Lately I have been coming across many people who started their 2017 New Year’s fitness resolution in full swing and have suddenly stopped everything. The new pair of Nike’s are suddenly out of sight, healthy food drawers in the kitchen have been replaced with take-out containers and its been days together they have stepped foot in the gym.
I am trying to understand this behaviour from a psychologist’s point of view (my educational qualification), and see how I can implement it with clients while designing their fitness routines (my passion and profession).
Coming recently out of my first ever bikini competition and dropping crazy amount of body fat in a very short time, I myself had to restrict my food and workout for uncountable hours while preps. No doubt I lost weight, but post comp I binge ate like never before. Is that healthy? Of course not, it was my first time doing something like this and I got back on track within just a few weeks but those few weeks gave me enough time think about what I should have done differently.
Firstly, fat loss or weight gain is a process that takes time. You would have seen people’s before- after transformation pictures where they lost a lot of weight in a short period of time used for marketing by fitness and slimming centres, fitness experts on their social media and everywhere else. Understand those are undoubtably one out of ten cases. Second, yes it is possible to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time (I have done it trust me!) but this is not the most sustainable.
The moment a client signs up with a fitness expert, there is pressure to show results. And since we live at times where the competition is so high, every fitness expert wants “fast” before- after pics to get more clients. The client too wants their money’s worth and get frustrated when they don’t see the weight on the scale going down. This results in designing charts that are putting clients in a huge caloric deficit and over training. The body’s natural response is to lose weight but also mess up hormonal levels. As the weeks however goes by, motivation goes down as exhaustion kicks in. In less than 21 days the client gives up because its “too much”.
I never ever put my clients on an extremely low caloric diet since I know its impossible to have a 9-5 job, workout, meal prep, eat clean and under eat by a lot. But I know cases where clients under eat without telling me to get results “fast”. Mostly these are the once who drop out first.
Overtime, I have learnt that moderation is the only way you can sustain a fitness plan, especially when you are new to one. Here are few tips to stay on track longer:
- Do not try to workout 7 days a week and 2 hours per day in your very first month or even the very first year. Your body is not designed to lift heavy stuff at the gym (I mean really). Excessive running or cardio will leave your blood glucose level very low and excessive weight training will leave the muscles with a lot of wear and tear. If not coupled with proper nutrition/ hydration and rest, naturally the body will show signs of lethargy or even sickness. American Council on Exercise Science recommends no more than 20-30 min of walk 4-5 times a week for beginners! This may seem like too little, but thats really enough to start seeing results. Add on 20 minutes of weight training after 3-4 weeks and slowly build from there. Stick with your fitness chart given by your trainer. If you try to over do that, you are defiantly calling for trouble.
- Do not have unrealistic expectations from your trainer/ gym/ nutritionist etc. Aim for no more than 0.5- 0.8 kg of fat loss per week. Unless you are competing, what the hurry anyways! A client who is patient and has realistic expectations is a blessing to work with for a fitness expert. There will be more days you wake up feeling nothing is changing than days you feel your body is sculpting and thats ok! You trying to push for faster progress will results in the trainer designing a program that will get you there but won’t be sustainable. Trust in your own body to show results.
- Don’t skip cheat meals in order to get there “faster”. Think of this meal as a reward you give yourself for being disciplined all week long. I in fact suggest add two cheat meals per week. A mid week post workout snack (cookie or pastry) and a full meal (lunch/ dinner) over weekend. Also pace them apart from each other so you have something to look forward to every few days of being disciplined. Think about it, having two cheats may get you to your goals a little slow but its better than being frustrated and giving up and having binge cheat days. Overtime you have cravings or temptations, write them down and relish them of cheat days! Have fun with the process and look forward to cheat dates. If you have get togethers, plan around cheat dates.
- Keep popcorn handy. I mean seriously. You will have times you want to just munch on something and popcorns are crunchy and munch and great! Its the mental satisfaction you get that you are nibbling. I know people who suck on ice :/. Whatever helps.
- There really is no rule of having 2 meals a day or 5 meals a day as long as you stay within caloric range. Understand your body signals and make your own diet accordingly. I always always need to eat something while working on my laptop (mostly in between my lunch/ dinner). Thus I make sure to add in a crunchy salad or soy coffee in between meals. Figure out when you are the most hungriest. Maybe right before lunch or 4pm post afternoon nap. Plan that meal and prepare in advance (for days together). This should be handy when you need it else you will eat anything in sight. As you are reading this, stop, pause, think, take a pen and paper and plan THAT meal. Also hear the body out, if it is craving salty stuff, give it salty stuff and not sweet stuff. You will continue craving for THAT taste otherwise and will fall of the wagon at some point.
- Skipping a post workout meal or breakfast is calling for trouble. Our bodies are designed to be the most efficient energy storing mechanism. When the bodies blood glucose level drops (after a night of fasting or post workout), we will look at anything that will give us fast energy. This means sugar. We will look at any food that we can pick so that it is easiest for the body to process and releases heaps of energy in the system in a very short period of time. This is mostly processed- junk food. Thus, have overnight oats mason jar or something cooked and in the fridge ready for morning breakfast and prepare your post workout meal even before you go to workout. Meal preps is a very very important and neglected tool. Even if you are not competing, it is essential to meal prep or even losely meal prep all year round. Keep some essentials like cooked rice/ quinoa etc ready in the fridge so that all you have to do is heat it up or stir fry and won’t take you much time. Plus I hate wasting food so when I have pre cooked meals, I will likely eat that first rather than throw that and eat some junk.
- When your body is tired and demands rest, REST. Its ok, listen to body signals. I don’t mean here to allow laziness to overtake you, but don’t push yourself when your body signals clearly tell you not to do so. This way, you will not fall sick and have to take weeks off together. Be extra mindful about what you eat on rest days but its alright to take a day off. Don’t get into a guilt trip over taking off’s and get back on track the very next day. No fitness expert can say how exactly a clients body feels. A fitness plan is designed for client based on what the expert “thinks” a clients fitness level maybe. But this maybe within a 20-25% error. If you cannot finish all exercises on your fitness plan, don’t do it. If it seems too easy, ask for a change in plan.
- Though I am a huge believer in moderation, there are certain things that I know are my trigger points and I will avoid. For instance, if you know you mostly binge eat on chocolates, play the will power game with yourself. Tell yourself you will not eat any chocolates for the next 7 hours. Once successful, make it 17 hours, 70 hours, 7 days, 7 weeks etc. Again, please don’t directly go for 7 days on your very first try. You will fail and feel guilty subconsciously.
Overall its really simple, don’t try to overdo anything and take small but consistent steps. Forgive yourself quick if and when you fall off the wagon and get back on track immediately. Hope this helps some of you!
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