There’s nothing quite like the excitement, hope, and motivation you feel when embarking on a new fitness and nutrition plan.
Whether it’s fueled by a desire to boost confidence, achieve a new body composition goal, feel stronger, optimize health, or perform better, one thing I’ve learned over the last 15 years of working with clients is that how you start a program can play a big role in the outcome and results at the finish.
If you find that you’re frequently starting and stopping approaches — or if you’ve been trying various methods without success — consider the dos and don’ts below before you begin your next program.
Excitement can wane quickly if you feel like there’s a challenge or misstep right out of the gate. It doesn’t have to be complicated or take an extended amount of time, but do be sure to be set up logistically ahead of time to make day one a breeze — and to set a can-do tone for the rest of the program.
Does the program require exercise equipment or access to a health club? Are there nutrition components that you need to plan and shop for? Will you need a blender to make shakes or to-go food containers for packed lunches?
While it might sound obvious, it’s essential to have what you need on-hand and accessible before you start in order to successfully implement the recommendations.
DO: Ask questions
Clearing up any confusion on what to do or how to do it can help your confidence soar, which in turn will help you stick with a given approach more consistently.
Often, I’ve found that people may not ask for help because they feel embarrassed. However, if you have a question, chances are that it’s a common one. If there’s a coach or point of contact to guide you, use them. If there’s group support or a community forum to ask questions from others, leverage that too.
Any health and nutrition program is always more effective (and more fun) when you’re in community with others and crystal clear on your action items.
DO: Look ahead at your calendar
Chances are that if you’ve ever “fallen off the wagon” in a past program, it’s because life happened.
To be frank, life will continue to happen. I always remind my clients that there’s never a perfect time to do a program. We’ll always have things that come up, schedule deviations, unexpected shifts in priorities, and other distractions. But the number one way to be sure you stick with your program is to take pause, look ahead, and be realistic.
I’ve found that clients who see the most success tend to schedule in important to-do’s, such as workouts, grocery shopping, and batch cooking, right into their calendar. Otherwise, time gets eaten up remarkably quickly.
It’s also helpful to consider special events, such as birthdays or anniversaries, as well as any days that stand out as especially hectic (perhaps with extra before-work or after-school activities).
Before those moments hit, have a loose plan of what you’re going to do. Decisions made in those moments rarely will support your long-term goals. For example, maybe you decide to enjoy some wine or dessert at your anniversary dinner, but stick with something aligned with your goals for the entrée. Or if you have a non-stop, packed schedule on a given day, you’ll know to pack a nutritious snack or take a shake on the road to make sure you stay on track.
DO: Take ownership
In a well-designed program, the provided recommendations are well thought out. The workouts each have a purpose, the nutrition plan is intentional, and the lifestyle guidance plays a role in enhancing success. And they’re all meant to work together.
Anytime someone isn’t seeing the expected results of a program, the first thing to do is gut-check if the program is truly being followed — because for any program to work, it needs to be implemented with consistency.
For example, if you decide to start a new approach but you forego the recommended workouts for the same exercises or classes you’ve always done, or if you “take a break” from the nutrition program on weekends, the desired results are unlikely to come to fruition. One helpful way to assess compliance objectively is through tracking: track your habits, workouts, and nutrition so that you have a clear-cut record of how on (or off) the plan you’ve been.
Regardless of the program approach you choose, it’s up to you to take ownership, commit to the guidance, and follow it. And if you find that you’re not able to stick with it, remember that it’s OK to choose something that is more realistic for you instead.
DO: Give it time
I’m always hesitant when I see programs that advertise a guaranteed outcome — especially in a short window of time.
While we live in an immediate gratification society, there truly are no short cuts to getting results that last. The commitment mentioned in the section above done consistently over time is what will yield changes. It surely won’t happen in just a few days.
Although certain shorter-term approaches (such as the two-week Life Time D.TOX or 10-day Sugar Fix) are meant to serve as quicker resets or jump-starts, the key is to make sure there’s an after plan and next program to plug into. Most coaches will agree that a transformation can start to happen at around the eight-week mark, but can take several months or years, depending on your starting point.
Don’t let that discourage you. With consistency, you’ll see changes along the way. But often our end goal requires patience to achieve.
DON’T: Get wrapped up in the scale
It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s important not to hyper-focus on scale weight, even if your goal is weight loss.
When you’re actively making changes, the scale is going to fluctuate — both down and up. Metabolism is complex. When you’re eating differently and challenging your body with new ways of exercising, it’s common to experience shifts in digestion and fluids that can have a significant impact on how many pounds you weigh. Day-to-day fluctuations in scale weight are rarely due to actual changes in body fat.
It’s trends in your body composition over time that are more telling. Even if you identify with a weight loss goal, you may be surprised to learn in time that other markers of progress become more meaningful to you (and more reflective of the progress you’re truly making, especially when losing fat and building muscle).
Some examples include measuring body fat percentage, circumference measurements, progress photos, or even subjective symptoms, such as increased energy.
Read more here: “Measuring Body Weight”
DON’T: Obsess over calories
Hands down, the most commonly asked questions to the Life Time Training coaching team are: How many calories should I be eating? How many calories should I be burning in each workout?
The truest (and admittedly most frustrating) answer is: it depends.
While calorie balance undoubtedly matters for weight loss, the majority of people don’t need to count them. By making simple, consistent changes to eating patterns — such as focusing on more protein-rich foods and fibrous veggies, for example — calorie intake often naturally takes care of itself with a lot less hassle.
Exercise is also crucial to success, but not just because you burn some calories when doing it. (If you’ve ever experienced the futility of trying to out-exercise a less-than-stellar nutrition plan, you’ve probably noticed this firsthand.) An effective and efficient exercise program is about more than just torching calories; it’s about sending your body a metabolic stimulus to adapt and change.
Read more here: “Why a Calorie Isn’t Just a Calorie”
DON’T: Think it’s all or nothing
Having an “all or nothing” mindset when starting a program is probably one of the biggest predictors of program failure. Why?
Setting an expectation of being 100 percent on-program all the time is basically a way of saying that you need to be perfect for it to be worthwhile. Then when life happens and you have a misstep, it goes from being one lapse that could be easily course-corrected into a spiral off the plan completely.
Give yourself some grace. Yes, consistency is required. But a realistic consistency that still drives results typically is at the 80 to 90 percent mark. Meaning, 80 to 90 percent of your controllable choices are on-plan. This allows some wiggle room for a special occasion or self-forgiveness after having a not ideal day.
DON’T: Ignore the impact of stress and sleep
If you’ve been plugged into Life Time for some time, you’re likely aware that our philosophy around health expands well beyond your workout plan and what you’re eating. There are a multitude of factors that are at play, including your recovery approach, support system and relationships, underlying metabolism and lab markers, stress levels, and sleep patterns.
An outlook of “no pain, no gain” when it comes to nutrition and exercise programming has significant limitations, since unmanaged stress can deteriorate your health, contribute to belly fat accumulation, trigger cravings, and break down lean muscle tissue. Not to mention, it has an undertone of self-punishment instead of self-empowerment.
Additionally, not getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night is linked to several of the same problems, along with reduced mood, immune function, and testosterone levels.
To get the desired results from any new exercise and eating approach, you’ll biologically need a foundation of managed stress and adequate rest to set the stage for success.
DON’T: Compare yourself to others
Every single one of us has a unique set of circumstances that impacts our response to a program. These can include our support systems, environmental toxin exposures, stress levels, food sensitivities, and underlying physiology (such as nutrient levels and balance of hormones).
No two people will respond to a program the exact same way — and truthfully, some approaches that work beautifully for certain people won’t do anything (or even have the opposite effect) for others.
As stated above, it’s crucial to monitor both your compliance (how well you are really sticking to the program) and your individual outcomes and objective results (beyond scale weight alone).
If you’re on track, you’ve given it time, and you’re truly not seeing any desired changes, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed or that you’ve failed. It simply means you might need a different program or more customized approach.
Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect program. However, there are great programs available to you to help transform your health from the inside-out, and the success you see from those lies in how you approach them. You can explore some of the transformational programs available to you that are included with your Life Time membership right here.