Natalie Portman’s newly-minted guns for Thor? Lori Harvey’s accelerated efforts to lose the relationship weight that she gained dating Michael Jordan? Kim Kardashian’s sixteen-pound weight loss to shimmy into Marilyn Monroe’s iconic dress?
Celebrities make body transformations look so easy, effortless almost, don’t they? Unfortunately, it is so easy to believe it, too and develop unrealistic expectations regarding weight loss or getting ripped in the gym. After almost a decade of working with clients on their transformation plans, I can confidentially say that most people underestimate the amount of time a physical transformation takes and overestimate the effort they are currently putting into achieving it.
And yet, they are constantly being sold otherwise.
I blame celebrity culture and the fitness and nutrition industries for this warped sense of time and effort. Every week, I stumble across ads that show dramatic weight loss efforts with too-good-to-be-true tag lines such as “Lose 10 pounds in 10 days” or “5 inches in 5 weeks”. There is no mention of the dramatic calorie reduction or physical effort required. Customers believe that if they choose this particular program, they too can experience these dramatic results. However, if the results don’t come, the client sadly slips off the radar, stops the plan, and assumes they couldn’t do it.
The second thing that the fitness and nutrition community relies on to sell their products is the before and after photos. These photos can be a positive trigger toward change.
I take umbrage with the idea that you can sell something without disclosing to your clients how much time it took to reach the after picture.
Clients will start the program with expectations of how long it will take and be discouraged or frustrated when their unspoken expectations aren’t met. Even worse, according to an article published in HuffPost published in August last year called Why ‘Before and After’ Photos are More Problematic than you Think, these pictures trigger in people this message: the “before” was unattractive and undesirable, and the “after” is the desired body you should have.
And sadly, because the client did not or could not achieve those results, they assume that they are either a failure or remain “undesirable.”
Both of these situations don’t sit well with me. That is why it’s essential to have a frank conversation with anyone looking for a physical transformation and stress the two critical points. The first is that the transformation should never be the end goal but something to strive towards. The second thing is that change takes time and effort. So today I want to talk to you about that. After all, if you give up too soon or don’t try hard enough, you won’t get to your destination.
To paraphrase a quote I once heard: “When starting your transformation, the first month you will feel it, the third month you will see it, and in six months, others, others will see it.” The sad but honest truth about changing your body shape is that it takes longer than you think to see it, and it won’t be visible to others for a long time. I don’t say this to discourage you but rather to encourage you to continue even when you don’t see the results you were hoping for.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also tells us that a sustainable rate of weight loss that we can achieve and maintain over time is approximately 1-2 lbs per week. When weighing that statistic against the ludicrously short time frames of some dieting programs, you can see the vast distance between fiction and reality. A 1-2 pound (around 0.5-1 kg) drop weekly reduction also means that the time between before and after photos is much more considerable than you likely assumed.
To put this into a practical example, one of my clients – age 36, a doctor in a highly stressed-out work environment with two children, took 12 months to lose 52 lbs. That’s a phenomenal transformation, and it only equates to one pound a week. Going through the transformation process felt agonisingly slow, but she was an entirely different person one year later. However, if she had given up along the way, frustrated that she hadn’t seen results “quick enough,” she wouldn’t have the confidence and sense of pride she has in herself as she does now.
To add insult to injury, it not only takes longer than you think to transform your body, but it may also take more effort than you realise. I love an infographic published by Precision Nutrition titled Here’s the Cost of Getting Lean. It’s a straight-shooting resource that details the behaviours, eating strategies, and fitness plans you will need to adhere to for your dream body.
I use effort as a loose definition that can encompass a few different aspects of the transformation journey. Firstly, it is an effort to get started and be bold enough to try. When life gets complicated, it’s another amount of sustained effort to keep up the exercise and nutrition plan. And finally, it’s a different type of physical effort required to learn to say no to cravings, focus on stress, and improve your sleep, alongside the effort you need to endure at the gym physically.
It’s also an effort to pack your gym back and drag yourself to the gym after a long day. It’s an effort to plan your food each week so you aren’t making last-minute fast food decisions. It’s an effort to say “no” to cake when everyone else is eating cake. And, yes, it’s an effort to make these decisions when the scale isn’t budging.
The unpopular but undeniable truth is that losing weight and becoming a smaller person will not make you happier. But what weight loss can do, is create an opportunity for you to create a new narrative for yourself - one where you can be proud of your achievements and consistency, despite the complexities of daily life.
Now, to wrap this up in a nice little optimistic bow. Although it takes time and effort to see the transformation that you’re hoping for, the longer you adopt healthy habits into your life, the more they become autonomic. You may even begin to like doing them. And if that happens, you’ve just changed your life, not just your body . Congratulations!
Jen Thomas is a Chennai-based weight-loss coach