When Hard Work Doesn't Seem Like It's Working

What Factors Help Along Our Fitness Journey? And Which Don't?


One of the most frustrating things about starting a fitness regimen is when it seems that it doesn't work. You sign up for a class or a gym, you build some time into your schedule, and you jump in, hoping that you will finally see the changes you've been waiting for. And then...you don't. Why? What causes some people to see results, but not others? In answering these questions, there are several factors to consider. Let's take a look at a few of them.


  1. Is age an indicator of success? Yes and no. It's true that our bodies change with time. As we age, the way our bodies process food changes. The types of food we can/are willing to ingest changes. The timing of our nutrient intake changes. Habits become harder to break. So how do we figure out how to maximize results in the face of all this change? The way we approach fitness needs to change. However, age should never be a discouraging factor in the quest for better health and fitness. The best way to determine what your food intake should be is to keep a food diary. But this diary should not just be about what you eat. It should also be a record of how those foods made you feel. Diet, like exercise, is not one size fits all. Just because intermittent fasting works for one person, does not mean it's the best choice for another. Same with keto, paleo, etc. Plus you may have pre-existing health conditions that make diet choices a little more difficult. Recording what you eat, at what time, in what quantity, and how you felt immediately after as well as about an hour later, will tell you exactly what foods work for you and which do not. Sounds like a lot of work, right? It doesn't have to be. We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us. Record more of your carbs and proteins, and also note any foods or drinks you've excluded from your daily intake. After about five days you will have most of the information you need. Also keep in mind that "temporary" diets, yield temporary results. Rather than making extreme changes in your diet for a set amount of time, start by making small changes you can live with. This makes for a vastly improved ongoing result. In terms of exercise, age can sometimes change the way we move, and what types of movements we are most easily able to perform. In youth, we tend to see that most movements have a direct effect on our bodies. As we age, it may take more, or different types of movement to produce results. It's important to be able to try and measure different types of workouts. How our bodies react to movement, range of motion, load, stress, pace, etc is all subjective. So your body won't have the same reaction as someone else's to the same movement. And it also won't react the same as it did at another point in time. Your body's capabilities can actually vary day by day. What worked ten years ago may not work now; and the range of motion you had yesterday may not be the range you have today! Why is that? Your muscles react to everything - nutrition, sleep, stress, hydration...all can effect the ability of your muscles to achieve their maximum potential and range of motion. In keeping the above mentioned food journal, be sure to also note your daily exercise, and the effects of each workout. And keep in mind that a workout doesn't need to be super intense, or cause major muscle soreness to work. While you should feel some amount of effort during a workout, jumping into the highest intensity class you can find may not be your best solution, especially in the beginning. Don't be fooled by marketing tricks and gimmicks - almost anything you do correctly and consistently will help. Something that might quickly overwhelm and discourage you, will not.

  2. Are you setting realistic expectations? Fitness is a journey, not a destination. It takes about four weeks for you to start to feel a change. It will take about six weeks for you to start to see a change, and about eight weeks for others to start to see it. Can it happen faster? Yes. Can it happen slower? Unfortunately, also yes. As you begin an exercise regimen, you are likely making a lot of changes all at once. You need to give yourself an appropriate timeline to measure the results of all of those changes, as well as determine which might need some tweaking. Healthy rate of weight loss is 1.5 - 2 pounds per week. (In some cases you will see a higher rate at first. This tends to taper as your body adjusts to its new rate of calorie expenditure). If you gained a certain amount of weight over a period of time, it's unreasonable to expect it to come off instantly. As a personal trainer, part of my job has been to design programs, execute them, measure results, and adjust when necessary. If you're not hiring a trainer to do these things for you, then you must do your best on your own.

  3. Are you encouraging yourself to succeed? Or are you encouraging yourself to fail? It sounds almost comical, but self sabotage is one of the most common reasons people abandon their fitness goals. Have you ever beaten yourself up for going off track one day? Don't. You are no more likely to gain five pounds as a result of overeating one day, than you are to lose five pounds by under eating on another. But the emotional effect of disappointment and frustration will likely cause more harm than good. If you fall off the horse one day, get back on the next. That's it. Are you constantly looking at the scale? Stop. The better way to gauge your progress is by how you feel, how your body performs daily, how your clothes fit, and if you must use a number value, body fat percentage. We tend to get a number value in our head that we associate with achieving our goals. But there is a discrepancy in that scale number as your body begins to change. Muscle weighs more than fat. While weight may be a concern, it's dangerous to associate low weight with fitness, as the two don't always correlate. In addition, you have to ensure that your "goal weight" is healthy for your body type. It's also important to note that as your body changes, the ratio of body fat to muscle may seem unbalanced, especially in the beginning. Watching the scale day by day won't take any of the above into account, and if you don't see the change you are hoping for in the time you were hoping to see it (which is generally shorter than it should be), it's easy to feel discouraged and defeated. Which again, generally leads to program abandonment. Are you classifying foods as "good" and "bad"? This is actually a lot less helpful than one would realize. Instead of thinking of good and bad, which have emotional connotations that could actually have a psychological effect, it's more advantageous to think in terms of "what's my calorie intake for the day, and will this food be worth the amount of calories it will add to my diet today?". Removing emotional connotations and associations with food is probably one of the best ways to succeed regarding eating habits. Can you still love food? Of course! But try not to let it dictate your feelings to the point where it becomes emotional baggage.

There are many more factors we will discuss in the future, but the bottom line remains the same: Fitness is a subjective and personal journey. The key to being successful is learning about your own body, getting in tune with your thought process regarding your health, and committing to a program that makes sense for you. You need to find a way of working out that you will like (if not love), a way of eating that is practical without making you feel deprived, and the ability to commit to the lifestyle choices required to maintain both. Perhaps the best way to say it, is that the key to your success...is YOU.

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