Updated: Aug 23, 2020
'I wish I had her abs.' 'I want her lean legs and toned glutes!' 'I'd love to compete.'
... Cue the 'but'.
'But I couldn't stick to the diet.' 'I just have poor genetics.' 'I wish I could, but I don't have time to commit to training at the moment.'
Here's the truth. Sometimes, body composition changes aren't quick and easy. It takes dedication and consistency to reach and maintain a lean and defined shape, if that's your goal. It requires patience to build muscle and lose fat in a healthy and sustainable manner.
I don't naturally hold a lot of muscle mass. Like most people, I have cellulite under my glutes. I didn't see a glimpse of abs until I altered my diet.
In fact, the first time I attempted to lose body fat as a 22 year old, it took 8 weeks of strict food and training to see ... no change at all. Zilch. Nothing. After 2 months of solid effort, I didn't drop any body fat based on skin fold data or the mirror. Ouch. I felt defeated. It didn't take long for self-doubt to infiltrate my mind. I started pondering, 'Well, what's the point if my body just won't respond? Maybe it's not actually possible for me to look lean, fit and athletic?'
I continued to problem solve and didn't let that doubt dictate my path.
It's easy to say 'I'm going to do it!' about something. But humans are creatures of habit. Most of us don't just jump out of bed and reset our entire life based on a split second decision the day before.
If you decide to do something but you realise it's not going to be easy, put systems in place to equip you to do it. Concentrate on the tasks that you are likely to skip if you are busy, tired or distracted. Don't rely on today's motivation to make you do it tomorrow. Motivation is a tool, but it will fade. Think ahead and set up habits and routines that will keep you accountable in the times when you are flat out at work or just can't be bothered. Because that's life!
Three top tips on creating accountability systems for your body composition goals
1. Deliberately make and break habits
There's a common myth that it takes 21 days to create a habit. In reality, it can take a least a couple of months - if not more - for a habit to really stick. Our minds and bodies are programmed to prefer our familiar, usual default mode. To break or make a habit, there's a training phase to reset our brain.
The trick is to replace the old habit for another habit that's easy and realistic. For example, if you decide to drink 2.25 litres of water a day, buy a drink bottle that's 750 ml and make sure you consume it three times. Or if you resolve to adjust your sleep patterns, deliberately set your bed time each day and plan your evening so that you can commit to it.
2. Declare that you will do it, so that you will do it
If I don't schedule it in, I tend to neglect mobility exercises to free up tight muscles. It's easy to think that 'I'll do it before I train' or 'I'll do it on my rest days', but often it just doesn't happen.
Here's my little hack for this. I declare it to another person to hold me accountable. For example, I tell my coach or a family member about my plan to do it (ie, 'I'll be in early on Tuesday to free up' or 'let's watch Netflix and I'll just do 10 minutes of stretches while we start the episode'), or put it in my diary. Then, the task lingers in my mind because I've deliberately said it out loud or put pen to paper.
You'll be far more likely to commit to a task if you have declared that you will do it. Put it out there and tell people about it! It's a trick, really - it's not just a promise to your coach, partner or friend, it's a promise to you and your body. Use this technique to help you accomplish a goal if you anticipate moments of zero motivation (like training after a long day at work).
3. If you don't trust yourself to do it, enlist an accountability buddy
If it's too difficult to do all alone, then recruit some help.
If you already realise from day one that you'll seek to opt out sooner or later, that's ok! Join the club. Enlist a friend or family member that you trust to keep you honest and hold you to account (aka, badger you about it). The catch - don't be furious or justify your slips if they call you out on it!