Posted by: thehungryrunner | January 29, 2008

A seemingly unlikely key to weight loss success: Lower your expectations and release wishful thinking, part 1

In my work as a personal trainer and yoga instructor, I field a great many questions on the subject of weight loss, fitness, and body shaping.  And while I can offer a great deal of guidance based on my own experience and expertise, to gain an even better understanding and insight into the thought process involved with weight management — not just mine, not just that of my clients and students but the general population as well, I often frequent message boards pertaining to weight, running, fitness, diets, eating healthfully, etc.

But visiting these boards has brought me to the realization that there is still a great deal of wishful thinking out there on the subject of weight loss, appetite, results (i.e. from exercise), body shaping, etc.  I don’t think they’re intentional; that is, I don’t think people are keeping themselves in denial over some of the realities of attending to one’s fitness and health.  I think our society, thanks largely in part to the “before” and “after” testimonials in weight loss ads, coupled with the articles, books, etc. on the topic of weight loss, has sold us a bill of goods in making it all sound so “easy.”  It’s not.  Furthermore, to look at individuals in our immediate circle who have achieved some semblence of what you want to achieve, it’s hard to fully grasp the amount of effort that’s going on behind the scenes in order to get and stay there.  Sure, we all talk about allowing our favorite treats and the elation we feel after a good workout and the positive changes in our life as a result of cleaning up our eating and exercising regularly, but you don’t generally hear the “other side of the story,” that is, those who have attained their goals lamenting at length about the hard parts.  Part of it, I suspect, is that in order to be able to stick it out long enough to see long-term changes, you need to come to a certain acceptance of those tough parts, the sacrifices (and there ARE sacrifices) that need to be made.  So by the time you reach that goal or are somewhere near to it, you’ve long since made your peace with the challenges and therefore it’s just not on your mind to talk about them.  Meanwhile, from the outside, it can look practically effortless, what the person achieved, which of course is not the case.  I mean, you know things are “difficult” at times, but it’s hard to imagine *how* difficult until you’ve really, truly, walked in those shoes.  I’ve not known anyone for whom this wasn’t the case, myself included.

With that in mind, it should also be said that it’s important to honestly evaluate your goals and how well they match up to your personal biology, lifestyle, and the extent to which you’re able (or willing) to focus on the activities needed to reach those goals.  How far do you honestly wish to take your fitness?  If you find that you can put out a reasonable — but not grueling or life-leveling — amount of effort and settle in at a “good” weight and/or body shape for yourself, one that allows you to enjoy the activities you love and that you feel at least somewhat satisfied with, you may want to think twice about whether you honestly want to go beyond that.  Because generally, the more you aim for an ultra-fit body, the more you’re going to have to sink a huge amount of effort, daily thought and commitment.  For many, the exchange simply isn’t worth it.  And really, this makes sense.  At some point you have to ask yourself, what will I gain by taking myself to “that” level of fitness?  You may discover enough reasons to justify it.  But you also may arrive at the conclusion that it really won’t add anything more positive, or at least, not in proportion to the added amount of work it would require of you.  To at least recognize this from the get-go can put you in a frame of mind to appreciate your body even if it’s not as “fit” as you think you would like it to be. 

I also see a great deal of elevated expectations, namely regarding what results will come of certain healthy eating (or “dieting”) and exercise strategies.  Don’t get me wrong; these things DO offer excellent results.  But it seems most of our perceptions of WHAT results to expect given a certain level of effort are somewhat skewed.  This can lead to discouragement if you don’t see the changes you were expecting.  As hard as it is to do this, my suggestion is, always go into a “new” way of eating or exercise with no expectation.  Give it your honest effort, but let the changes happen with no preconcieved notion of what changes “should” happen.

With that in mind, in Part 2 I will list the most common “myths,” “false expectations,” and “wishful thinking” I encounter among fitness enthusiasts.  This isn’t to discourage anyone!  On the contrary, I want to emphasize that you absolutely CAN achieve exactly what you want to achieve!  But you’ll save yourself much angst and frustration if you make your peace with certain realities right from the get-go.  To be forewarned is to be forearmed.  If you know what you’ll likely need to do or are likely to experience — or that what you’ve already experienced is normal and simply indicates the need to do a little “more,” you’ll be miles ahead in the process of self-improvement!

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