with the major goal itself (No binge eating for a week of good eating). 

5-Go to the National Weight Control Registry and see the “Facts” of what it takes to lose weight and keep it off.

Do these five things and you will be so far ahead of others who try their “best” in the gym and never get past week 2.  Enjoy!

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2 comments found

  1. “Researchers have speculated that those who fantasize about how wonderful life could be are ill prepared for the setbacks that frequently occur along the rocky road to success” -I LOVE IT.

    this entry was long, yes, but fantasmagorical. the application of the truth is painful, but for people who are already on the long haul, it’s refreshing to hear what we’ve been telling ourselves all along…

    i trained my boyfriend yesterday, who complained of how embarrassing it was to be in a hot, sweaty weight room full of testosterone… being trained by a girl. surprisingly, i didn’t take offense to it, but rather responded, “you look around you and i know it’s hard not to imagine yourself looking like these guys one day… but the real work is coming from your body, which is the only thing you should be worried about when you’re here. don’t worry about other dudes doing God-awful exercises that don’t even make sense… don’t worry about the gender of the person guiding you… focus on demanding your body and it will talk back, but only if you listen hard enough.”

    it’s so easy to get caught up in the destination, but you’re right! the practice of learning to communicate with yourself through the struggle is beneficial for everything, not just exercise. and it’s easier on the ego to anticipate the work and overcome it than anticipating the success and falling short…

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