This is Only the Beginning
You’re getting ready to begin week 5 of this journey. It’s important to remember that this is a journey, not a vacation. This new adventure into a healthier lifestyle isn’t just for 13 weeks– it’s for life. So when you become discouraged that you don’t see the scale moving as much as you had hoped, or your jeans aren’t getting looser, remember that this is only the beginning. You’re not going to get to your ideal weight in 13 weeks– but you are going to get a good head start, with tools and encouragement that you would not otherwise have had.
Today I arrived at the Eastside Y at the same time as RBL contestant Shawn. As one of last year’s RBL contestants, I love seeing those maroon shirts! As we worked out and chatted, she seemed a little discouraged about her progress, or lack of it. She wasn’t seeing the scale move as quickly as she had hoped. She expected her clothes to start feeling a bit more loose. She wonders why she’s putting in all this effort, for seemingly little gain… er… loss.
But then she mentioned that she went from being able to do a 4-second plank, to a 30-second plank. That she went from swimming 3 laps, to swimming 24 laps. That she’s completely given up soda, and she’s increasing the amount of time she spends on the elliptical. HUGE accomplishments!
If you’re like me, you watch The Biggest Loser on NBC and you see these magnificent transformations in just 13 weeks, and you expect to achieve similar progress. But those folks on “The Ranch” spend a minimum of 8 hours a day working out. They don’t go to work, they’re not taking care of their kids, they’re not pressed for time, and aren’t driving by a Chick Fil-A 7 times a day. You can’t expect to get the same results. Here is what you CAN expect:
1) Turning Fat into Muscle
There is no way you can eat a carton of ice cream and convince your body to not bother counting those calories. Your body is exceptional at keeping score. That means that it similarly counts every calorie you expend. You can’t workout and have NO impact on your body. You ARE burning calories when you work out. The same thing goes for lifting weights– you can’t lift weights and not have it impact your body. You can’t see it, but you’re burning calories and building muscles when you exercise. You can deny it all you want, but it’s happening– fat IS turning into muscle. Now, that can get frustrating, because muscle is more dense that fat, so a 1″X1″ square of fat is going to weigh less than a similar portion of muscle. The changes are going to take a while to see, but the changes ARE happening. As I shared with Shawn, I only lost 10 pounds during last year’s Rob’s Big Losers competition. I toyed with the idea of not showing up to the finale because the changes were so minor, and I was a little embarrassed. But then I looked at the before/after pictures. True, I hadn’t lost a LOT of weight, but I sure had changed the composition of my body. I had converted fat into muscle, and the changes were evident. Several other contestants made similar comments, that they hadn’t felt like they had changed THAT much over the course of the 13 weeks, but when comparing their before and after pictures side-by-side, the progress was obvious.
2) Increased Physical Strength
Shawn said so herself– she’s holding a plank now for 30 seconds, whereas at the beginning of RBL she could barely hold it for 4 seconds. She’s getting stronger– proof that she’s building muscle. At the fast-approaching half-way point, your trainer will give you a new workout routine, which will probably include heavier weights. This will help you avoid that oh-so-famous plateau. Remember that muscle is your body’s fat-burning friend. The more muscle you have, the more productively your body will burn fat. And ladies, do NOT worry about having “man arms” if you lift weights. Unless you’re taking testosterone supplements, it’s not gonna happen. I can remember the first time, several weeks into my RBL journey, that I crossed my arms and actually felt muscles under the layers of fat on my upper arms– I wasn’t even flexing. It was AWESOME!. Muscle tone is sexy and empowering, and makes it a whole lot more fun to wear a sleeveless dress.
3) Increased Cardiovascular Strength
Underneath your lungs is a large muscle called the diaphragm. That’s the primary muscle that allows us to inhale and exhale. When we exert ourselves, the diaphragm needs help from our scalene muscles– the smaller muscles surrounding our lungs. The diaphragm is constantly working. When obesity sets in, stomach fat can interfere with the diaphragm’s ability to work, which causes us shortness of breath when we exert ourselves. Since we’re not regularly exerting ourselves, those scalene muscles don’t get much exercise, so they tire quickly making it difficult for us to catch our breath. But you’ve been working out regularly the past 4 weeks, so your scalene muscles are getting stronger, which means you can work out longer before getting to that winded feeling. As you continue to lose stomach fat, and as you continue to strengthen those scalene muscles, your cardiovascular strength is going to continue to improve. That translates to longer workouts, which leads to more calories burned and more muscles built, which leads to more fat lost, which leads to stronger cardio muscles, which means longer workouts… you get the picture. Just like when Shawn only swam 3 laps in the pool during week 1 and felt completely winded, and now she can do 24 (which is AMAZING!). Your increasing cardiovascular strength is the key to success in this journey!
4) Heightened Awareness of What You’re Eating
You’re learning now that food is fuel. You’re thinking more than you probably ever have what you’re putting in your mouth. Right after the RBL Kickoff last year, I decided to swing through the McDonald’s drive thru for one last hurrah– ice cream. Wouldn’t you know– their ice cream machine was broken. Rather than drive on to the next McD’s, I took that as a little hint that I needed to get focused. I still occasionally eat things I shouldn’t eat, but I’m more aware than ever of a) what I SHOULD be eating, and b) what it’ll take to balance out what I should NOT have eaten. A Big Mac is about 550 calories. If my goal is 1200 calories a day, that’s half of my calorie quota! I’d have to run 5.5 miles to neutralize that burger. There is NOTHING that tastes good enough to justify having to run 5.5 miles in order to erase it. This is how I think now. Not always, mind you. I can always justify eating some Red Vines– in moderation, of course. They’re fat free, after all, and totally worth the 1.5 mile run to neutralize them if they put me over my calorie goal.
I’ve always enjoyed running. It’s more like jogging. Trotting, really. I’m slow. And I’ve never run tremendous distances. But boy howdy, the weights and machines intimidated me. I never felt like I knew enough about what muscles to work and what weights and machines to use. Sure, all the information is printed on the machines, but I don’t want to stand there in the gym, looking like a ninny– LOOKING like I have no idea what I’m doing. So, I stuck with what I knew, which was the treadmill. I’m so grateful that my trainer encouraged me to get out of the treadmill rut and start lifting weights and working on the machines. She made sure I knew how to use the machines she put on my workout. And when she switched-up the routine half-way through, she put me on new machines and made sure I knew how to use those, as well. Now I go into the gym with confidence, knowing exactly what I’m going to do. In fact, there have been several times when other Y members will approach me and ask me how to use a machine. This confidence translates into every aspect of life. You are stronger than you’ve given yourself credit for. You’re seeing it already! Shawn never imagined that she’d be able to jog, but she’s taking the Walk2Run class at the Y. Sure, she might be slow. But she’s running.
Just Keep Swimming… or Running
Go back over your blog posts from week 1, and review your struggles through the eyes of an athlete-in-training who now has a solid 4 weeks of fitness under their belt. Write down a list of comparisons, similar to Shawn’s. How far were you able to jog in week 1 compared to week 4? What have you done in the past 4 weeks that you thought you’d never be able to do? Don’t worry about whether or not you’re seeing a difference. Just keep working. You’ll be SO glad you did.