Have you ever heard the term "managing expectations"? It's a big part of a personal trainer's job, since we are responsible, with our clients, for their ability to succeed at their goals.
Managing expectations means coaching a woman to expect reasonable weight loss at a healthy rate, not 20 pounds before her sister's Caribbean wedding in 2 weeks (yes, this is an actual—and frequent—request). I know she won't lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks, but if she expects to do so, she will be disappointed and blame herself (and, possibly, me) for failing to reach an impossible goal.
Managing expectations also means helping a woman to see that her life will still be her life, and her body will still be her body, and her relationships will still be her relationships, once she has lost that 20 pounds. I know she will be herself, only 20 pounds lighter, but if she expects that weight loss to revolutionize all aspects of her universe, she will be disappointed, discouraged, or even depressed when the new life she envisions doesn't materialize the morning her scale reflects that goal weight.
Weight loss is a physical effect of stimuli to the body. It is not a rebirth.
Got a weight loss goal? I'm here to help manage your expectations. The tough news is: you will not be happier when you lose the weight. If you hate yourself, you will still hate yourself when you are thin. If you feel insecure in your job, unloved in your relationship, shy in social situations, awkward in the bedroom, angry at your mother, unsure of your parenting skills, or filled with self-doubt in any other (or every) situation, weight loss will. not. help. you. Quite the opposite—weight loss may accentuate and exacerbate your feelings of self-doubt, depression, or anger.
Research shows a correlation between a successful weight loss, followed by a plateau, and increased symptoms of depression. Why?
1. Weight loss, especially when achieved through typical calorie slashing and an emphasis on cardiovascular exercise, causes a lowering of the body's metabolism, as well as a decrease in thyroid hormones (even with a loss of just 5-10% of previous body weight), leading to low energy levels and feelings of physical and emotional depression.
2. Unrealistic expectations (as discussed above) are not met by weight loss. Simply, when life doesn't change and the world still feels like a cold, hard place, it becomes necessary to accept the fact that other things—not so quickly resolved as a few pounds—might need to be changed in one's life and with one's relationships and self.
3. Weight loss goals, particularly when set with emotion and whim instead of actual consideration about what is appropriate and achievable for one's body (such as "I want to weigh what I weighed when I ran track in university," or "I want to weigh less than my sister because she is taller than me," or "I want to be a size 4") are usually not met. If the goal is not met, the feeling of failure or desire to "give up" is emotionally degrading. If the goal is, in fact, met, the goal achiever usually finds she does not feel and/or look the way she thought she would (in other words, she does not look like a 21-year-old track star anymore, even at the same weight, or might fit a "size 4," but find her proportions are still her unique proportions, only smaller, and she does not look anything like the magazine "size 4" she imagined), the world can seem to come crashing down.
If being skinnier can't "fix" me, now what can I do?
There are two possible answers to this question:
1. Try to get even skinnier (this is how anorexia begins, people).
2. Begin to separate health-minded goals about one's body from feelings of worth.
Realize—yes, even you, postmodern liberal woman—your desire to lose weight is not a simple mathematical or health-based goal. It is based on years of programming by media, society, and even our closest family members in some cases, to evaluate your SELF by your SIZE.
When you accept that your SELF and your SIZE are two completely separate, and in no way related, parts of being, you will finally be able to see the forest for the trees. Or the woman for the dress size.
Then, and only then, will you be able to treat weight loss as a medical/health issue and pursue it reasonably. In other words, you will use smart and healthy solutions to remove excess body fat that is causing risk to your future and affecting your day-to-day life. You will accept and celebrate small progress, enjoy the benefits of weight loss, such as better sleep, reduced joint pain, clearer breathing, better energy, easier range of motion, and better endurance. You will lose weight in a manner that improves your physical outcomes and lengthens your life, and you will do so without consideration of what you weighed in university, or what dress size your favourite actress wears. You will have reasonable expectations, pursue them, and succeed.
When you learn to separate your SELF from your SIZE, you will stop viewing potential weight loss as solution to all of your problems. You will stop using an obsession with your size and shape to distract yourself from TRUE and REAL forms of self-improvement that will make you happier, calmer, more loving, and more loved.
It is a long journey to self-acceptance. I am still working on it myself, and I speak with women every day who are at different stages of this journey. I don't know what it will feel like when I am there, but I can tell you that the first step lies in examining your expectations, understanding where they come from, and replacing them with realistic, healthy expectations that reflect YOUR individual values.
In other words, be as kind to yourself as I would be if we were discussing your goals, in private, together. Manage your own expectations and be honest with yourself about what you want, and why you want it. Then go and get it!