Have you been eating (mostly) healthfully, exercising almost everyday, and feeling like you are truly working hard, but still not seeing the results you want? If so, don’t get discouraged! We’ve all been there, and usually it’s because we’ve succumbed to certain pitfalls that are preventing us from getting to where we want to be. Below are some action steps that will help you overcome some of the most common pitfalls and start getting the results you deserve!
1. Have a plan
This is my number 1 action step and, really, the rest of the actions steps could fit under this heading.
If you want results, you have to have a plan. And a plan is not: “I’m going to eat healthfully and workout 4 times a week.” This will not get you results. The reason is that you don’t really know what you’re eating, how much you’re eating, and how much you’re exercising if you don’t have a very specific plan.
Without a plan, it’s also incredibly easy to get side-tracked. For example, you see a cookie in your office break room and think, I’ve been eating well so I’ll just have one. Three days later, you’re at dinner with a friend who asks if you want to split dessert. By now you’ve long forgotten about that cookie you had at work and so you go right ahead. Another popular one is “I worked out today, so I can have those extra calories from dessert; it’s ok.” The same goes for exercise. If you do not have a specific plan, it’s too easy to say “I’ll just do it tomorrow.”
I’m not saying that you 100% have to lock yourself into something with no flexibility in diet or exercise. But a plan is absolutely essential.
Steps for making a plan
Because diet is the most important aspect of weight loss and weight gain, we’ll start there
- Net caloric intake
- Macronutrient proportions
- Meal schedule
- Meal plan
The first step is to calculate your daily net caloric intake to reach your goal, including how many calories you need to consume and burn each day.
Second, determine about how much of each macronutrient (i.e., carbohydrate, protein, and fat) you need for your individual needs and goals. This step will be more or less involved depending on your goal (e.g., bodybuilder vs. minor weight loss).
General guidelines that I like to follow include: (1) limit grains to 2-3 servings per day; (2) have fruit and/or vegetables at just about every meal; (3) have protein at every meal; and (4) have whole fat (like avocado, nuts, or chia seeds) at most meals. Again, this is totally individual and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.
Third, decide how you want to break up your meals and how many calories you should have at each meal. This is another very individual decision. Personally, I typically have my first meal in the morning, my second meal about 4 hours later, a small pre-workout snack like a juice or banana, a meal after I work out, and sometimes a snack at night. I’ve found that, for myself, having smaller but more frequent meals works best.
Fourth, prepare a meal plan. Decide what you will have for each meal and write it on a calendar. This includes deciding portion size ahead of time so that you don’t end up overeating. If you need to build in some flexibility, go for it. It’s better to be prepared than to meet temptation without a plan.
Now that you have diet under control, you’re ready to create an exercise plan.
- Amount of exercise
- Days of week and duration
- Exercise plan
The first step is to determine how much exercise you need, i.e., how many calories you need to burn or how much work you need to perform during your sessions.
Second, you need to commit to specific days and a certain amount of time each day for exercise. In other words, choose what days of the week (i.e., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.) you can workout. Leave at least one day open (your rest day) that you can use as a back up if you have to miss another day. Then decide how long you are able to exercise each day.
Third, plan (and write out) exactly what exercises you will do each day, as well as number of sets and/or duration. Make sure that your workouts are balanced and that you are getting the right amount of cardio and resistance training for your goals.
I recommend consulting a dietician/nutritionist and a personal trainer to help you create safe, balanced, and effective plans.
2. Record progress
There’s a few ways to record progress. The first two ways start with your diet and exercise plan. On your meal plan calendar, check off all the meals you ate, cross out any you didn’t eat, and write in any additional food along with nutritional information for that food. This is not only a good and easy way to keep track of calories (without having to count them for each meal), it also allows you see what you are really eating so that you can correct anything that isn’t working for you.
Same goes for your exercise plan. Create a spreadsheet that contains your workouts for each day of the program. For resistance training, record the weight used and the number of reps and sets you completed. For cardio, record the type of cardio you did along with the duration, distance, and intensity if applicable. By recording your workouts in this way, you will know how to progress them next time to keep challenging your body and get results.
Other ways to record progress include measuring your weight, percent body fat, and circumference measurements on a regular basis. I recommend taking your weight either once or twice a month and the other measurements once a month. If you’re more advanced or you have a trainer, you can also assess strength, endurance, and cardiorespiratory fitness on a regular basis to track improvement.
3. Vary your workouts every 4-8 weeks
Our bodies adapt to the stresses we place on them. If you do the same exercise over and over again, your body will become more efficient at performing it and therefore expend less energy. In essence, the exercise becomes less effective and you may reach a plateau. To prevent or overcome a plateau, you need to vary your workouts every so often. For example, you may do a traditional weightlifting program (10-12 reps, 2-3 sets) for 6 weeks, then switch to a muscular endurance program (15-20 reps) for 6 weeks, and then change it up again by starting a circuit training program.
4. Challenge yourself
It’s really common, especially for women, to not work hard enough to get results. If you aren’t working, your body isn’t being forced to change. This doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself at the gym every day, but you do need to lift enough weight and exercise at an appropriate intensity level. To learn more about whether you are lifting enough weight, click here. Also, if you’re not lifting at all, click here to find out why weight lifting should be a part of every exercise program.
5. Recover fully
Complementary to challenging yourself is allowing yourself to fully recover after a workout. If you’re not recovered for your next workout, you’re going to end up over-stressing your body and this is not only going to hinder results, but can increase your risk of injury.
Cardio at a low to moderate intensity can be done almost every day. Weight lifting, on the other hand, requires at least a day (and often times 2 or more days) of recovery. Weight lifting should therefore not be done for the same muscles on consecutive days. High-intensity interval training also should not be performed on consecutive days.
It’s advisable to take a recovery week between phases or programs during which you perform the same exercise routine, but at a lower intensity, for one week before starting a new program.
6. Be patient
Lastly, be patient! Long-term results take time. There is no “quick fix” to sustainable weight loss or weight gain. If you’re only one month into your program and you’re not happy with your results, adjust the program and don’t give up! Don’t compare your results to other people’s. We all experience results on a different timeline – some faster or slower than others – and that’s ok. Stick with it, and you WILL get there.
Let me know in the comments what you think or if you have any other tips! Feel free to like and share if you found this article helpful!!