If you are considering making big changes to your diet and exercise programme to lose a significant amount of weight, or go down the body transformation route and get ultra lean, then you are about to embark on a journey that tends to be marketed as 100% positive.
It is often thought that starchy carbs and whole grains are needed for energy, but reducing carbohydrate intake based on your daily activity level can really help to boost your energy as you are not being controlled by sugar spikes.
Yes, you will face challenges of hard work and willpower that is involved in losing weight and leaning up, that will be satisfying to overcome, but anyone who has gone through this journey will know that there is good, bad, and ugly on the way to success. This is not an article to put you off, but as a health and fitness professional (who has embarked on change myself) I believe it’s my duty to help you understand all sides of the coin, and to remind you that your mental health is as important as your physical health.
There are many positive aspects to finding a goal, sticking to a plan (even if it’s all-consuming), and achieving your results.
It is often thought that starchy carbs and whole grains are needed for energy, but reducing carbohydrate intake overall (as well as calculating your protein and fat needs) and planning the amount based on your daily activity level (rather than being driven by habitual eating) can really help to boost your energy, as you are not being controlled by sugar spikes. Keeping well hydrated through plenty of water, herbal teas, and vegetables also has a positive effect in your energy levels, as will the improved sleep by making sure you are not over-eating before bed.
Improved Gut Function
Again, no real surprises here. Before making significant changes to an eating plan it’s common to be consuming far too many grains and refined sugar, which may result in lethargy, bloating, and weight gain – even if your exercise levels have been consistently high. Diets such as Paleo or the Auto-Immune Protocol can help get your gut functioning better, which in turn can improve digestion and skin quality, keep your bowel movements regular, and reduce weight and girth around your middle due to less bloating.
A Great Sense Of Achievement
There is no doubt about it, it is a great personal feeling when you prove that you have both the strength to push yourself physically in the gym past your normal boundaries and the mental toughness to tackle your diet and create new positive habits in the kitchen. There is also the pride you feel when other people notice that you are doing something positive and perhaps begin to see you as a role model.
This is not just in the gym, but for life. The positive feeling you get from hitting your goals will spill into other aspects of your life – you may even get a new ‘zest’ for life.
Yes, I’m afraid if anyone tells you that these types of goals and programmes come without negatives, then they are either lying or haven’t actually experienced it for themselves.
Although it is important to ingrain new habits and healthy behaviours into your routine, there’s a fine line between healthy and obsessive and the latter will be detrimental to your mental health in the long term. Watch out for:
- Weighing yourself all the time. It’s not necessary to stand on the scales three times a day, seven days a week. A weigh-in once a week or even once a fortnight should suffice.
- Obsessing with carbohydrate content and reading food labels. Early on into a dietary change this may be necessary, but do make the effort to learn how you feel after eating certain foods rather than obsess over labels. Even better, just try to cook from scratch more often.
- Always thinking about your next meal. Planning your days around your diet is no way to enjoy life.
- Beating yourself up after every slip up. This will be incredibly damaging long-term, so you need to learn how to pick yourself up after a bad day without giving up or resorting to extremes to correct the mistake.
Narcissism Can Creep In
It is very easy to become totally obsessed with how you look. Constantly checking yourself out in the mirror, checking your profile view, asking your partner or close friends how you look, comparing old photos, and judging yourself against the way other people look, are behaviours you’ll want to nip in the bud quickly or you will soon become very unhappy.
Becoming A Bit Reclusive
Now, I think it’s totally normal – and necessary – to moderate your social life while attempting to challenge yourself with a fitness and nutrition goal; indeed it’s 100% essential to give up booze for a period of time. But if you find yourself avoiding people or social occasions so that you don’t have to make choices about food, or because it could get in the way of your next workout, then it’s time to take a reality check. Of course you need to get rid of negative influences if they are making you unhealthy, and during your new programme you may even find a new group of friends who embrace a healthier, more active life, but ultimately you need to find a balance or life will just pass you by while you’re in the gym.
Haters Are Going To Hate
By this I mean that there are some people out there who are never happy for you – or anyone, probably. When you put yourself out there in the public domain and let people know you are trying to achieve something (e.g. posting pictures and updates to help keep you motivated and on track), there will always be people who criticise you. You haven’t lost enough; you could do more; I can’t see any difference; you’re mad for doing it; it’s not normal; etc. You can’t avoid this, so just be aware that if you’re taking the brave step of pushing yourself physically to the next level, you will have to deal with haters in some form. If you can thicken your skin and deal with it, then you’ll have no problems; if you are a sensitive soul, my advice would be to keep your goals private and don’t tell too many people, so that you can enjoy the ride for yourself.
Have you gone through a period of extreme diet or exercise change? What were your experiences? If you have anything to add or advice please feel free to comment below.