Wait for the Water

You’ve got to give it a little time.

You really do. When beginning any new lifestyle change, there is going to be an adjustment period. It happened to me, when I made the radical change of cutting out all high-glycemic-index foods, 6 days a week. This meant avoiding all sugars, starches, and dairy that triggers an insulin response and promotes additional fat storage. I had a quick visible change in my body within the first week, and was hearing about my change from people around me. Then about 2 weeks in I started taking measurements - weight, body fat and muscle percentages, and inch measurements, and endured little to no numerical results for weeks. For the next 2 months I had some small fluctuations, but my trend had basically flat-lined. Then, with very little behavioral change, those 2 months later, the trend started moving in my desired direction again.

It can happen like it did with me with that quick burst, followed by a long plateau, or sometimes there’s just a long waiting period before the results start to show up at all. The tricky thing is this doesn’t mean what you’re doing isn’t working. It is simply the result of a natural phenomenon called a feedback loop.

A good trainer friend of mine explained the feedback loop to me, just as I was starting to notice my own change showing up again. He said it happens in any area where we interact with a system to try to shift the results we’re getting, but that the best example I can think of might be a shower.

When you first turn on a shower, usually the water is much too cold to make for an enjoyable steamy singing session, so you turn up the heat. A few moments later, you might check the temperature again, and find it hasn’t warmed up yet, so you crank the heat up more. Unfortunately, just as you add more heat, you’re leaping out of the way of the spray, because the water has become scalding hot. Trying to save your burning skin, you throw open the cold tap, hoping to find a balanced temperature, and soon find yourself standing like an old ham-radio operator, tweaking and turning both the hot and cold taps, trying to find an adjustment that doesn’t throw you immediately into fire or ice.

The problem is one of unnecessary corrections, due to a delay from the time we turn the tap, to the time the water temperature mix changes deep within the pipes and then finally travels out to your skin.

And the only change here is one variable - temperature of the water.

Now think about all the chemical reactions that happen in your body -- with calories being burned to create energy, hormone levels constantly subtly adjusting to tell the cells where to derive their fuel, and how much of what’s coming in to store. Metabolic rate constantly shifting in response to changes in food and activity level, and a thousand little factors like external temperature, mental stress, quality of sleep, and timing of food and activity, all playing their part.

It’s like standing in a shower with faucets shooting at you from all sides, and the temptation is to want to adjust them all at once.

It’s easy to understand why so many diet products are marketed as “You’ve tried everything and nothing worked... until now”. The body, like all natural systems, has a feedback delay, and people often give up on healthy behavior change because it hasn’t given them a new body overnight. It’s popular in our culture to want to look for the quick fix, but that actually just leaves you with a scalding hot shower. Sustainable change requires time and patience.

Make one lifestyle change at a time, and then give that new water time to travel through the pipes before evaluating additional changes. Learn to see positive behavioral change as the goal, and measure progress in quality of life terms, instead of just numerical values on a scale. Hang in there -- give yourself time to build the gift of the life you want, and you’ll be able to keep it forever.

Happy showering!

~Rachel NASM CPT

Boxing Instructor/Personal Trainer Ridge Fitness


Barcroft Media via Getty Images
Barcroft Media via Getty Images