How Long Should You Give a Diet or Fitness Plan?

Elizabeth Millard
by Elizabeth Millard
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How Long Should You Give a Diet or Fitness Plan?

Personal trainers, physicians, nutritionists and health gurus might disagree about the route you should take toward optimal fitness and meals, but they concur on one thing: You need to give a new plan time to work.

But how much time should you keep putting in if you’re not seeing the results you want?

While the answer to that is different for everyone, there are some other questions that can help you consider whether you should abandon your current plan and pivot to a new one.

1

IS YOUR GOAL REALISTIC?

When someone feels like giving up, it’s often related to what psychologists call “goal disengagement,” according to Simon Marshall, PhD, sports psychologist and co-author of “The Brave Athlete.”

In non-athletic endeavors, giving up is often a necessity that’s considered a natural and indispensable aspect of personal development — such as leaving a bad marriage or quitting a hated job. Many times, these are considered unsolvable situations unless a major change is made.

“But health and fitness goals are mostly solvable problems,” says Marshall. “If things aren’t working, we can almost always find out why.” The best way to do that is to dig into what initial goal prompted the effort in the first place, he adds.

An unrealistic goal, particularly within a short time-frame, can be a perfect recipe for goal disengagement. For example, declaring you’ll lose 30 pounds by the end of the month, or run a marathon before the end of the year — even though November arrives and you haven’t even attempted a 5K yet.

Marshall suggests taking a hard look at that goal to see if you have stacked the deck against yourself from the start. Goals are important, but creating ones that seem impossible is often de-motivating.

2

ARE YOU REALLY FOLLOWING THE PLAN?

Another question that requires some tough love with yourself is whether you’ve given your current nutrition or exercise plan a real chance — or if you’ve put in a “kinda” effort, leading to lackluster results.

“Are you being honest about what you’re willing to do to get to your goal?” Marshall says. “Are you doing all of the actions to get the results you want, and can you prove it, objectively?”

Proving you’ve put in the work can come in the form of keeping track of your actions, he notes. That might mean a regular food log, using a fitness tracker or jotting down your daily activities.

“This isn’t a prescription for self-blame, loathing or just a finger wag to try harder in the face of failure,” he says. “It’s about being smart to find better solutions.” He suggests thinking deeply about why you might be facing a disconnect between your actions and your intentions, along with when you’re feeling that problem crop up.

For example, if you seem to jump off your nutrition plan whenever you feel stressed, it’s likely that working on de-stress strategies will work much better than criticizing yourself and vowing to “try harder” tomorrow.

3

ARE YOU ADJUSTING AS YOU GO?

You’ve been working on your nutrition and fitness and seeing modest results, but then it feels like you’ve stalled — for weeks. What happened?

This kind of plateau causes many people to switch their strategies dramatically, but you can still stay with your program, says certified personal trainer Corey Phelps, creator of fitness program Cultivate365. Making small tweaks can prompt a big restart when it comes to progress, she believes.

“Maybe it’s time to check in and change a bit, because there comes a point where any plan, if done long enough, will start to feel stagnant,” she notes. “That’s especially true if you’ve seen some results and your body composition has changed. Maybe you need to recalculate your caloric intake, maybe you need more protein or more carbs.”

4

HAVE YOU BEEN CHARTING YOUR PROGRESS?

Many times, people think they aren’t getting results because they’re focusing solely on weight, says Phelps. But non-scale victories focused on changing body composition might mean keeping your weight the same, even though you’re increasing muscle mass and losing body fat.

“You should always be checking in,” she suggests. “Take photos of yourself once a week and compare those to each other. Take measurements. Pay attention to how your jeans feel, if they fit a little better than they did last week.”

It can be frustrating to feel like you’re getting zero results, but by looking for these smaller, incremental changes, you might be surprised to see you’re actually progressing more than you think. Keep in mind patience and consistency can go a long way toward helping you meet your goals.

5

ARE YOU ENJOYING THE PROCESS?

With any healthy lifestyle change, there can be a sense of grim determination. But that can wear out of your motivation quickly, according to fitness expert Drew Manning, creator of television show and book “Fit2Fat2Fit.”

“Although you set goals, remember that there’s no race to the finish line,” he says. “It’s not like you’ll get there and be done for life. So experiment, have fun, learn as you keep progressing, and try new forms of exercise to keep it fresh.”

For example, Manning used to be an avid CrossFit member, but as he got older, he felt burned out as the WODs stacked up. So, he played around with switching up his activities to ones that felt like a better fit. That doesn’t mean he “gave up” because he stopped going to CrossFit, just that he learned to pivot toward other healthy pursuits that resonated with him more.

THE BOTTOM LINE

He suggests giving a new plan about 30–90 days, depending on what you pursue, and if you’re not enjoying it and seeing any results — and you’re honestly sticking to the program — then consider a similar pivot to something that seems better suited to you and your goals.

About the Author

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth is a freelance journalist specializing in health and fitness. She’s also an organic farmer, yoga teacher, obstacle course aficionado and 5K junkie. Her work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN, and other publications.

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