The Pendulum Effect

Posted by Becca Abrahams on


Consistency is something that we  talk about alot when discussing lifestyle change. Changing a lifestyle is not something that happens overnight, but rather the result of small changes practiced consistently day after day, hour after hour. Lifestyle change is not so much about achieving perfect adherence to a particular set of guidelines but rather striving to make slight progress day by day. Mastering lasting lifestyle change means that we must work to achieve consistency by minimizing the pendulum effect.


Think of a pendulum. When you pull it hard in one direction, and let go, what happens? Very simply, it swings back with equal force in the opposite direction. A pendulum is never exactly still. Rather, it is always moving in some small capacity, completely never static.

Many of us have lived years experiencing this pendulum effect in an effort to arrive at or achieve a particular body. We have lived years between two extremes: dieting and overindulgence, restriction and binge eating. Our intentions are good, motivated by a sincere desire to change our lives for the better. We receive so many messages every day encouraging us to label foods as either good or bad. We keep looking for that magic pill, that “superfood” that will finally supercharge our metabolism, that missing link that will suddenly make it all come together. Assaulted by this information overload everyday, it doesn’t take us long to come to the conclusion that we are flawed, incapable of practicing balance and moderation; it takes a special program to reach our goals.

The problem with this approach is that we have pulled the pendulum so far back on one side, when we eventually let go a bit, the pendulum swings with the same force in the complete opposite direction.

Our pendulum will never be truly static. We are all imperfect, human, real. We have birthday parties, vacations, family celebrations, holidays, and date nights. We have times when we skip the gym, times we feel strong... times we undereat, times we overeat...times we feel weak, times we feel whiny and miserable and don’t want to give our all in training...times when we just don’t care about our stupid macros... times we cry at the gym and throw our belt and quit lifting forever... times when all we really want is to curl up with a blanket and a pint of ice cream. Lifestyle change is an intensely emotional journey. Training and nutrition are often an outward expression of what goes on within. All of these things are completely normal parts of the process and certainly don’t mean that we are not making progress. The struggle is what makes us stronger and helps us to progress beyond what we once were.

The goal of lifestyle change is not perfection, but progress. Making progress means that we are always striving to move forward towards becoming a more awesome version of ourselves. It would be completely unrealistic to expect that our pendulum will never again swing dramatically in one direction . Rather, our goal is to control how far we allow the pendulum to swing in one direction or the other, to minimize the amount of time we spend swinging too far in one direction or the other, to achieve a sense of balance and realistic expectations. So what do we do when the pendulum swings too far in one direction? The worst thing we can do is to try to overcompensate by being overly restrictive in our food choices, resorting to fasting, cutting out entire food groups, eliminating foods we enjoy, or killing ourselves for hours in the gym. Doing so almost guarantees that the pendulum will swing again in the opposite direction.  Instead, we can endeavor to control the swing of the pendulum by simply continuing on in our journey, steadily putting one foot into the other. This means that we return to our normal training and nutrition plan, maybe drink a little more water, and trust the process. Over time, we spend less time swinging between extremes and more time in the middle ground. In this way, we continue each day to strive to be a better version of ourselves, always changing, always evolving.

We are by nature, impatient individuals and we want quick results. Unfortunately, programs that deliver quick results are often unsustainable, perpetuating the pendulum effect. After a weekend of eating too much salt, fat, and sugar, we determine we are going to change and we are going to change right now! We are so motivated! This is it! We vow to cut out sugar, stop eating processed food, abolish fast food forever, eliminate soda, eat salads every day, drink more water, go to the gym 6 days a week, stop watching TV, and go to bed earlier. We cannot wait to begin our new healthy lifestyle! But after a week or two following our overly zealous fast track to a healthy lifestyle, we find our willpower fading (because it is a limited resource!).  In very little time at all, we are right back to our old lifestyle, often making up for lost time.

Small changes, practiced consistently over time, can yield some very big results. In many cases, a complete overhaul of your life is not necessary in order to see the changes that you desire. Mastering a few basic “big priorities” in regard to nutrition often will have a greater impact on athletic performance,body composition and energy levels than trying to subscribe to a particular set of standards. Combined with an athletic lifestyle, eating enough calories in general, eating enough protein, and giving some thought to nutrient timing makes a huge difference for most people-even if (GASP!) they continue to eat fast food and drink soda occasionally. Furthermore, by trying to change too many things at once, it can be difficult to pinpoint which things are having an impact. Often, lifestyle change is far less complicated than we would try to make it.

Here are some examples of ways to implement these small changes:

  •  Replace one sugary snack daily with fruit or a flavored greek yogurt

  • Cut out one fast food meal per week and replace with a homemade alternative

  • Replace your lunch time soda with water

  • Have a salad at your lunch meal two times a week

  • Commit to hit your protein goal four out of seven days of the week

  • Go to the gym three days per week

  • Turn off the TV 30 minutes earlier to get some extra sleep

Over time, you will find that these small changes no longer require any effort. They are simply a part of your daily routine, much like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. By setting a goal of practicing small changes consistently, over time you will find that you are building healthy habits and seamlessly transitioning to a healthier lifestyle. Keep moving forward!


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