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I'm Working Hard, So Where's My Progress?

Updated: May 13, 2019

I hear this question often: I am consistently eating healthier and exercising, so why am I not seeing progress? I know how frustrating this can be. Before I worked in health & fitness, I had a period of time where all my efforts seem to add up to very little. And with the advent of the internet, there is so much information out there, a lot of it contradictory. The answer depends on your goals and what you mean by eating healthier and exercising. I'm going to focus on the most common goal for personal training clients: lose weight.

  • Sleep!

Not many myths here, except the ones we tell ourselves: I'll catch up on sleep on the weekend, I only need 5 hours of sleep a night, etc. Science is pretty clear on the the mental and psychological benefits of quality rest for 7-8 hours a night, and constantly discovering new ones. If you're trying to get leaner, consistent sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. If you are under 40, you may be able to get away with focusing on diet and exercise and still lose weight. For anyone else, you are working against yourself. In fact, studies show that when don't get enough sleep, your appetite hormones are negatively impacted, leading you to crave more unhealthy snacks and consume more calories. Even more alarming, sleep deprivation has a negative effect on cardiovascular health, compromises your immune system, and increases your chance for developing type II diabetes.

I know, the kiddos sometimes wake you, work is texting you, things are on your mind, not to mention that you need to catch up on last season's Game of Thrones before the new one starts. Maybe Samuel L Jackson needs to record a version of Go the F* to Sleep for us grown ups. While it may not always possible, practicing consistent habits to work towards quality sleep is your best strategy. Here's a handy list of tips on getting better quality sleep, and if you're curious about how sleep impacts your health, I wholeheartedly recommend Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.

  • What exactly does eating healthier mean?

The graphic above is a good starting point for what you should be working towards. If you're not doing this already, just start moving toward this as your goal. The important thing to keep in mind is to start where you are right now. If you're not a big fan of veg, you may need to focus there. (If this is you, contact me for a free infographic on 3 steps to loving your veggies.) The main thing is to focus on adding things, even it it's just a bit, rather than subtracting. I get a lot of confused looks on this graphic on healthy fats, especially if you were around for the "fat free" craze. The simplest way to get more healthy fats is from cooking with olive oil. It works for just about anything except some baking (and even there most times). If you're already eating this way, great! Try to stay consistent about 80% of the time. Temporarily tracking can help you figure out just how consistently you're hitting the mark.

  • The sum of your weekly workouts should feel good, not punishing.

"No pain, no gain." "Pain is just weakness leaving the body." When it comes to exercise, the tougher, the better, right? Actually, no. Exercising intensely all of the time tends to raise our cortisol (stress) hormones, and the benefits we get from our workouts actually happen when we are recovering from them. This go-hard-or-go-home approach could be setting you up for disappointing results and putting you at risk for greater injury. Instead, try to find the sweet spot of varied intensity and adequate recovery throughout the week. How this looks will depend on your goals. In general, your weekly exercise schedule should allow for a day off between strength training workouts and include some cardiovascular and restorative exercise. You can experiment until you find what's right for you, or you could hire a trainer to point you in the right direction. Contact me if you want help with reviewing your weekly exercise practice.

  • Get some regular movement beyond exercise.

If you're hitting it hard in the gym, but are spending the remainder of the time sitting, your health and waistline could still suffer. Even a little regular movement has been shown to improve cholesterol, blood sugar, waistlines and metabolism. Put your technology to good use by setting reminders to get up and move around. Ask the colleague you're meeting with to have a walking meeting, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. Do some simple stretches (here's a great routine you can try) at your desk. If you want more strutcture, you could try out some mindful movement classes like yoga or Tai Chi. Doing things like going for a walk, going for a bike ride, or playing kickball while connecting with family and friends is a fun way to get more movement. You could even breakout your dance moves! The details don't matter, just find what works for you.

  • Stress

The rest of my tips are all about dealing with stress. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can really stall your progress. When you're doing the fundamentals of eating right, sleeping enough, and getting the right kinds of exercise, this can be the secret sauce that helps or hurst you.

  • Consider your emotional load.

Emotional load is the sum total of stress that you carry from all ares of your life - family, work, home, fitness, volunteer work, etc. Like other habits, how we give of ourselves becomes an automatic behavior. Considering that many of us have been conditioned from childhood to be people pleasers, we often carry more load than is good for us. In an upcoming article I am going to address the people pleasing habit and how you can prevent it from derailing your health and fitness.

  • Connect with a friend.

Just as working out with a friend can help your physical health, connecting with a friend supports your mental and emotional health. If your schedules don't allow for a face to face get together, try an old fashioned phone call. It really does wonders for you both.

  • Shift your mindset.

If you find yourself beating yourself up or thinking "nothing ever works for me" when it comes to getting a handle on your health, eating and fitness, it's worth reflecting on whether this strategy is helping you. You could just try to be more positive, but sometimes that feels forced. Perhaps you could try imagining that you are your most positive, supportive friend overhearing this inner dialogue. How would that friend respond? What perspective can they offer?

  • Breathe

Have you ever watched a baby breathe while they're asleep? Their entire thorax expands and contracts as they inhale and exhale. Most adults tend breathe primarily in their chest. Breathing deeply using your diaphragm has a restorative effect on your body and your mind. There are many techniques out there (see here), but here's a simple place to start: lying down or seated tall, put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly; inhale through your nose trying to make both hands move; gently draw your belly button back toward your spine as you exhale through your nose. Repeat 5 times.

  • Put your creative brain to use,

We are so busy multitasking most of the time that we rarely have the time to think about our own creativity. Scheduling a brief period to focus on the act of creating can help bring some balance to a hectic existence. Some people find that writing down their feelings helps them when they are stuck. Others journal about gratitude. Or maybe you have creative talents that you want to practice, like drawing or playing an instrument. Even if you consider yourself lacking in musical talent, you don't have to be an accomplished artist to belt out your favorite song.

  • The power of touch.

I'm not just talking massages and sex, though those are great. Things like cuddling with loved ones, petting your dog or cat, putting on some hand lotion, are all simple acts that can contribute to your well being.

  • Connect with the natural world.

Getting outdoors, even briefly, is beneficial for mood and your vitamin D levels. This doesn't necessarily mean hiking, camping, etc. It could be walking your dog and pausing to look at the flowers blooming, taking the kids to the park and watching the birds, noticing the tree at the bus stop on your way to work, or even just looking at the sunlight streaming in through the window. Taking time to stop and smell the flowers is an scientifically proven way to positively impact your well being.

I hope you found some useful information here that sustains you and helps your stalled progress so that you can thrive. If you have friends that would find it helpful, please share. If you're still not sure how you can make progress on eating healthier or getting more fit, contact me.

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