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10/08/19

What To Expect When You’re Expecting… Weight Loss

So you’ve done it. You’ve signed up for Stronger U. You’ve filled out your intake form, heard from your new coach, and begun the process of trying to wrap your brain around all that comes with counting macros. Sure, it might feel like a lot at first. I mean, who would have expected that you would need to have a scale to weigh both yourself AND your food, right? Or that food can actually be broken down into more categories than simply just saying, “it’s got calories”?

Like I said, it’s a lot. But you’re okay with it being a lot. Because you’re here to make a change. Here to learn how to eat for your life and your goals, lose weight, or simply just be able to play with your kids and grandkids for years to come. 

And it’s that whole “here to lose weight” thing that we want to talk about today. 

See, when it comes to weight loss, we tend to have outsized expectations for how it should happen. Whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, our idea of what weight loss actually looks like and how it happens is heavily influenced by things like commercials telling sweet-sounding success stories, stories from friends and family, and magazine covers that promise unbelievable results. 

We all have expectations for various things we’re going to do or try. After all, it’s those expectations that help push us along in some ways. Expectations are standards for the future. They’re part of the bargain we’re making with our time and effort. Our expectations are what we look to get back in return for spending our time and energy working on something.

But those outsized expectations in the world of weight loss tend to do more harm than good. They send the wrong message about what’s actually possible in the world of weight loss, and they create a wholly unrealistic timeline. 

For example, that magazine cover up there? Not only does it talk about losing “half your body weight without trying” it also, in a bit smaller print, mentions, “drop 28lbs in a month!

Have you ever thought about what reading a headline like that does to someone who has weight to lose and is contemplating starting a weight loss journey?

It creates an implicit expectation. It sets this unspoken standard that 28lbs in a month is what should happen when someone tries to lose weight. Because, after all, if you can make that kind of weight loss happen, thanks to some generic advice found within between the pages of a magazine, then it must be foolproof. It must be so foolproof that anything less than what the cover says is an abject failure.

And when someone doesn’t lose 28lbs in a month, how do they begin to feel? Like a failure. Like something within them is broken. Like weight loss just isn’t actually in the cards for them. Before we know it, that failure is repeated, and with each failure that self-fulfilling prophecy that weight loss just isn’t for them compounds more and more, until it’s a narrative that is almost impossible to shake. When in reality, they might’ve just needed a bit more time, a bit more effort guided in the right directions, and a supporting hand to help them along.

So why don’t we try to actually set some realistic expectations to prevent that self-fulfilling prophecy from ever becoming a reality? These aren’t expectations you’re going to read on the cover of a magazine while you’re checking out at the grocery store. These are the real expectations that nobody tells you, but they’re the expectations that we think you need to hear.

What to expect when you’re expecting… to lose weight.

1. Removing all time-focused goals is probably a good idea.

I’m all for someone wanting to lose X number of pounds by their wedding date, the big reunion, or whatever. Those sorts of external motivators can be helpful for plenty of us, especially when we need something to jump start our efforts. But you want to know the proper way to view most of the external motivators and time-focused goals we have? 

Those external motivators should be something that we use to push us to take the first step, and then they should be something that we almost completely forget about.

Now, of course I’m not telling you to forget about your wedding. I’m not a mariagel counselor, but I think that’s probably an ill-advised way to spend the months leading up to your wedding. I am saying that you need to try your best to remove this thought that “I need be at X weight by this day” because it sets the wrong expectation.

See, the reality is, we can’t actually control what the scale is going to do on a daily basis, or even a weekly basis. The scale does all kinds of funky things and it fluctuates like crazy. We can get an idea of the trends and where those trends are heading, and that’s why we like looking at the weekly averages on the spreadsheet when we do check-ins with our members. But predicting what actual numbers will show up and when they will show up? That’s predicting the future, something that we’ve never been very good at.

On top of that, it’s important to remember that the data is pretty clear on the fact that an acceptable rate of sustainable weight loss for most people looks like 1-2lbs/week, on average. Even then, that pace has a shelf-life. After all, the rate at which we lose weight is dependent upon how much weight we have to lose, how long we’ve been dieting, how aggressive in our approach we’re being, our body composition, and a whole host of other factors. If you want to compare it to the magazine cover up there, about ¼ – ½ of what was promised. See how easy it is to feel like a failure all thanks to misguided expectations?

The scale is out of our control. You might see it read a few pounds higher one day simply because you ate later at night than normal and ate some saltier foods than normal. You might’ve kept all your numbers in check along the way, but still, the scale is higher. Does that mean you’ve actually gained any body fat in those 12 hours since you last ate and then stepped on the scale? Of course not. But you still can’t control the number that scale is going to show.

What you can control though is the decisions you make, and those decisions lead to the numbers we see on the scale. And the more we can control our decisions, the more we’ll ultimately get to a place where we’re happy with what we see on the scale and in the mirror.

2. You’re going to screw up at some point.

If you ever talk to someone who has screwed up on their diet there are a couple of things that become very clear. 1) Guilt can be a seriously powerful feeling. When we feel bad about going off plan, more often than not we feel bad about it. 2) For some inexplicable reason, people like to think they’re robotic automatons when it comes to their decision making, never capable of making a less-than-ideal choice.

Now, obviously we’re not robots. Just as obvious though: we will screw up at some point anytime we try to change something about our lives. That’s a fact you have to accept before you can ever actually move forward. Weight loss is a world that can feel hopelessly complicated at times. We have environmental factors to deal with, social pressures, societal expectations, our very own cravings and temptations, and then add in the fact that we seem to get more confused about what foods are actually good for us with each passing week. Of course you’re bound to screw this up at some point.

But does that make you a screw up? Of course not. It makes you a human. And yet, for some reason, we still have this expectation that we’ll never screw up. That we’ll never have an off day. That each day is going to be 0-0-0 with our numbers and each check-in is going to show us being exactly 1.5lbs down. Then those things don’t happen and all of the sudden the downward spiral starts. We’re screwed up and ruined all of our hard work, when in reality, it might just be an expectations issue. 

Going off of your plan because of an unexpected happy hour, a big night out, a wedding, or simply just because you didn’t stick to the plan for the day offers nothing more than an opportunity. It gives you a chance to look back the next day and think about the choices you made, identify 1-2 areas where you’d like to improve that approach in the future, and then move on with the knowledge that you can make those improvements. Going off plan isn’t a referendum on you as a human being. 

3. People will probably say things to you.

Friends will make comments like, “Oh so you’re still on that diet?” Family will say things like, “Can you eat this on your diet?” And co-workers will probably say something along the lines of, “I really need to lose weight, but I just can’t imagine not being able to eat at Cinnabon every day.

And really, that might just be the beginning of it. When we start a diet and start trying to lose weight, it seems like people come out of the woodwork to give us their unsolicited thoughts and opinions on what we’re trying, everything they’ve ever tried, and maybe even why they don’t think what we’re doing will work.

This is something we should expect, even if it’s not something we will always enjoy. Being on the receiving end of these kinds of comments doesn’t always feel the best, and if it’s a completely unexpected thing, a negative comment from someone close to us can be the trigger we need to throw in the towel.

But here’s the thing that we have to remember when people make comments to us: in the vast majority of cases, when someone says something to us about our food choices or our diets, they’re simply projecting their own thoughts or biases onto you. Very rarely does someone’s comment actually have anything to do with you, instead, it has more to do with how what you’re doing has made them feel. 

Weight loss is a really fickle and complicated process. It’s not easy at all. When someone starts to work at it and see success, that’s not just something that they and they alone can see. Everyone else in their world can see it to. They can see the decisions that change on a daily basis, and they can see the physical changes that follow. That makes all of the witnesses to this change feel some type of way, because they feel some type of way about themselves and what they’ve attempted in the past. This inevitably invites a bunch of comments, some of which we can laugh or shrug off, but others that might stick with us for weeks on end.

Which is why I think the more we can recognize that this is normal and doesn’t actually have anything to do with us, the better.

4. You know that thing you’re hoping you don’t ever have to actually do on this program? It’s probably a good idea for you to try it. 

Does food prepping sound like a nightmare? Grocery shopping sound like an exercise in getting as miserable as possible? Or maybe planning a day out in MyFitnessPal sounds like as much fun as jumping into a pit of jellyfish. No matter what it is, we all have something like it. We all have these “things” that it seems like everyone does on their way to being successful in their weight loss journey that we just couldn’t possibly imagine ourselves doing. 

Well, that thing that you just can’t possibly imagine yourself doing? That’s something that’s probably worth trying at some point or another.

It’s often said that success leads clues, and here at Stronger U, we’re fortunate enough to see a lot of the same clues show up over and over. It just so happens that some of those same clues are things that more than a few of our members swore they’d never ever do (how many people had this thought around using a food scale?). 

I don’t think that you need to try whatever it might be simply because I think it works. People have lost weight never stepping on the scale, and they’ve lost weight stepping on the scale every day. They’ve lost weight ordering all their meals from a meal-prep service and by grocery shopping for every meal. 

The point is that we all have barriers. Things that exist to keep us in our old shells and stay our same selves. But staying the same isn’t why we’re trying to lose weight, right? So it stands to reason that trying new things, things that the old us might hate, is a good exercise. It sets the right expectations. The expectation that we’re willing to give something a try, even if we hate it or even if we think we’ll be bad at it. Because in that trying, we provide ourselves more opportunities to learn. 

We all have a thing. A thing that we see a lot of people doing on their journey, and we – for some reason – just can’t imagine ourselves ever doing that. Give that thing a try this week. Lean into the idea that you’re doing something you don’t think you need to do. And give it a try because if everything you were doing up to this point was already working, you probably wouldn’t be here in the first place. 

And all along the way, as you try new things, weather the comments you get from the people in your life, manage your expectations. Don’t let the too-good-to-be-true promises of magazines tell you what you should expect to happen. Create your own expectations. Expectations grounded in who you are, what matters for you, and what you want to accomplish. Because when you’re the one writing your definition of success, it’s impossible to fail. 

Tanner Baze
Content Manager