Acknowledging the difference between mental slump and a physical one

Hey you crazy kids,

One thing which comes up regularly when I talk to clients is a “fitness slump”. A period where people feel fat, feel weak, feel like they’re not doing enough, or what they’re doing isn’t working.

If you’re in one of these “funks” and you feel like things are going against you it’s important to establish whether it’s a mental issue or an actual physical issue. I’ll give you a good example which you may relate to.

I have a client who I’ve been working with for over 5 years. We’ll call her Queenie, for the sake of confidentiality. Over those years I’ve witnessed a cycle where every September I end up having the same conversation with Queenie about how fat she is, how her metabolism must be broken or her thyroid isn’t functioning because no matter what she does, she can’t seem to get back to good health (her target weight) after a 6 week summer of indulgence. The truth is, she’s got post holiday blues, she hasn’t got back into a healthy eating regime which is why she’s not losing weight and she’s thinner than most people out there anyway.

In that example it’s about her weight, but it’s not just about weight, it can be any physical factor of health. The important thing is to try and establish whether it’s reality, or it’s related to a periodic negative mental state. We all have bouts of depression. Some long term and some rather short-lived. But when we do it has a negative effect on our perspective. Our reality gets distorted which makes the cycle continue.

I find the best way to overcome this is to focus on metrics or quantifiable data. Now, I can see that post holiday, Queenie is still drinking regularly, and is still eating more than is required for her to lose weight, but she’s not tracking it. In her negative mental state she thinks she’s doing it right and she’s not seeing results, but the reality is, she’s not watching what she’s doing. If she spent a bit of time focusing on the details she’d see why she’s not losing weight. She’d also see that she’s not overweight anyway, even though she feels like a whale compared to her friends, who are mostly, shorter and heavier than her.

What tends to happen is a week or two down the line her mental state improves and suddenly she’s back in the game, losing weight and fully aware of what she’s consuming. In one bizarre incident she spent a few months worrying that she had the opposite problem and that she couldn’t gain weight and had some kind of illness which made her waste away. Again, this was a mental slump. She’d just given up sugar, carbs and alcohol and unsurprisingly, without tracking her intake, she was losing weight! But at the time it didn’t matter what I said to her, she wouldn’t listen. One day she’ll realise she’s actually in control of it all and I think we’re getting close to that stage.

Focusing on the details does two things. Firstly it highlights the reality, not just the way you feel. Secondly, it highlights where any issues may lie, so the reality can be addressed.

So next time you’re in a funk, look at the number of workouts you’re doing, the time you’re spending on it, the amount you’re achieving in those workouts and the results you’re getting. Once it’s all there in front of you, you’ll often see a completely different picture to the one in your head. Whether it’s “I’m not making enough progress” or “this is all pointless” or “this plan isn’t working any more”, putting some numbers on it will show you the reality, which is often not as bad as you think.

Our minds can do great things for us, but they can also do terrible things so try not to let them get carried away without looking at the facts.

The app I use with my clients tracks data and shows it very clearly so you can easily see the reality, not the mindset. The below image is hard to get confused about.

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