Case Study: How Long Does it Take to Lose Fat in Real Life?
When most people think of fat loss, this is what comes to mind... The ubiquitous before and after shot.
So let's talk about them.
On one hand, these photos are tremendously inspiring. They show that major change is possible. They make us think "Yes, I can do it too!" That's a powerful thing. And obviously, the photos represent a hugely significant transformation for the subject. Kudos to them!
But in a way, that's also the problem. Two little snapshots are used to represent months or years or decades of work - and all of the many ups and downs throughout that process.
Before. After. That's what the viewing audience is left with. We miss the entire difficult journey in favour of an unconscious (and false) message that change is simple, fast and more or less the inevitable result of whatever fitness or nutrition program the photos are in reference too.
And while consistency is key, not all plans work well for every individual. Sometimes we mess up and slide backwards.
Among many important details, before and after shots don't teach an audience anything about:
- The extent to which the subject was able to maintain progress beyond the 'after' photo.
- How many times this person tried and failed before.
- What made this time different.
- How easy the transition was.
- Whether they succeeded because of or despite the program they used.
- We just see a quick switcheroo, from flab to fab. It's a great headline... It's seductive. But that isn't the real substance of a transformation story.
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Real Life Success Stories
Let me tell you about real life success stories. Let's talk about this stuff in a real way that you don't usually hear. Let's acknowledges the ups, downs, plateaus, and the ongoing journey to maintain.
CASE STUDY: A female client who I was working with (and am still working with) on fat loss and general fitness.
I started working with her in July 2014 until Nov 2014. Initially, she had trouble being consistent and getting into a good rhythm. She did get fitter over that time, but probably wasn't quite ready to commit to the diet/lifestyle pieces. I'm not sure how much (if any) progress was made on her fat loss goal over those first few months.
Fast forward to Feb 2015, and after a few months hiatus over the winter doldrums, she was back and we began working together again. We didn't make much progress on fat loss at first, but eventually things started to click.
The graph below shows progress from Feb 2015 to Jan 2017.
Here are some notes from my coaching journal where I keep notes about each one of my clients' progress.
Feb 23 2015
Weekly goals: reduce carb intake at breakfast and lunch, and if need to snack, try healthier options (gave a list of better options).
March 26 2015
Weekly goals: add protein to each main meal; plan meals out the night before; 60sec of visualization each morning; workout 3x/week
July 2 2015
Weekly goals: keep unhealthy foods out of the house; avoid specific triggers for snacking: Metro bakery, Tim Hortons doughnuts, Whole Foods (and justifying junk food snacks that are gluten free or organic as healthy).
Obstacles identified: snacking, especially on weekends; doesn't know how to cook
Sept 17 2015
Issues identified: affect of limited sleep on food choices next day (leads to more cravings/unhealthy snacking on sugary foods)
Weekly Goals: focus on setting evening alarm as hard cut-off for going to bed to get more sleep.
Nov. 16 2015
Issues identified: stress eating (work and relationship related); only gets starving in afternoon/evening (leading to unhealthy snacking) if lunch was too small; concerned about slipping-up over winter ('winter-blues' & less motivation/energy) and stopping workouts (which has happened in previous years)
Weekly Goals: food journaling to track low quality foods in relation to stressful situations, and to increase mindfulness; double down on workout consistency at gym and at home/condo gym.
Jan 27 2016
Weekly Goals: Improve breakfast - main recommended options are custom smoothie or eggs.
Big Goals: Stay consistent at gym and don't fall off in the winter like previous years (even though winter is grey and depressing!) Up communication and accountability for next 2 months.
Mar 10 2016
My (coach) feedback: You're rolling right now. Don't change anything. Stay the same.
April 7 2016
My (coach) feedback: We're right in the groove. Keep doing the same things.
May 12 2016
My (coach) feedback: Ditto to last time.
June 27 2016
My (coach) feedback: You're cruising! Huge milestone!
Aug 4th 2016
Issues Identified: If wake-up late, breakfast routine gets messed up and then the daily routine is thrown off (get's hungrier later in date); Have been getting a little complacent with snacking.
Weekly Goals: Get to bed a bit earlier and make sure breakfast happens; be mindful re: snacking with food journaling.
Sept 22 2016
Issues Identified: sleep and how it impacts appetite, cravings.
Weekly Goals: improve consistency of sleep.
Jan 5th 2017
Issues identified: link between PMS, mood and eating; links between certain foods and poor digestion.
Weekly Goals: Journaling to stay in more control over mood & eating; remove certain foods we identified as things that disrupt digestion; tighten up snacking (often related to mood) with what was working before.
What We Can Learn From This Case study:
1. I'd consider this a huge success... Although it's an ongoing journey. Success isn't somewhere you arrive and then it's over. It's an ongoing process. But, this was a person who really struggled to get in control of her weight and fitness, and is in a much better place physically and mentally now. I'm extremely proud of the commitment that went into this process so far.
2. Moments of "failure" don't define your story. She totally fell off the wagon in 2014, but then was able to get back.
3. Progress isn't always steady. In fact, it was pretty stagnant at first, and there was some back tracking. There are always ups and downs. This is part of the process. Expect it and plan how you'll react.
4. Progress isn't always fast. Over two years, she lost approx 55lbs. Yes, we hear about people losing 100lbs in a year, but this example is a much more 'normal' rate of progress. So, if it's slow going for you, don't worry. Progress is progress. Celebrate it.
5. A lot of self-learning is involved in this process... and that's what leads to the biggest breakthroughs. My job as a coach is to provide a plan, but also to make sure that the client is learning the entire time, so they need me less and less to help trouble shoot. This client learned a lot about the connection between food, sleep, mood, stress, and habits. She also learned how to cook some new meals!