The Importance of Realistic Expectations



One of the best and worst things about my work is helping people set realistic expectations for body composition change. I don’t like being the bearer of bad news: that we’ve been conditioned to think that weight loss results should be fast and easy but the reality is they shouldn’t be and are not. That in the grand scheme of things, 21 days isn’t going to fix anything.

According to researchers, 21 days is about 1/3 of the time it takes the average person to actually create new habits. Because while going through the motions for three weeks is a good start, it takes approximately 66 days to form the permanent pathways in your brain that moves a behavior from “doing what I am supposed to do”, to “this is what I do now”.

It’s the doing that is the hard part between the honeymoon phase (where everything is new and exciting and awesome), and that day on the horizon where the new habit has become second nature and no longer requires a great deal of mental energy. When this new habit (or group of habits) is fully formed, it as much a part of who you are as your shoe size.  This process takes time.

Integrating healthy habits into who you are as a person is the best way to improve your health long term. Long term is the key phrase here, because the process of creating these habits takes perspective, consistency, experimentation, patience, and support. And long-term results can (and should!) take a longer time to achieve.

As unsexy as that reality may be, I also believe it is the best truth I tell. Because it sets people free to give themselves some grace and be patient with the process. Realistic expectations allow us to release the death grip on what we are “supposed to do” enough to learn what we like to do.   And when it comes to body composition change, finding what we like to do: things we actually enjoy eating that fuel our bodies, ways to move that fuel our spirits, and the support and tools to prioritize ourselves, well, liking the process can go a long way when we just aren’t feeling it.

Diet culture has taught us to look at self-care and improvement through the lens of “I can do anything for 21/30/x days”, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to find things that make you feel amazing that you can do for life? To build the skills to incorporate healthy foods and movement in an enjoyable way so it doesn’t feel like so much work?

Lasting change takes effort but it shouldn’t feel like white knuckling.  Give yourself some grace, do what you can when you can and do it from a place of love and compassion.  It really is better over here!  Plus we have cookies.  😉

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  • Viola

    September 10, 2015

    i enjoyed and felt empowered by this article 🙂 I’ve struggled most of my adult life with dieting and with crazy expectations of myself . I would start on a Monday of course and by Tuesday eve I would cave :(. Lol … Too many restrictions on myself , basically I was setting myself up for failure each time I would start another diet ! I also read that it takes 21 days to change a habit , I call BS on that . Anywho , I am showing compassion to myself this time around , and rather looking to NOT diet but for me to look at portion control / sugar addiction / impulse eating with some Grace thrown in 🙂 This past year I’ve lost 50 pds and I have another 35-40 to hit my healthy vain goal 🙂 If it takes me another year oh well so it does , but I refuse to put pressure on myself . I’m looking forward to where I will land at this time next year 🙂

    • Amber

      September 10, 2015

      Thank you so much for reading and the feedback Viola! Your story is amazing, congratulations on the hard work both physically and with your perspective. You have set yourself up for success with that great attitude! 🙂

  • Amber

    August 31, 2015

    Thanks for the share Kristen!