We all want results, and we naturally want them quickly. Having abs in 4 months is cool, but who wouldn't want it in 4 weeks instead? We can't help but try to optimize what we are doing for the best results. That's likely why you are reading this article right now.
You can implement various things to have better results and reach your fitness goals faster. Someone that is undereating protein while trying to gain muscle will have results much quicker once they increase their protein intake. The same can be applied to most principles of training and nutrition, which we have written at length in our ebooks, such as The Renaissance Diet 2.0 or the Scientific Principles of Hypertrophy Training.
But that's not what this article is about. Perhaps your diet and training are on point, but you still feel like you are making little or no progress. What, then? Well, we must consider what your benchmark is for considering your rate of progress to be small.
Most often, this comes from looking at what other people have accomplished. Maybe you have a family member that recently went on a diet, and she looks amazing. Or perhaps you have a friend who recently hit a 315lb PR on the bench press. But the more digitalized our lives are, we likewise set our comparisons based on what we see online, often on social media such as Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok.
However, comparing yourself to random people online is a bad idea. Why? Because they are not you. You have close to zero knowledge or context behind their lives, often ignoring significant variables that affect one's rate of progress. Let's explore what some of these are.
The Valley of Disappointment
Results take time, and there is no way around it. It takes several weeks to start noticing changes in your body when losing fat, and to notice it with your clothing on it takes even longer. There is nothing wrong with this, it's part of the journey, and you have to be patient. Everyone wants results now, but that doesn't exist. We can't (yet) wrap time!
A good concept to know about is the valley of disappointment. This refers to the fact that progress takes time to show when trying something new. You expect the results to be linear, but this often isn't true. They can be slow initially, often leading to disappointment. However, if you keep working at it, your results will continually improve.
Based on our experience working with many people to improve their fitness over the years, A major reason this happens is that nailing down the habits and lifestyle needed to reach fitness goals is difficult, and people rarely transform their lives in a single go
It's normal to slip up and have difficulty sticking to a new plan. Despite being normal, however, this will unavoidably affect the results you are getting. However, if you are consistent, you build momentum, and results will get better and better!
Of course, don't take the image literally, and how beginners progress depends on several factors. Still, it's a good illustration of the core concept. Remember that results often take time to show up!
Weight loss progression
Progress is not linear; one example is the valley of disappointment, as described above. However, this is more so related to habit-building and gaining momentum.
But with weight loss, another aspect violates the notion of linear progress even if you are doing everything perfectly!
This is your scale weight fluctuating a lot due to water weight changes—even if you are 100% on track and even if you are losing fat right now!
Many variables affect your body weight besides fat loss, such as:
- Carbohydrate intake
- Sodium intake
- Menstrual cycle
- Food volume
Because of these, you can expect your weight to vary significantly daily, usually 1-3 lbs, but sometimes much more, especially for women. What matters is your weekly average, which is why you need to weigh yourself several times per week. That way, there is enough data to get an accurate picture of the trend and eliminate noise.
Sometimes, people get frustrated because their weight isn't decreasing, but they might be losing fat and be completely on track! They are making progress, but it's not showing up on the scale yet because the timeframe they are analyzing is too short. If you want a more in-depth guide about weight loss plateaus, check our article "Why You're Not Losing Weight".
Another pitfall of unrealistic expectations is the standards that people have. Often, our body image is shaped by the media we consume, which provides a distorted view. Several factors play a role in this.
Consider this transformation:
Impressive, right? Even more so, given the before and after pictures are taken on the same day!
It's simply the result of good lighting and posing. This can be made even more dramatic if the "before" picture is the "after" picture, taken after many big meals with plenty of carbs and sodium, making one look very bloated. This strategy is often used for (deceptive) marketing.
For a female reference, here is a photo from Ree Lenehan, one of my favorite accounts on Instagram:
Of course, her body is exactly the same in both pictures, yet it's hard to believe the difference between them, simply from posing differently. She has way more of these, so if you resonate with the message, check their page and her other posts.
Most people that you see in the media are professionals. Their whole life revolves around their sport or their bodies. It's normal that they will be in much better shape than most people!
They often have little else to worry about, especially young fitness models. They have more time to dedicate to fitness than anyone else since this is their life. However, this doesn't mean it's realistic for most people.
Your life doesn't have to revolve around fitness. To some degree, you need to accept that your results will always come at a slower pace compared to someone else who makes this their sole goal in life. It's ok to have different goals and different levels of commitment.
Most pictures you see, especially in ads and magazines, are manipulated. In the past, this was difficult to do and required significant knowledge of photoshop. However, because apps have gotten so good and user-friendly now, even common photos on Instagram, even if they aren't professional models, are often re-touched. The waist can be slimmer, the abs more defined, bigger arms, bigger glutes, etc.
Sometimes, this is once again part of the industry standard of being deceitful and trying to sell something, such as certain supplements or workout programs. However, other times, this issue blends into the body image topic we discussed earlier, especially for women. Because their body image is so poor and everyone else looks so good", they feel like they have no choice but to re-touch their bodies to fit what they perceive to be the standard.
Meg Squats has a great video about photo re-touching using herself as an example and using the app Facetune. She re-touches her nose, lips, waist, breasts, and glutes. I highly recommend watching it.
To put it bluntly, many fitness professionals are on drugs. These drugs make muscle gain much faster. They also use fat burners, making fat loss easier by blunting your appetite and increasing the calories you burn.
This doesn't mean that their bodies are easily achieved with drugs, they still have put in tremendous work, and drugs simply amplify their results.
Still, this once again creates unrealistic expectations since most people not using drugs won't be able to achieve what they achieved and not have a similar rate of progress. They are obviously incurring a health cost to get that extra edge, and most people are unwilling to have that trade-off.
To make it worse, some lie about their drug usage. At times because of stigma and legal repercussions of drug use, but also often due to being more financially beneficial for them. Deceptive marketing comes in once again. Many will want you to believe their bodies are a byproduct of having the right diet or the right supplement they happen to be selling.
Even taking everything above into account, it's also a harsh reality that people have massively different natural aptitudes for various things, including fitness. Some people are just naturally really good at music or math. And some people just naturally gain much more muscle and strength or have an easier time staying lean.
Genetics generally follows a bell curve (a normal distribution), meaning that most people are average, while some people are way better and others are way worse. The latter two are less common and the greater the deviation, the rarer it is.
Most people that you see excelling at a sport or activity are high performers who are highly genetically gifted. Once again, this does not imply that they aren't working extremely hard to obtain what they have achieved. Nevertheless, people who claim that genetics don't matter are very naive and oblivious to reality - genetics matter, a lot.
Finally, it's natural that have made little progress if you started! Even if all the factors above were equalized, you can't make 5 years of progress in 5 months. Many people who succeed simply have been doing this for a long time.
Habits take time to solidify. If you haven't gone to the gym in years, it's normal if you find it difficult to stick with. If you have had unhealthy eating habits for decades, you can't expect to start eating perfectly by next Monday.
Last, some physiological processes take time and cannot be meaningfully sped up. If you are 50 lbs overweight, that will take months or years to lose, no matter what. Even worse, with muscle gain, it’s a slow progress where each ounce of muscle must be fought tooth and nail.
Slow progress can ultimately be frustrating. It can be even more depressing when you think about how much you still have to go to reach your goals. But that's just the nature of fitness. It's a long journey, yet a very rewarding one. If it were easy, everyone would do it!
Be patient with it, keep working at it, and you will reap the incredible benefits of fitness: better well-being, higher quality of life, less risk of disease, and more confidence. All aspects of life get enhanced when you are fitter and healthier.
Overcomplicating your diet is one sure way to make your fitness journey harder. This is why we created the RP Diet Coach. Our app will help you achieve your health and fitness goals with personalized coaching based on your unique needs and preferences. We don't promise overnight magic results based on unrealistic standards, but we do promise to make your diet better by using scientific principles and tailoring it to your lifestyle.