I have been sticking to a healthy lifestyle for just over a year now: this includes making conscious food choices and committing to regular exercises (cardio and strength training). The changes to my body (inside and out) have been great--however, as I (sometimes shockingly) see myself in the mirror every day, I don't realise how great my transformation was, and still is. Because you are always more critical with yourself, it seems that you see yourself in a different light than other people would. This can be good and bad.
If you feel like you have stagnated, and there haven't been any positive changes, you might be more motivated to stick to your healthy diet and exercise plan even more than before. You might feel like the gym session is more worth going to. And when you realise that you have reached a plateau, you can make appropriate changes.
However, if you are being too critical and hard on yourself, you can enter a vicious cycle of desperation. What do I mean by that? Well, if you are too focused on what is wrong with you and your body, these negative thoughts can actually hold you back. They make you more vulnerable to your weaknesses. For example, I used to be VERY particular about what I ate, because I wanted to cut out sugar and wheat completely. Because I was so focused on what not to do, I failed to reward myself completely, which made me unhappy. When I was unhappy, I wanted cake (natural reaction, right?). But I wasn't allowed to have cake, which made me want it even more. At some point in this chain of reactions, I would just go 'Bloody Hell, this is stupid--let's have a cake-fest!' This did not end with me having ONE piece of cake, but the WHOLE cake (yes, it was carrot cake, and yes my stomach is very stretchy). After that I would feel terrible, and again start the cycle of restricting myself completely.
Something similar can happen when you don't see progress anymore. The closer you get towards your dream body, the slower the changes will appear. If you feel like nothing is happening anymore, you either give up because all this effort isn't paying off, or you think you have to get even stricter to achieve what you want. And that is where the problem lies.
Tracking, measuring and viewing your progress is extremely important not only for your motivation, but for your overall sanity. The easiest way to do that is to take before and after pictures. When you start your journey towards a healthy and fit life, take a photo of yourself in underwear. Do not try to make it any better by sucking in your stomach or flexing your biceps. That defeats the purpose. From then on, regularly look at yourself in the mirror, assess your body, become more familiar with it, and take a photo. If you love taking pictures of yourself, you can do it once a day (I feel like lots of people on facebook do that...). I think once every two to four weeks would work best because I feel that for most body types, that seems to be a good interval to perceive changes. Keep the pictures in a folder on your laptop, and everytime you doubt yourself, or you are unhappy with the way you look, or you feel like you are stuck, go back to that folder and see how far you have come!
Unfortunately, I have not kept track of my progress regularly, and I really regret that. I have now reached a stage where progress is almost invisible--however, when I look back at pictures of me from a year ago, I am quite proud of myself! I would love to see, however, if there has been any change in the last 4 - 3- 2- 1 months though. Learn from my mistakes and track your progress.
At the moment, I can only offer to you some old travel pictures, which unfortunately is not the same as taking proper fitness before and after pictures. However, I think you can definitely get the idea!
Yes, you can see the difference. And please don't get me wrong, I am very proud of what I have achieved. However, now I find it difficult to see if my hard work and efforts are paying off now--which sometimes negatively impacts my motivation. So, take a photo of yourself right now, no matter what level of fitness you are at! Get into the habit of taking photos of yourself regularly: don't be critical, be constructive.
If you would like to have access to more tracking tools, advice and motivation, Register free at ProFitnessPlans.com. .
In the end, it is great to go back to those 'Before' pictures and wonder "IS THAT REALLY ME?!"