Non-Adherence By Overdoing: THE PLAN is the plan, not more


As a coach of almost 15 years now, I have written countless fitness and nutrition plans, and there are a lot of people who feel like they need to go above and beyond (or sometimes under) what the plan actually is. So many of us think that pushing harder in the gym and eating less than what is suggested will get us extra credit on our fitness journey, but the truth is it is not that simple. In fact, it may even hinder your progress. Let’s talk about the physical and mental consequences of overshooting (or undershooting) your fitness plan.

Understanding the Mentality

Why People Think Doing More is Beneficial:

We live in a culture that often celebrates over-achievement, where doing more than is asked of you is equated with being better. For example—in many workplaces, employees who put in extra hours are often praised and rewarded, which reinforces the idea that more efforts = better results. And while I certainly have some feelings about this attitude in the workplace, this mindset spills over into many other aspects of our life, including fitness and nutrition.

Many people think that going above and beyond is going to get them faster results. And why wouldn’t they? Seems to be how much of the world works… social media platforms are full of fitness influencers who are constantly showing their intense workouts and restrictive diets, often without showing you the whole picture. This illusion produces a really skewed perception of what is “normal” or “ideal.” For instance, watching an influencer share 3-hour workout routines and talk about how they’re going on their millionth juice fast can leave us feeling like we’re not doing enough. Comparing ourselves to others, especially when we only see a curated highlight reel, sets us up for unrealistic expectations. For example, someone might see a friend who lost weight quickly by doubling their cardio sessions and think they need to do the same, even if it wasn’t sustainable or safe for their body.

In my line of work, I see many people who have a sound, intelligent, nutrition and training plan that will get them sustainable results—but sometimes (more often than not, really) those results come slower than we would like them to. In their impatience, they panic and start to over-exercise or eat way beneath the calorie goal, and when they come do their check-in with me they expect me to give them a gold star.

They don’t get a gold star.

Every week I ask my clients, on a scale of 1 to 10 how much did you adhere your program? Somebody will do exactly the afforementioned, over-exercise and under-eat, then tell me that they adhered at an 11 this week. But doing more than the program, I regret to inform them, is not adhering to the program.

Impact on Physical Health

So what’s the problem with doing more exercise that is written in your program? so many things! Pushing yourself beyond your workout program can lead to host of injuries, from muscle strains to more severe issues like stress fractures. For example, someone may think that adding extra high intensity cardio will speed up their fat loss, but high intensity cardio may not be in the cards for this person, and when they do it they end up with shin splints. Their trainer likely knew this was more than the client could handle, which is why it was never prescribed.

Let’s talk recovery. You progress is only as good as your recovery, and exercising more than your body can recover from is never a good thing. Suppose a person continuously lifts heavy weights beyond the program’s recommendations, adding sets and reps and other exercises – because they think it’s going to lead to faster gains. But in actuality, their body cannot recover from all this extra training, and they end up incredibly fatigued, exhausted, and burnt out. They actually start seeing decreases in their muscle gains. Not to mention that adding extra exercise to your program will likely mess up the caloric deficit that your coach intends to have you in, which leads me to the nutrition side of this.

So many people look at their macro targets not as targets, but as limits. Because they’re looking at all of these numbers as limits, the further beneath is “limits” the better they feel. If someone is set up with the correct macronutrients and calorie goals – those should be looked at as targets, where the closer to those numbers you end up – the better. Under eating leads to nutrient deficiency, lowered energy, brain fog, feeling cold all the time, and more. When it comes to physique transformation, the problem with under-eating is that too large of a caloric deficit will likely need to muscle loss. This could actually lead to an increase in your percentage of body fat.

Wait, what?

When you’re in a fat loss phase or a caloric deficit, you are already, by definition, under-eating. Under-eating by too much for too long can lead to unfavorable metabolic adaptations, which can ultimately make weight loss or fat loss feel impossible. For women, over-exercising and under-eating can also lead to the loss of your menstrual cycle.

Mental and Psychological Effects

What are some of the mental side effects of over exercising and/or under eating? Going back to our initial point about our over achieving culture, over-achieving in fitness can lead to increased stress and anxiety. For example, if someone is constantly pushing themselves to work out beyond their program’s recommendations, they may feel very stressed about missing a single day, being afraid that all their hard work will be undone. The pressure to always “do more” can overshadow or even completely eliminate the love of training as a source of stress relief, and instead become a source of more stress. When it comes to food, someone who has gotten into the “less is more” mindset will almost certainly develop a fear of consuming what they perceive as too many calories, which leads to obsessive tracking and avoiding any social situations involving food (not a healthy mindset to be in). Because under-eating by a large margin is incredibly unsustainable, most people will eventually end up bingeing. I would argue this is more physiological effect than a psychological effect, but there are definitely psychological ramifications, particularly the guilt and shame about their perceived “failure.” Because they feel so bad about their failure to adhere to their self-imposed restrictive limits, they often decide to punish themselves with exercise or double down with an even lower calorie goal starting the following day.The cycle continues.

Having known many people that have done exactly this over the years, I can tell you that it’s excellent way to develop a terrible relationship with food and exercise. If all you’ve ever known of nutrition programs and exercise is stress, anxiety, guilt, shame, disgust and fatigue …how would you feel about it? Usually, these people leave the world of fitness altogether, giving up on any hope they ever had of achieving their goals, and any talk of fitness or nutrition down the line leads them to start explaining how terrible the whole fitness culture is.

It doesn’t have to be so terrible.

I see a lot of people stay in their over-exercising/under-eating hamster wheel for years and years, never actually reaching their goal, growing more resentful of diet and exercise all the time, but too afraid to stop for fear of moving in the other direction.

Practical Consequences

Over-exercising and under-eating is UNSUSTAINABLE. But what does this look like in real life? It means a series of constantly starting and stopping, developing a habit of inconsistency, sometimes for years. it means constantly feeling derailed and like a failure. Fitness programs are designed with a balance, and with the clients limitations in mind. A good training program should promote gradual progress and sustainable habits. As we all know, consistency is probably the most important thing we need in order to make significant progress on any fitness or physical for the long term. Constantly trying to do extreme things with your diet and nutrition will absolutely lead to yo-yoing over the years.  Doing more than your coach asks you to in the gym and eating less than they suggest makes it almost impossible for you or the coach to properly track progress and make a perfect adjustment. if you’re doing more exercise than is in your program and you’re not telling your coach, how would they know what kind of changes to make in order to keep you making progress? Likewise with your nutrition plan—it’s literally throwing your money down the drain because you’re making your coach’s job impossible. Either trust your coach’s programs, or find another coach that you do trust.

Why Program Adherence Matters

*Programs are Designed with Balance:

**Optimal Progress:**

    Fitness and nutrition programs are meticulously designed to optimize progress through balanced training and nutrition. For example, a workout program might include a mix of resistance training and cardio to ensure comprehensive fitness development. Ignoring the prescribed rest days and overloading on cardio could lead to burnout rather than progress.


    Programs are often tailored to individual needs and goals. For instance, someone working towards building muscle will have a different plan than someone aiming for fat loss. Sticking to the plan respects these individual differences, ensuring the approach is safe and effective.

*Building Sustainable Habits:

**Consistency Leads to Results:**

    Programs are structured to develop habits that support long-term fitness and health goals. Consistently following the plan, even if the progress seems slow, helps instill habits that lead to sustainable results. For example, maintaining a consistent diet plan fosters healthy eating patterns that can be sustained beyond a short-term goal.

**Reduces Injury Risk:**

    Programs include rest and recovery periods to prevent injuries caused by overuse. By not adhering to these guidelines, individuals risk pushing their bodies to the point of injury, which can significantly delay progress. A runner ignoring planned recovery days could develop stress fractures, which would halt training entirely.

Maintaining adherence to the program fosters sustainable habits and ensures balanced progress, reducing the likelihood of injuries or setbacks.****


So next time you’re dealing with the call to take extreme measures with your training and your nutrition, stop! Ask yourself why you’re doing this. Can you see yourself doing this for the next 3 months? 6 months? A year? If the answer is no, don’t do it! If you have taken the time, effort, and money to hire a coach or a trainer to create programs and plans for you, then decide you’re just going to do it your way anyway—why did you bother? Did you just want to pay somebody to tell you to do what you were already doing? Or did you want to hire somebody for their expertise and track record helping people get to their goals in a safe and same way?

The plan is the plan. No more, no less. Trust the process, think long term, and you will be very grateful you did when you reach your goals and are able to maintain them.

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