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Once you’ve launched head first into your transformation journey, the nest step is to measuring your results at frequent intervals to check if your plan is working and making any adjustments necessary to get to your goal before your deadline.
Monitoring progress is an important component of a successful transformation. If you don’t make yourself accountable and take responsibility for your results, you easily get confused from conflicting information, start doubting yourself and could end up wasting months, or even years stuck in a plateau without making headway. Honest tracking of your results can be painful, but if you avoid those scales in an attempt to avoid disappointment, then you’re simply hiding in your comfort zone, and falling short of your true potential.
Accountability Equals Action
Accountability is a very powerful and under-utilised tool for providing consistency, adherence and lasting results to your transformation. By measuring and recording your progress, you have internal accountability. When you report those actions to others, you get the additional layer of external accountability.
Successful companies keep their staff productive and performing by measuring and tracking everything including work reports, monthly reviews and annual tests. That same successful system can be applied to your nutrition and fitness. If you know someone is keeping an eye on your nutrition journals, weight trends and workout diaries, I bet you would stick to the program better.
So who are you accountable to? Who do you answer to? If you can’t think of anyone, then get someone quick!
Probability of Success
Statistics taken from the American Society of Training and Development
Imagine you make a pact to transform yourself and your physique, but you don’t tell anybody, you keep it to yourself. It then becomes very easy to make an excuse on yourself to skip a workout one day. But if you make that same pact with someone else, now it makes it hard for you to bail on them. We can bail on ourselves all day long, but it would be pretty crappy of us if we were to bail on our friend’s progress in a shared journey. You don’t want to be the cause of someone else missing out on their goal do you? That’s why having responsibility and accountability to a workout partner will keep you honest to your commitments.
If you’re having a bad day, stress at work, wife and kids nagging, you text your mate, “I’m so worn out mate. Dunno if I can come.” They message back straight away, “You’ve said you’d meet at the gym, don’t let me down now, I’ll meet you there.” Sometimes they may need to drag you to the gym kicking and screaming all the way. But after the workout, you are better for it because of your gym buddy kicking you into action. That role can switch back the other way too, where you are motivating them and holding them accountable on their bad days, and together you get the job done between you.
Workout buddies don’t just get you to the training session, they enhance the training itself. A good workout buddy lights that fire under your ass to make you train faster, lift heavier, run further and push harder than you would have done on your own. Then it continues beyond the workout, where you keep tabs of each others progress, and if you can help keep each other on track with nutrition, adherence and consistency with the transformation overall. You help each other out to make sure no one is left behind during the fight for success.
How do you get a gym partner? When you do your training, notice who else seems to be there at similar times to you. See someone working out by themselves? Take that opportunity to go introduce yourself, make a friend, and a new fitness companion.
“I did it because of something I’d seen in Franco, which was his incredible willpower. [..] I knew he could go all the way. I knew too that he was the training partner who could weather the ferocious workouts necessary in the coming year. [..] It was important for me to be with Franco during a time when I wanted to adhere to a grueling workout schedule.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold believed he would be more successful with a training partner pushing him to train hard. Arnold trained without Franco the first year after he arrived in California, but he soon felt something was missing, and he convinced Joe Weider to bring Franco to the USA in 1969.
Arnold and Franco also became very good friends outside the gym. They started a successful bricklayer business together, and Franco even served as the best man at Schwarzenegger’s wedding with Maria Shriver in 1986.
So if Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the greatest lifters of all times, became successful using training partners, then why the heck are you trying to get strong and ripped all by yourself?
The first time you seriously take the time to log your food intake for an entire day, you might get quite a shock. Most people a stunned when they realise how much they’ve been actually eating when they first add it all up. Nutrition logs are excellent accountability tools, especially when you share it online or with a partner. You’ll be amazed how your behaviour and attitude to nutrition changes.
We’ve all had those moments where we get a break in the day and realise we haven’t eaten all day. Suddenly the only options available seem to be fast food, cabinet comforters and surgery shakes. These are the moments when we are caught feeling impulsive, vulnerable and likely to make a choice we will quickly regret. If instead you spent two minutes at the start of the day (or the day beforehand) planning out the next days nutrition, you are in a position where you can make logical, sound nutritional choices. By selecting, planning and preparing all your meals in a log ahead of time, you get to that point in the day where you’re hungry, and your meal is all ready prepared and waiting for you. The decision has already been made and you can enjoy the pride of staying on track, instead of suffering the regret of giving into impulsive cravings.
When it comes to reaching your fitness goals, activity trackers are awesome for tracking activity, exercise, food, weight, sleep and beyond. Twenty-five million fitness trackers such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit or Nike+ FuelBand will be sold worldwide this year.
Retention rates have also shown to been excellent. Being able to see at a glance how your resting heart rate changes in response to sleep, exercise or nutrition can be oddly gripping. And this rolling data allows the device to feed you new insights, keeping up the novelty appeal. The social and gamification elements also help to maintain interest levels. Don’t underestimate these little accountability buddies. I’ve had clients entire lives become transformed for the better from the day their little wearable arrived in the mail.
A word of warning here. Fitness trackers are generally unreliable for estimating energy expenditure. Do not use variations in your energy expenditure to determine your calorie intake. It’s just not realistic in the long term, and trying to micro-manage a diet like this is unsustainable and a recipe for disaster. Just keep your caloric intake the same each day, and treat any day of high activity simply as a bonus.
Lisa Cadmus-Bertram of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, took a group of 51 overweight, postmenopausal women and gave 25 of them Fitbits, while the remaining 26 used pedometers. The women with the Fitbits liked wearing the wristbands and using the website to monitor their progress. After a month, they had increased their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by an hour a week. “Fitness trackers combine the key ingredients for motivating people to reach their health goals,” says Cadmus-Bertram. These are: “self-monitoring, setting goals, getting frequent feedback on your progress, revising goals as needed, social support and developing a sense of self-efficacy.”
How to Track Progress
Remember back in the “Mindset and Motivation” section we talked about our brain like the autopilot for an aircraft? Let’s continue that metaphor and say our on board GPS positioning equipment is like us tracking our progress.
You see, an aircraft never travels in a perfectly straight line. Even with the most sophisticated guidance systems, a certain amount of “drift” will always occur due to the effects of the wind. Using a variety of different feedback tools such as radar, radio beacons, geographical landmarks and aeronautical charts, the navigation equipment in the cockpit picks up the slight change in course. The pilot can then adjust the plane’s direction. As pilots in command of our own transformation journey, we need to continuously check our position to ensure we are still heading to our destination, and we haven’t inadvertently drifted off course.
Tools for Monitoring Progress
Recommended Tracking Methods
Optional Tracking Methods
Methods to Avoid
Interpret your Results
OK, back to our flight analogy. Have you ever noticed how some people take a long time to “get off the ground?” They just procrastinate and delay their departure while they wait for the “perfect conditions” to fly. A little rain or wind, and they quickly return to the departure gate. Others are able to get off the ground, but as soon as they hit any “turbulence”, they give up and turn back. Some can even manage to get up into the cruise and start coasting comfortably, making significant progress, but the minute they find themselves off course, they too join the quitters instead of simply adjusting their direction.
Each of these people have made the fatal mistake of interpreting their results as failure. Because they believed they had failed, they gave up. Can you imagine if a pilot “quit” every time there was a delay, turbulence, or a slight deviation in the aircraft’s course? No one would ever get anywhere! The key to your success in your transformation is accepting one thing, there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.
Optimal Rate of Progress
Understanding “Transformation Turbulence”
Weight Changes - Expectations vs Reality
- Expected Results
- Actual Results
- Scale Weight Readings
- Expected Results
- Actual Results
- Scale Weight Readings
Take off and Climb – First Few Weeks
Most people see results immediately just by cleaning up their diets and starting a consistent exercise program. Others have a more difficult time getting up to “takeoff speed.” Like the aircraft that uses nearly half its fuel just to get off the ground, overcoming inertia and gaining momentum are not easy.
Part of this is mental, part is physical. Mentally, if you’re off to a slow start, you just haven’t given yourself enough time to develop habits. Habits are necessary to get you into “auto pilot mode,” therefore, you could be unconsciously making poor food choices or missing workouts by old negative habit patterns. Reviewing the section on “Mindset and Motivation” and following the instructions will help you overcome old conditioning. Keep at it!
Physically, you may be suffering from a slow metabolism, especially if you’ve gone on and off crash diets for years or you haven’t developed any muscle through weight training. Be patient; your metabolism will gradually increase in time by following the nutrition and training guidelines in this toolkit.
The calorie targets that you got when we set up your nutrition program are based on averages for someone of your age, height, weight, gender, body composition. The activity multiplier we used was also an estimation of your caloric burn each day. Therefore, this initial caloric target is only an estimation, and so your initial progress may be slower or faster than ideal.
Changes in Carbs
Glycogen comes from the carbs we eat, 1g of glycogen holds 3g of water and is stored in the muscles, waiting to be used as energy. Our muscles are made up of 70 – 80% water. Some of the water comes under the skin, but most of it goes into the muscle. When you change your carbohydrate intake, it will bring with it a change in water balance in the body.
If you eat fewer carbs than normal, which you probably will when you start dieting, your body will hold less water. The scale weight will plummet giving you the false impression that you’ve lost fat. It is possible in this way to drop weight without being in a caloric deficit.
Staying on Course – Deviations, Fluctuations and Plateaus
You might think that once you’re set up in the cruise with consistent nutrition and training, you can sit back and relax. Unfortunately, you’ve got to be ever vigilant of approaching storms, headwinds and deviations if you want to stay on course. Here are some reasons why your weight progress may fluctuate, slow down or even stall completely.
Deviations off course – Inconsistency, underreporting and mistakes
INCONSISTENCY – Say for instance that you stay consistent on your plan the first five days of the week, but then blow your weekend with alcohol, dinner and desserts. It’s entirely possible to cancel out an entire five days progress with a weekend of binging. Consistency is the key to success and it’s one that many are yet to master. Weekends and special occasions are part of life, but are no excuse for flying off course.
UNDERREPORTING – It’s actually very common for people to underestimate their calorie intake by up to 50%. People think they are getting their calories right, but they underestimate portion size, and forget to account for drinks, sauces, cooking oils and mini snacks.
MISTAKES – Mistakes are natural. Mistakes are how we learn. When we stop making mistakes, we stop learning and growing. If you’re not getting the progress you want, you haven’t failed – you’ve simply produced a result. As long as you’re taking action, whatever result you produce is “feedback.” If you realize you didn’t give it your all, don’t beat yourself up, simply re-focus and recommit for the next week. Re-reading and re-writing your goals will help. Click here to review goal setting.
Turbulence – Fluctuations
You can expect your weight to fluctuate due to daily changes in water weight, stress levels, sleep quality, salt intake, meal timing, digestive contents, and more. Accept that this will occur, if you manage your stress, get enough quality sleep and stay consistent with your program, you’ll be able to ride it out and keep progressing.
High carb meals. Ever had a night of eating you regretted? Let me put your mind at ease. If you eat more carbs than normal (like from a big evening meal), your body will hold more water giving you the impression that you’ve gained a lot of fat. This is actually just a temporary fluctuation in water balance and your weight will come down again when you resume your diet.
24hr Weight Fluctuations - (Real example recordings I took one day)
- Recorded Weight (kg)
- Recorded Weight (kg)
Headwinds – Plateaus
Your body continually adapts to the stresses it’s exposed to including training and caloric intake. If you don’t change a thing in your program, your weight loss will automatically slow down over time as your body attempts to stabilise and prevent any further weight changes. It’s like fling into stronger headwinds as you get closer to your destination. So, how does this occur?
Metabolic slow down. Scientists call it “adaptive thermogenesis,” but you might know it as “starvation mode.” The calorie deficit triggers hormonal changes that decrease daily energy needs in an attempt to stop you from starving to death. Caloric restriction obviously isn’t a starvation, but unfortunately our bodies can’t tell the difference between prolonged caloric restriction and starvation, so it’s something we have to deal with. The harder you diet, the faster your metabolism adapts. If you stick to the GeorgeHealth recommended rate of weight loss, you will minimise metabolic adaptions.
Reduced Body Weight. When you’re carrying around less body weight, you are going to require less calories to do so. Say, you’ve been progressing in your program and you’re now 10kg leaner, that’s like lifting a 10kg dumbbell off your body; it’s not going to require as much energy to move around.
Reductions in NEAT. Remember NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)? This is all energy burned during normal daily activity. As we continue in a calorie deficit, we have reduced energy levels and can feel lethargic. Fidgeting, moving around, and our motivation to take stairs vs elevator etc, changes when we are in a caloric deficit. Try to keep your activity levels up as you progress. Fitness trackers are great to help monitor this. If you haven’t read about NEAT yet, here is the link.
Water retention. Metabolic adaptation is not a sudden switch. So, if you have been consistent with your nutrition, weight loss has been steady for a while and the scale suddenly stops moving, there’s a good chance there is some water retention going on. As your fat cells empty out, the space can be replaced with water, which can mask fat losses. The best thing to do in this case is to remain patient, and if sleep quality is poor, or stress high, then work on improving those areas first. More on this in the adaptions section.
Final Approach and Landing – The last few pounds
Landing a plane is almost always a lot harder than taking off, just like the last ten pounds are almost always harder to lose compared to the first. This is why six pack shredded abs are such a rare sight.
As you start to get very lean, or have been in a calorie deficit for a prolonged time, your body will try harder and harder to hold onto fat stores. From a survival point of view, your body always wants some spare body fat in the tank in case of emergency, even though in today’s modern world this requirement isn’t necessary.
Leptin (your “anti-starvation” hormone) is a hormone released by your fat cells to signal your current levels of stored fuel (body fat). If calories are reduced and body fat levels fall, your leptin levels also decrease accordingly. This signals your brain to increase appetite and signals to your thyroid to slow down metabolism. You’re also at a higher risk of muscle decomposition as your body tries to reduce caloric expenditure (this can be minimised with proper weight training). See the link below for a full article on leptin and the use of refeed days. Alternatively, click here to learn how processed foods and sugar can interfere with leptin signalling and lead to fat storage.