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Managing Expectation With Reality

Expectations are a funny thing– and by funny I mean we put so much stock in them, anything short of a gleaming dream come true usually ends up being termed a “failure”. Put that into a scholastic context and anything short of an “A+ with extra credit” is a one way trip to failing out of school and living your life as a bearded hobo living off the land in the wilds of Alaska. Not that there’s anything with beards, hobos, Alaska or living off the land– all I’m saying is whether you’re starting a new program, in the middle of a program or refining the heck out of your results, keeping your expectations in check can help you stay on course without over-correcting into the ditch of discouragement.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t EXPECT fitness results based on action and persistence, it’s just to say sometimes expectations are out of whack with grounded and equally commendable reality. Managing expectation is important– especially in fitness, nutrition and infomercial results vs. what many people see (or don’t) after a few weeks. So here’s the reality check, the big rhetorical face-slap of truth and some all-out truth guaranteed to go a long way if you apply it and let it work. Here we go:

Transformational Expectation

While taking on a program like P90X2, 10 Minute Trainer or Insanity has its health benefits, virtually everyone would love to come out the other side slimmed, toned or ripped: In short, most all of us want to look good on one level or another. This can be the toughest aspect of expectation but here’s a few things to keep in mind when it comes to “the look”. Here’s a few transformational expectation road blocks many people run into… and how to manage a realistic expectation over fantasy:

  • Weight Loss: As mentioned, a benefit of fitness is “looking good”. Nobody wants to “weigh good” and yet that’s exactly what so many fixate on: numbers on a scale. I’ve given that topic well-deserved evil eye right here but needless to say, I think scales cause more anxiety and self-doubt than they do good. Throw the scale away and put your focus on how your clothes fit, how you look in a mirror and take those before and after pictures. The pictures aren’t just for bragging rights, they give you a visual indicator of where you’re at compared to where you started. They work much better than body weight.
  • Leave The Workout Comfort Zone: A note general note for the sexes…Ladies, stop looking at cardio as the end all be all. It’s not (read why). Resistance training (weights) is critical for truly improving body composition and maintaining those changes in the long term. Men, don’t fear rest. Don’t fear recovery. Don’t fear taking a day off of the weights. Don’t fear some cardio. Don’t fear stretching. Don’t fear Yoga. Crushing resistance makes you feel tough but you need to repair or risk injury setbacks down the road.
  • Adding Mass: Teens Take Note: Mass is tricky. Dudes are after it big-time but it’s not something that can be done in short order– especially for dudes still in their teens. The ability for true muscle mass accumulation really begins to kick in when you hit your 20’s. 1-2 pounds of mass per month is roughly where you’ll see healthy gains and at that rate, something you should be very pleased with.
  • Loss/Gain Goals: For fat loss, roughly 1-2 pounds a week is the sweet spot. For muscle gain,  roughly 1-2 pounds a month is plenty. That expectation has been incredibly warped through shows like “Biggest Loser” and “Broscience”.  Weight loss can be somewhat dramatic in the initial kick-off of your program but long-term those expectations are unrealistic.

Nutritional Expectation

Here’s  an expectation buster: while there are general guidelines, “The Best Diet Of All” doesn’t exist. Individual nuances pretty much make that an impossibility. Still, like I said, there are general guidelines that will offer up success (ie- The Body-Change Blueprint) but inevitably those will have to be tweaked in one way or another as you improve and progress. We’ve got a longview here. If you’re looking at getting toned or ripped, your goal will be achieved through fat loss and that requires a sustained caloric deficit and commitment to training and recovery as exemplified in any Beachbody program.

  • Low Carb/More Carb: When it comes to low-carb or high-carb diets, the best choice in the long run is really which one you can stick to and achieve your goals at the same time. In general (and there’s that term again) more training will require more carbs while minimal training will do better with less. No matter where you fall in the spectrum, this much holds true: the majority of what you put into your mouth and into your body should be from whole foods and stuff that doesn’t come out of a box or come together in a factory.
  • How You Eat: You can’t make change by changing nothing or straddling the line. Take a cold hard look at your eating habits. Where are you continually overeating? Is it in Diet Soda, which triggers pathways saying you’re being fed when in fact you’re getting no calories? Are you eating more than a portion size? Less than you should be? Are you eating more junk than good? Pinpoint you weaknesses and put a focus on getting those items under control as opposed to an all or nothing approach. Of course, the Body-Change Blueprint is a great start but overall work with what you CAN and are WILLING to do. That’s not about making excuses but we are after sustainability– something made easy right here.

All Or Nothing Expectation

You’re not perfect. As a result, expecting perfection is gonna be a problem if you ever hit a speed bump; and rest assured, whether it’s cutting a nutrition corner, missing a workout or getting sick, you will. That bump, when looked at in the rear view mirror of your journey, is going to be next to nothing but if your expectation is absolute perfection bumps will be a tough to get over and can lead to frustration and dropout. There’s a fine line to walk here so I hope I’m laying it out clearly: I’m not saying set yourself up for failure– I’m saying you have to be realistic. This is life, after all.

I’d still encourage lofty goals and I’ll be the first to give a huge high five with a blow-it-up fistbump at the end to those who seek and obtain perfection in their first 90 days. I was kind of obsessed like that and was able to do it. Total compliance was something I wanted and committed to. But I’m not everyone and it wasn’t easy the first week or so. I’d equally encourage putting any mistakes behind you in short order and pressing forward. Your body craves momentum. Starting and stopping or starting and starting over is counterproductive. Keep your momentum going and you’ll be OK.

In the end, realize that the pursuit of physical fitness goals is a good thing, but it can also be taken to obsessive (not to be confused with dedicated) levels that disrupt a healthy balance of focus on other aspects in life. Find balance, find what works and I’ll be here for reality checks and encouragement along the way. Six packs are awesome but they’ll come in time– there’s other life, learning and relationship rewards to be gleaned along the way. 

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