“If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still succeed? For example, if you were a basketball coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, would you still get results? I think you would.”
This quote from the Atomic Habits book by James Clear perfectly fits my point — if you want to lose weight, you need to take the focus off of weight loss and instead, focus on performance improvements.
Okay, a quick example.
A two-year study on subjects with an average eight-year history of being overweight and chronically yo-yo dieting examined weight loss outcomes by focusing on improving exercise performance rather than weight loss.
The researchers were all okay we are putting you on a hypocaloric (calorie deficit), high-protein (2.2 g/kg/day) diet and the subjects went er, but what about weight loss? How much weight are we gonna lose?
And the lab nerds were like fuck you and your weight loss goals (just more eloquently, of course) we are putting you on a three-day per week progressive and periodized resistance training program and you are going to focus on gym performance changes rather than oh I want abs so bad a.k.a weight loss.
Poor volunteers said ugh okay I guess in a tone that went distance way past hate and went to the gym to pump some iron.
Guess what? Doesn’t matter. I’ll tell you. Shifting focus away from weight loss to tangible things — getting stronger at squatting, deadlifting, leg pressing, bench pressing, etc. — was highly effective:
The researchers concluded:
You see, the problem with focusing on weight loss as your end goal is that you become goal-oriented rather than process-oriented. This can be counterproductive because your actions are being dictated by something you cannot fully control — weight loss. And when you don’t hit your weekly or monthly weight loss goal, you go ah this is shit it’s too hard and quit.
If you want to lose weight, stop focusing on trying to move the scale. It’s okay to have a goal body weight in the back of your head but that is it. From there, focus on performance improvements. Losing weight is a side effect of sticking to the right habits and daily actions, not the other way around.
Anyfuckingway, what do “performance improvements” mean? It means focusing on something you have full control over. Here is an example of tangible and actionable things my clients focus on (this progress tracker is for clients who prefer calorie counting):
In this example, we focus on getting enough protein, controlling calories, getting workouts in, being active outside the gym, and limiting eating out. It’s objective, tangible, and actionable.
And even though we track weight and circumference measurements, we acknowledge the numbers for what they are — data — and focus on other, more important, markers of progress.
I also rarely talk about or complement weight loss. Why? Because, well, what does that say about the days when the weight is up? That a client screwed up? Of course, not. It’s silly.
We also track gym performance a.k.a strength because it’s a good indicator of muscle preservation or gain:
And here are the habits my client who hates calorie counting focuses on:
These specific health behaviors, habits, and daily actions are tailored to that client and the things she struggles with most. For you, it might be:
- Drink water to comfortable fullness at least three times per day in addition to other fluid intake.
- Don’t snack out of boredom or ritual.
- Eat mindfully (no TV, phone, etc. while eating).
- Consume fibrous veggies or fruits at most, if not all, meals.
- Follow a consistent day-to-day meal pattern.
- Follow a balanced plate approach.
- And on and fucking on it goes.
And here is the thing: The more you focus on these performance improvements in the form of developing the right habits, the more your body composition improves. Weight loss is just a positive side effect.
“In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, “The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.” — James Clear, Atomic Habits.
So have your end goal in mind — weight loss, visible abs, pick whichever variety strikes your fancy — but be more focused on other markers of performance that actually make a difference in your life. The more you focus on weight loss, the more you are missing the forest for the trees.
P.S. If you’d like me to walk you through the process of setting up a fat loss plan that’s actually sustainable long-term, check out my 1×1 Coaching Program. Cheers, Egis.
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Originally published by me on Medium on October 14, 2022