If you embark on a fitness and nutrition program and you don’t lose any weight, is that program working?
This is a great question. And at face value the answer feels like it should be "no", especially when you’re being mindful, continually checking in with yourself, and asking “how’s this working for me?” If you’re not losing weight, should you try something different? Why waste your time doing something if it’s not working?
Seems logical. In fact I love this logic. I love mindfulness and being able to constantly make adjustments based on outcomes. If you're blindly following a plan just because, you could be completely wasting your time by not getting anywhere. No progress or change. Or even worse, that plan could be detrimental in some way. It might be hurting you or developing bad habits.
It's important that we're constantly making adjustments and being wise with our programs.
However, is weight loss the only outcome to pursue? For most, this is the only result that matters.
Being Smaller. Women usually want to be smaller, AT ALL COST. Success is when they have a before picture of them being “big”, and an after picture of them “small”. Small is desired, big is shunned. Fitting into a smaller size. Having smaller thighs, smaller butt. Taking up less space in this world.
If, for some horrible God-forsaken reason, a program makes them bigger in some way, they should abandon ship and run the other direction fast.
Popular Culture. We see this all the time with many popular diet programs. We see before and after photos and usually the pounds lost championed. For dramatic effect, we’ll sometimes see those abandoned pounds visually represented as sacks of potatoes, dumbbells, even stacks of canned goods. It’s stunning and impressive. I mean, who isn’t amazed at someone carrying 5 sacks of chicken feed, recalling when they used to weigh that much?!
But here’s the problem. Something subliminal happens. The wow factor is merely tied to poundage lost. We feel that unless we see significant weight lost, we won’t experience our own wow factor. We won’t experience a transformation worth talking about.
A program is not worth doing or pursuing unless we can champion our own before and after transformation. We want dramatic results, darn it!
But, as I already stated, is weight loss the only outcome worth pursuing?
Real Life Scenarios. I received an email from a client one day, and it was very similar to others I had received in the past. She did not have a new concern, although it was valid.
She explained that after doing my workouts and following my eating guidelines for several months, she felt great. She had never felt so good. She had energy and strength. She was confident in her body’s abilities and her knowledge of fitness and nutrition. She was down almost two sizes in clothing and felt leaner and trimmer. Her friends were noticing her changes and remarking on how healthy and fabulous she looked. BUT, when she climbed on the scale, it still said the exact same number as when she started. She had not lost a single ounce. In fact, she was teetering on the edge of gaining weight!
So let me ask you this: is her program working?
Here is another situation I had with a similar mom. She had been diligently doing my programs for a long time, getting extremely strong, fit and healthy. She was entirely healed from her two pregnancies and no longer experienced back pain that used to plague her. She was trim and looked great, but her thighs went up a size. She actually got larger through her legs and glutes, while trimmer everywhere else. As a mesomorph, her body’s muscles craved hypertrophy. So not only did she not lose weight, but she actually got bigger. She was stronger than ever, but her pant size was larger.
So let me ask you this: is her program working?
These are hard, real-life scenarios that most women have to think about. Especially, when you are convinced that weight loss, getting smaller, is the only acceptable outcome.
The Cost of Weight Loss. As you’re probably already deducing, I do NOT believe weight loss is the only acceptable measure of success. Yes, it can be one measurable outcome for a program, but it’s not the only one. And in fact, in my experience working with women, I think it should be the last, least important outcome.
Weight loss should be the last and least important outcome.
Why? When “losing weight” is at the forefront of a woman’s mind, discernment easily fades away. You easily fail to see any other victories. You fail to put a premium on health. You fail to put a premium on muscles and strength. And you fail to put a premium on how you feel. Skinny and small and LESS is the only thing that matters.
Yes, there are a lot of fitness and nutrition programs out there that can help you successfully drop the pounds, a lot of them...and fast. But at what cost?
Most of these programs involve severe restriction, strict dieting, and extreme workout programs. What’s the cost on your body to restrict it so severely? In many of these cases, a person’s metabolism can be so heavily tampered with that it takes years to recover. Some have termed this phenomenon the “Biggest Loser” metabolic syndrome. It can wreck your metabolism making it nearly impossible to function in a healthy way. You drop weight ridiculously fast, but you gain it back faster and usually greater.
But, the other cost is greater. It’s the mental, emotional and spiritual cost. It’s believing so deeply that smaller is better. It’s internalizing the lies that you are only valuable at a certain size. It’s developing an extremely damaging relationship with food. It’s idolizing a body type, shape and weight. It’s detesting the body God gave you.
When losing weight is the only goal of your fitness and nutrition program, you will become jaded, misguided and heartbroken. It’s that serious, friend.
Well then, what? So where do we go from here?
We cannot ignore the fact that many people are truly overweight, in an unhealthy way. If having excess fat on your body is preventing you from being your strongest and healthiest self, then yes, let’s take care of those fat pounds. But don’t let "weight loss" be the only outcome that matters to you! It can’t be the only thing. You have to go about your journey in a way that doesn't just get the weight off, but also repairs your relationship with food, exercise and your body.
In fact, let's not even call it a weight loss journey, ok?
Here are other, more important outcomes, that should be at the top of your goal list:
Be stronger. Like really strong. Learn good lifting technique and lift weights. Start lifting heavier weights. If you can lift 10’s well, try doing 15’s, then try 20’s, then 25’s. The upper limit of your own strength is higher than you think.
Will you gain muscle? Yes!! And that’s what makes you stronger. Will this muscle be big? Maybe, depending on your body type. But don’t shy away from muscles and definitely don’t shy away from being as strong as you possibly can. More muscle means a better metabolism and a healthier functioning body. (Having a broken metabolism is very closely related to a body that has very little muscle mass.)
Being stronger is my favorite goal for women. How is this measured? Several ways. Pushing a bigger set of dumbbells. Doing more push-ups or pull-ups. Successfully executing a technically challenging exercise. These are all indicators that you’re getting stronger.
Be consistently healthy with your choices. This is a great goal. I like this one because it will eventually lead to a stronger, trimmer and fitter body. Commit to consistency. Give yourself a minimum number of workouts per week, no matter what (and this could be just one!). Become a veggie lover, consistently seeking out salads, roasted vegetables and all other forms of vegetables. Become the girl that drinks a bunch of water, all the time. Be that girl!
Studies have shown that yo-yo dieting and having spurts of life that are healthy and then drastically unhealthy is more damaging to your body than just always being unhealthy! The on-off-on-off is extremely damaging.
Having the goal of sticking with a healthy lifestyle for longer than 3 months is a way better goal than "losing weight". This will effect your long-term health and body composition more than anything.
Be whole. This sounds a little “woo-woo”, but if your body is broken, how little it weighs is irrelevant.
I’ll chat with moms that are dead set on losing their baby weight, only to learn that they suffer from chronic back pain, have hip issues, and never learned how to heal properly postpartum. I don’t care how skinny and trim you are if you can’t move well!
Shift the goal from “losing the baby weight” to being whole again. Having a core that fires and functions well, no more pain, no more limitations. Of course, having a lot of excess weight can impact the way your body moves, but for most moms, they’re caught up on the last 10-15 pounds, instead of considering how well their body functions.
I'm sure you've heard the term "skinny fat", which is definitely not okay. If you're small, skinny and see a good number on the scale, it means nothing if your body is still broken.
"But are you strong?" Don’t get stuck on weight loss. It’s not the only outcome that matters. In fact, it really doesn't matter as much as we think it does.
Recently we had a server at a restaurant that was a large woman. She was tall but also maybe a little heavy in the chest and hips. While observing her, I just knew that she felt the pressure to be smaller. I could tell that she had probably been tempted (maybe even tried) to do weight loss programs, attracted by the before and after pictures of women looking skinnier.
I wanted to sit down with her and just ask her "But are you healthy? Is your heart good? Your blood values, your metabolism, your energy, your immune system...all good? Are you strong, like really strong? Can you physically do what you want to do? Do you feel whole? Can you function well without any pain? And do you feel pretty comfortable in your own skin?"
If so, screw the weight loss programs! Don't cow-tow to popular culture that wants to make you smaller. Just be healthy, whole, strong, and comfortable. That's enough!
So friend, keep asking yourself these questions:
If the answers are all yeses, you’re doing great. What else really matters? Ditch the number goal and keep pursuing the right things.
And remember, if you’re on a good program, one that is moving you in the direction of saying yes to all the questions above, it’s successful. Your program is working, and it's probably a very good one. Even if the scale doesn't change.
"...the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
Are you not strong? Not healthy? Not whole?
Megan P. Dahlman
Hi friend! I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Wife to Scott, and Mom to two crazy boys, Calvin & Peter. I train hard, eat well, rest just enough to keep going, and do my best to maintain a heavenly perspective. I'd love to coach you to do the same. Cheers!
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