What to do when you feel like nothing is working

Megan Dahlman
December 12, 2015

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That title might be really resonating with you right now. Do you sometimes feel like nothing is working? You have very real goals, and you feel like you’ve been working really hard, but you’re not seeing any real results. And without fail, in the midst of these frustrating feelings, everybody around you seems to be making huge leaps and bounds toward their goals. What the heck?! Why not me?!

This is a very frustrating place to be, especially if you’re months into a workout and nutrition program, and you feel like you're working your tail off. “If this isn’t working, then what will? I’m a hopeless case!” This is the point when you’re about to throw in the (workout) towel.

Let’s hold on to that towel for a second, work through these frustrations and see if we can come up with a solution. Stick with me here…

Evaluate your circumstances. Look around at your situation. Are you expecting to see a dramatic body transformation when your husband just lost his job, you have to travel a lot, you’re kids are going through a rough patch at school, and the whole family seems wiped out with colds? If you are dwelling in a state of chaos and stress, change is SO MUCH HARDER to come by. You might feel ok, but there is probably a lot lurking below the surface. If you’re psychologically processing things, you will have less mental capacity to devote to your fitness. Plus, stress certainly affects you physically. Your body will produce more of the hormone cortisol, which makes fat loss incredibly difficult.

If your circumstances are tough right now, I get it. You might not be able to change a lot of things (if you could, you would have already, right?), but you can try to implement some strategies to reduce the effects of the added stress. Carve out a couple extra minutes in your day to practice positional breathing, pray, journal to get your thoughts on paper instead of stuck in your mind, and talk things through with a friend or family member. This won’t solve your circumstances, but it will certainly help how you feel about it all, making body change more possible.

Be realistic. What sort of goals do you have in mind? Are you expecting to drop 30 pounds by next month? Are you expecting to be able to get to the gym every other day and eat perfectly? If these are your expectations, perhaps you live in a bubble where you are completely unaffected by normal life?!

Let’s be realistic here. If you have big goals (like dropping 4 dress sizes or losing 20+ pounds), it’s going to take a long time and a lot of work. You will hit many speedbumps along the way, you might get collateral injuries, and you’ll hate it most of the time. But this is reality. I won’t sugarcoat it. The ones that see true and lasting change have incredible perseverance and the ability to push through when life hits. Can you do this? Do you need to modify your goals to be more realistic? 

Keep your blinders on and your eyes down. Comparing yourself to others’ journeys will always discourage you. Sure, you might find a little motivation at first (“if they can do it, I can too!”), but once you start going, it will seem like everyone is accomplishing more than you.

One thing to keep in mind is that many people do “quick fix systems”, and there are many of them out there right now. They are very drastic and severe dieting and workout strategies that produce impressive results. However, you’ll rarely see the flipside of these systems…the weight that is regained as soon as the system is finished, the injuries that occur from the intense workouts, and bad habits that are created (food obsession!). Believe me, you don’t want to go there. It’s so much better to see slower yet lasting change than immediate yet temporary change. Stay focused and keep your eyes on your own task.

Are you being totally honest with yourself? This is a good one. When I look at my full group of clients and identify the ones making major strides, this is what separates them from the others: they’re doing exactly what I tell them to do. They’re not cheating, they’re not trying to manipulate the system, they’re not skipping their workouts, and they’re eating how I tell them to eat. And it’s not always really hard stuff! Sometimes the only instruction is to drink only one soda per day instead of three. Sometimes I’m only having them workout once per week. But the kicker is that THEY JUST DO IT.

Be honest with yourself. Are you doing what you should be doing? Are you skipping scheduled workouts and putting creamer in your coffee and still wondering why nothing is working? Stop lying to yourself that you’re doing all the right things and still not seeing change. Are you sure? What can you do better?

Train harder. Can you push it a little more in your workouts? Generally, when I walk trainees through a routine they’re shocked at how quickly we move through it compared to how they do it on their own. They realize they take more breaks than necessary and constantly second guess the exercises. Once you know it, just go! Yes, make sure you’re careful, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t worry if you keep falling out of your single leg dead lifts or planks. Pick up the pieces, make it as pretty as possible, but just keep going!

Can you do more workouts in a week? You might be taxed as it is and your circumstances might prevent you from doing more, but if that’s not the case consider adding in another workout or two. In my experience, 5 workouts per week is the magic number. This sounds crazy, I know, but if you can strength train 3 days per week, and then perform either bodyweight movements like yoga or do interval training on the other two days, you’ll feel pretty dialed. You can certainly still see change with just two or three workouts per week, but four or five workouts produces much more results.

At the end of the day, whether it’s two workouts per week or five, the key is CONSISTENCY. Week in, week out, just keep doing it.

Eat better. What areas do you need to fine-tune with your nutrition? Are you expecting significant fat loss while still drinking mochas, skipping meals, dousing everything in ranch and not prioritizing vegetables? Remember, to see recognizable change you need to eat perfectly about 90% of the time, leaving only 10% of your food consumption coming from less nutritious foods. If you eat four meals per day for seven days, that equals only three or four meals that are less than perfect. Make a chart if you need to track this.

To keep it easy in my head, I eat whatever I want Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday morning and then one freebie during the week. This may be helpful for you, too.

Frustration breeds change. This is so incredibly true. If you are honestly frustrated and fed up with where you’re at, the only option is to make changes. You would wallow in this more and throw in the towel if you didn’t really care. I believe that you care. You want change. You want this to work. You want more than anything to break out of your spot and do whatever it takes to change.

I get a tinge of excitement when someone comes to me angry, passionately driven, and ready to fight. These are the ones that end up creating the dramatic before and after pictures.

Are you frustrated and feel like nothing is working? You’re at a tipping point. You’re either on the brink of making some serious strides forward or you’re ready to give up. Take some time to evaluate where you’re at, being realistic about your circumstances and goals. Be honest with yourself and step up your game if it’s time.

This works, believe me. Just don’t give up.

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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