6 Reasons Your Body Isn't Doing What You Want It To Do
So you're trying to improve your body. Awesome. What are you trying to do exactly? No wait, let me guess. You want to lose fat? You want to build muscle? You want to lose fat AND build muscle? Yeah, it's a pretty easy question to guess the answer to. But, that's not really important. What is important is whether or not it's working. So, let me ask you this:
Is your body doing what you want it to do? If your answer is yes, then congratulations are in order. Nice job, keep up the good work.
If your answer is no, then this article is for you.
Below is what I think are the most common reasons that your diet and fitness related goal isn't being reached. Or, to put it another way, it's 6 reasons why your body isn't doing what you want it to do.
#1: You're focusing too much on nonsense, and not enough on proven principles.
Want to lose weight? Here's the deal: you must create a caloric deficit. If you don't, you can spend an infinite amount of time worrying about carbs and fat and protein, and eating more or less of a certain type of food, and different types of cardio, and high reps or low reps, and so on and so on... and it will all be for nothing.
Want to build muscle? Here's the deal: you must eat enough to support growth and make progressive overload happen in the gym. Trying to come up with the best routine, and the best exercises, and the best number of sets and reps, and the best supplements... it's all completely useless if the basic principles that make it all matter aren't in place.
The funny thing about people with diet and fitness related goals is that the few things that actually matter often end up getting the least amount of focus put on them (if any), and what barely matters at all ends up getting most (or all) of the attention. The truth is, for every goal like this there is a basic set of proven principles that must be in effect in order for that goal to be reached. And then honestly, beyond those few proven principles, everything else is just minor details that range from "it matters a little" to "it really doesn't matter at all."
Despite this being true, it has somehow become normal for these minor details to become the things that people care about the most, and it's usually at the expense of what really matters.
Take the skinny guy who is failing to build muscle. What is he doing wrong? 99% of the time, he's either A) not eating enough, B) not focusing on progression in the gym, or C) a combination of both. So, what's he doing instead? He's trying to figure out what type of creatine is the best, or wondering if the dumbbell bench press is better than the barbell bench press, or if he should use an overhand or underhand grip on the lat pull-down machine, or if he should be doing 10 reps instead of 8 reps or 8 reps instead of 10 reps, or if he should be eating 150 grams of protein per day, or 160.
Now let's take the fat woman who is failing to lose weight. What is she doing wrong? 99% of the time, she is not consistently creating a caloric deficit. So, what's she doing instead? She's worrying if she is eating too many carbs, or if she is eating too many high glycemic foods, or wondering if jogging on the treadmill burns 30 more calories per hour than riding the bike, or if she should be training with high reps instead of low reps, or if some weight loss product actually does what it claims to do.
Guess what? This is all minor unimportant nonsense that is doing nothing but distracting you from the few basic proven principles that actually matter.
Now, I'm a perfectionist, and I can be fairly obsessive about things that I am interested in to the point where I too spend a lot of time and effort on minor details. So, I'd be a hypocrite if I told you to never give any attention to any of the above or anything similar. What I will tell you though is that this isn't the stuff that's going to get you to reach your goal. In fact, most of it won't make any significant difference of any kind whatsoever. What will? The few proven principles that truly matter.
So, find out what your goal's proven principles are, and then focus on them and them alone. And then, if you happen to feel like dabbling in some minor details that barely matter at some point in the future, feel free. But, do it under two conditions.
First, that you always remember that these things are in fact just the small stuff that will not really make much (if any) difference in the big picture. And second, that you don't let this stuff get in the way of your goal's proven principles, because it's those proven principles that will actually make your body do what you want it to do.
#2: You aren't paying attention.
Do you even know if your body is doing what you want it to do? Are you weighing yourself on a regular basis? Taking measurements? Taking pictures?
Are you keeping some form of workout log? Do you know exactly how many sets of how many reps of how many exercises you did the previous time? If you don't, you won't know exactly what you need to do this time in order for progress to be made. And, if you don't know what your exact goals are for each new workout, I can nearly guarantee that your body isn't doing what you want it to do, especially if what you want it to do is build muscle or get stronger.
Are you keeping some form of diet log? Do you know what you're eating on a daily basis? Do you know how much you're eating? Do you know if you ate the right number of calories today? How about yesterday? How about last month? Do you know if you'll eat the right amount of calories tomorrow? I only ask because, if you want to lose weight or build muscle, there is a certain number of calories that your body requires each day in order for what you want to happen to actually happen.
So uh, do you know?
These are just a few of the more important questions that you would know the answer to if you were truly paying attention to what you are doing. If any of these questions stumped you, there's your problem.
#3: You don't adjust when what you're doing isn't working.
I can't even count the number of people in my gym who look like crap yet continue to do exactly what they always do and still wonder why they aren't improving. Here's a quote I'm stealing from somewhere...
"If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got."
If your current diet and workout hasn't caused any new muscle to be built or any new fat to be lost in the last year, guess what? It's not going to cause any new muscle to be built or any new fat to be lost next year either. It's pretty insane when you think about it. You have a goal, you do what you think needs to be done in order to reach that goal, it doesn't work, and you just keep on doing it. Yup, that is indeed complete insanity, and the only thing even more insane is how common it is in the diet and fitness world.
As for why this is so, I have 3 guesses:
My first guess is stubbornness. Are these people just stubborn? They can't step back and take an honest look at their results and admit to themselves that what they initially thought would work isn't working? That the method they chose just wasn't the right choice? And now, out of stubbornness, they refuse to change what they're doing?
Guess number two would be habit and routine. Are these people just so embedded in the routine of how they eat and work out that they can't break out of it? They just eat a certain way because that's the way they eat, and they work out a certain way because that's just the way they work out? They are so stuck in the routineness of it all that it's just part of their life for good or bad just like any other habit?
And my favorite guess of all... they are just plain stupid. They just haven't noticed that what they are doing isn't working. Or, better yet, they realize that it hasn't worked, but they are holding out in hope that it will magically start to work all of a sudden at some point in the future.
It could actually be some combination of the 3, or maybe even something else altogether. Whatever it is, it's crazy, and if any of this sounds a little too familiar, let this be the slap in the face that you needed to break out of the rut you're stuck in. Take a step back and really look at yourself and what you're doing and what kind of results it's all yielding. And of course, be realistic when doing this (more on that in a minute).
Now, honestly and realisticly... is it working?
If yes, keep doing it. If not, stop and adjust accordingly until it does.
#4: You adjust things too often and/or unnecessarily.
This one actually needs to be broken up into 2 parts. The Myth Believers, and The Hype Believers.
The Myth Believers
I know I've written about this before, but it needs to be mentioned again in this context. For reason #3 above, I talked about a crazy type of person who does something that doesn't work, yet for one reason or another, never changes it. Well, I'd now like to introduce you to another similarly crazy person: the person who changes something that IS working.
As best as I can tell, this insanity is exclusively workout related, and is almost always caused by the belief in a completely idiotic fitness myth. What is that myth, you ask? Here, stop me if you've heard this one:
"You need to change your workout every ::insert some duration of time here:: in order to shock your body into continuing to make progress."
Over the years I've seen various horrible sources claim that these "changes" should be made as often as every 12 weeks, every 8 weeks, every 6 weeks, every month, every other week or, my personal favorite... every single workout.
And the reason for making these changes? Well duh... if you don't, your body will get so used to what you are doing that it will just adapt to it and stop progressing. You must therefore shock your body into improving by changing your workout often. You must do this to keep your body guessing.
What's funny is that there is some truth to this, it's just not at all in the way this stupid myth makes it out to be. See, it is true that if you keep doing the same thing over and over and over again without ever changing anything, your body will indeed adapt to it and stop progressing. This is completely true. However, where the truth starts to change into myth is when you get into the specifics of the type of "change" that is needed.
In order for your workout to continue to be effective and to continue to yield results, you must progress in some way over time. For example, if you currently lift 50lbs on some exercise for 8 reps, you must work on trying to lift 50lbs for 9 reps, or 50lbs for 10 reps, or 55lbs for those same 8 reps. This is the ONLY type of change that your body truly requires in order for progress to be made.
But, in the context of this dumb myth, the change needs come to the actual structure of what your workout is. So, if you've been doing barbell presses, you need to "change" to dumbbell presses. If you've been doing pullups, you need to "change" to lat pull downs. If you've been doing squats, you need to "change" to leg presses. If you've been doing low reps, you need to "change" to high reps. If you've been training each muscle group twice per week, you need to "change" to once per week. If you've been doing Program ABC, you need to get rid of it completely and "change" to Program XYZ. And so on and so on.
These are the types of "changes" that are associated with this myth. So, these are the things that these misinformed people do to their workout every X number of days or weeks or whatever duration of time their bad source recommended.
The problem? It prevents progress.
As mentioned, in order for your workout to be effective, you need to progress consistently in some way over time. Now, how can you possibly progress consistently at something when you are constantly changing what it is that you are trying to progress at? And that's only half the problem...
What if what you were doing was working just fine? The results were great and everything was progressing terrifically. Well, too bad. It's been X amount of time which means it's time to "change" your workout just for the sake of making a "change."
That, my friends, is complete insanity. And believe it or not, there are a ton of people who do this. They find something that works and then change it soon after because they heard they should "change their workout often to shock their body." The only thing your body is being shocked at is how stupid you are for changing something that was working perfectly fine in the first place.
Now, does this mean you should never change your workout ever? Of course not. The point I am trying to making here is that you should NOT change your workout if it's working (you'd think common sense would dictate that), and you should NOT change your workout just for the sake of changing it or because it's "been X amount of time and you need to shock your body." That's total nonsense.
So then, when should you change your workout? Here's an idea... when it stops working! Basically what it comes down to is this... do something. If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn't, change it until it does. It's just a whole lot of common sense, I know, but sometimes idiotic fitness myths cloud people's judgment and they need to be reminded. So, consider this your reminder.
(For more info on when and why you should and should not change your workout, check out How Often Should You Change Your Workout?)
The Hype Believers
But wait, there's more. In addition to all of the above, there is one other group of nutjobs that I must mention... the "that looks better than what I'm currently doing" people. What these people do is constantly change their diet and/or workout because they think they have come across something "better" than what they're currently doing. And then, a short time later, something even better than that comes along. And soon after that... something that seems even better than that.
So what will happen is these people will jump from one diet to another and one workout to another over and over and over again with the thought being that what they are jumping to will be better, faster or easier than what they are currently doing.
The problem? Everything takes time to work! If you don't give it the time, it just won't work. So, while you're all busy switching to the new greatest diet and workout in the world every other week, do you know what's not happening? Here's a clue... it rhymes with schmogress.
The point? As long as what you're doing is built around proven principles and is done correctly... it will work. The catch? You MUST give it the time it needs to actually do what you want it to do. That new super amazing diet or workout you heard about? Ignore it.
#5: You are trying instead of doing.
As I mentioned earlier, your goal requires that you do a few very specific things. If you do these things correctly, your body will do what you want it to do. If you don't, your body will NOT do what you want it to do. What's that you say? You are trying to do these things? You are doing your very best to try and get these things done? Well, guess what? "Trying" just isn't good enough.
I know, we all learned when we were kids that as long as you try your best, you're a winner. That's all well and good, but if you want to lose fat or build muscle, trying your best to do the things you need to do won't amount to JACK SQUAT. And yes, I said that in my Chris Farley/Matt Foley voice.
The fact is, no one in the world has EVER improved their body by trying. They all did it by doing. It's sort of uh, what do they call it... oh yeah... a requirement.
I'm not looking to hurt anyone's feelings here or anything, but the truth of the matter is that if you want to lose fat or build muscle or whatever else, you need to actually do the things that need to be done. Just trying isn't good enough. It sounds so obvious, yet it doesn't appear to be. I mean, I've had an interest in diet and fitness for quite a while now, and I've heard the following type of thing a million times:
"Well, I want to lose some weight, and I've been trying to eat better, but my progress hasn't been too great." Or, "I want to build muscle, and I really have been trying to workout right, but it's just not working."
No kidding? You've been trying and it hasn't worked? I must say, I am shocked! Seriously though, is it really that surprising? I mean, if all it took was just "trying" to do what you need to do, I think every single person on the planet would look fantastic. I think by now everyone at some point has tried to improve their body at least once, so if that was all it took, wouldn't everyone look great? Everyone would be as lean and muscular as they want, and the world would be a wonderful place.
All you need to do to get your body to look exactly how you want it to look is just... try! Hooray for trying!!
There is just one tiny problem. The difference between reaching your goal and not reaching your goal is equal to the difference between doing and trying.
I sooo don't want to get all self-help guru on you here, but there really isn't any other way to make this point. You want to lose weight? The only way it's going to happen is if you literally DO the things that your body requires you to do in order for it to lose weight. You want to build muscle? The only way it's going to happen is if you literally DO the things that your body requires you to do in order for it to build muscle.
That's it, plain and simple.
#6: Your body actually IS doing what you want it to do. You just have unrealistic expectations.
Here's a perfect example. A few weeks ago I got an email from someone with the subject "What am I doing wrong?" This person is looking to lose weight, and they said they read The Ultimate Weight loss Guide and thought they learned everything they needed to know and do in order to lose weight successfully. They then mentioned that they were eating like this, working out like this, and blah blah blah. At this point, it sounded like they were doing everything right. That's when the best line of the email came:
"I've been doing all of this for about 2 months, and I'm only losing like 1lb per week, sometimes 2 if I'm lucky. What am I doing wrong?"
So, I hit reply, typed the word "nothing" and hit send.
If you have read stuff I've written on this site before, then you are probably aware that losing 1-2 pounds per week is, in fact, absolutely perfect. It's the ideal weight loss rate and means you are doing everything right and nothing wrong. The only thing this person was "doing wrong" was expecting unrealistic results.
The same goes for the people looking to build muscle. I've mentioned this before too, but I will gladly mention it again. The average male can gain about 0.5lbs of muscle per week if they're doing everything right. The average female can gain about half that. And, if your genetics suck, that number decreases. Think about that for a minute.
If you're expecting to lose 20lbs in 20 days, or gain 10lbs of muscle in a week, you are setting yourself up for failure because IT JUST CAN'T HAPPEN.
Don't feel too bad, because it's not your fault for thinking it can. Nope, that blame falls solely on the diet and fitness industry which is, in all honesty, just a giant pile of bullshit. They go out of their way to put these crazy expectations in your head for the purpose of getting you to buy whatever crappy product it is they are selling. If they said "Buy this and you can build the body of your dreams in just 2 years!!!" they probably wouldn't sell many products. If they replace "2 years" with "2 weeks" guess what happens? Yup... products go flying off the shelves.
I used to think that the only problem with this unfortunate truth was that it caused a freakishly large number of people to waste their time, money and effort. As if that wasn't bad enough, I now realize that there is actually a secondary effect as well. It causes the people who are actually doing the right thing to expect unrealistic results from it. This will usually lead to that person questioning what they're doing and eventually stopping to do something else. And, just like that, someone who was actually doing things correctly goes on to waste their time and effort (and probably money too) trying to find a better, faster way. And, since no such way actually exists, this scenario tends to never work out too well.
So, before you start to think that what you're doing isn't working, and then start to wonder if there is a better, faster, easier way, take a second to figure out if this is TRULY the case, or if you are just overestimating the type of results you think you should be getting.
So, let's get back to that question I asked at the very beginning. Is your body doing what you want it to do? If your answer was no, you should now have a pretty good idea why. And, you should also now know what you need to do to fix it. So um, you know... get to work.