Workouts can feel like a triumph, but the reality of getting faster, stronger, or thinner, is a lot of completely mundane consistency. If it were easy to make the right diet and exercise choices every time and everyday, a lot more people would be 100% happy with their physical fitness.
When my friends and I reference losing weight before a trip or an event, we joke about eating nothing but kale and raw almonds. Effective dieting and exercising shouldn’t be that strict, of course, but when I try to just “be healthier most of the time” I don’t see any progress. As many health experts have outlined, most people eat more and workout less than they think they do: their 80/20 is more like 50/50, and the total calories in is still more than the calories out.
This year, I’ve been trying hard not to make the same mistakes, while also not becoming a kale-and-raw-almonds-crazy-person. I’ve decided the best way to navigate this is with compromise. Here are some of the ways I’ve been hindering my progress and the compromises I’ve made to stay positive and on track.
Roadblock #1: Eating out on the weekends.
The Challenge: Eating diet dinners at home 7 days a week means less time with my boyfriend and friends, and less joy in general. There’s no way I can skip all dinners out without losing my sense of self, but if I treat the weekends like all-bets-are-off, I might as well not be dieting.
The Compromise: I don’t have to eat 100% diet-friendly-foods all weekend, but I still need to workout at 100% capacity. This is both logical and psychological: the workouts ease some of the higher calorie intake (you can eat back ALL your calorie deficit on the weekends if you go all out), and they also mean I have fitness momentum going into the new week. I’m not saying that my Sunday Soul Cycle negates my Sunday eggs benedict, but it’s a lot better than falling completely off the wagon every week.
Roadblock #2: Carbs are delicious.
The Challenge: I love carbs; carbs are my favorite. But if you’ve researched more than a few weight-loss success stories, you quickly realize that reducing or eliminating refined carbohydrates is a major element of most major diets, as well as a a recommend health change for ALL eaters.
The Compromise: Carbs actually serve an important purpose in that they provide fast, easily absorbed energy for the body. This is why carbs can cause so much weight gain: if you don’t use that energy quickly (ie. when you eat a ton of carbs in the late evening) it simply becomes fat. But, if you’re gearing up for a hard workout or active day, carbs are exactly what you need. If I want to enjoy a bowl of pasta or a beautiful white-bread sandwich, I do so early on a day when I’m planning to be really active. That way, I’m actually utilizing all those delicious carb calories, and avoiding any food guilt because it’s helping my body function better.
Roadblock #3: Rewarding myself after a great workout with food
The Challenge: After a tough workout, especially if I’m trying new things or doing HIIT (both good ideas!) it’s natural to feel hungry and also feel deserving of a treat. Both of those feelings are totally accurate, but the result can be a too big and/or unhealthy meal. Eating way more than I’ve actually burned is a major pitfall for me, along with most people, as it’s extremely difficult to estimate calories – both in and out.
The Compromise: Using a heart rate monitor is really helpful for gauging how much I should actually be eating post-workout, but it doesn’t help with the difficulty of guessing calories consumed. My main compromise here is shifting away from food as a reward. Obviously, eat after your workout, but think of it as fuel (which is true), not as a prize. Come up with other ways to #treatyoself after accomplishing a fitness goal: my favorite is new workout clothes, but getting a pedicure or having a luxurious bath also feel especially good when you’re tired or sore.
Roadblock #4: Speaking of soreness: being too sore to workout.
The Challenge: Working out makes everyone sore, plain and simple. If I’m doing something new, or pushing myrself especially hard, I’m guaranteed to feel it the next day. (Note: not feeling sore is not necessarily a sign of not working hard). When I’m really sore, the last thing I want to do is workout again.
The Compromise: When you’re very sore, it’s a major signal that those muscles need to rest and rebuild, and working out again is actually not the best idea. If you feel like this is happening all the time and resulting in too many rest days, you should probably start splitting your workouts more effectively: do upper and lower body weights on different days, or space out your HIIT cardio with lower-intensity work in between. If it’s just a one-off day of soreness and I don’t want to lose momentum, I’ll do a long yoga class so that I can stay moving and alleviate some of the discomfort by stretching.
Roadblock #5: Not seeing improvement on the scale.
The Challenge: Not seeing progress is probably the main reason I get de-motivated. One possibility, of course, is that I’m not doing as much as I think I am to cause change. But other factors might be an increase in strength training that’s causing water retention, or indeed gaining muscle. I know this intellectually, but it still sucks to watch that scale stay still.
The Compromise: Unless something on this list matches you perfectly, it’s likely that your hard work is paying off, but the scale is simply not the only way you should be tracking progress. It’s really important to take measurements and progress pictures to see changes in body composition as well as weight: Strength training will definitely change your body, but you may not see that on the scale. Make sure you’re giving yourselves multiple ways to check in, and remember that daily changes in weight are more likely due to water retention then to actual changes in body fat.