The Aesthetic Goal Conundrum

*Note from Sarah.  Jason Seib of Primitive Stimulus has done it again.  I love this article.  Enough said, now read, enjoy and comment away!!

The Aesthetic Goal Conundrum

To be perfectly honest, the following observations might not lead you to a life altering epiphany.  But maybe they will.  I don’t really have any direct answers this time.  Just a view from different angle that may help you find your own answers.

I would like to make it clear that from here forward I am only speculating and sharing my professional experience.  I am in no way implying that my speculations apply to everyone, and maybe not even the majority.

I noticed something very interesting when Sarah and Chrissy brought their Paleo Talk Seminar to my gym.  They both showed us pictures of what they looked like before paleo nutrition and proper exercise, and both of them went into detail about how miserable they were at that time.  We could all easily make comparisons between the women in the pictures and the women standing before us.  The aesthetic transformations were astounding and they both look amazing today, but that part went unmentioned.  Neither Sarah or Chrissy ever said they didn’t like the way they looked, only that they couldn’t stand the way they felt.  Hmmm.  Like I said, very interesting.

Throughout my career, the biggest changes in physical appearance have more often than not been achieved by those without aesthetic goals.  Furthermore, clients who are the most driven by aesthetic goals alone, sometimes to the point of desperation, are usually those who struggle the most.  It’s a frustrating paradox for both client and trainer alike.  I have some tenuous theories, but no definitive solutions.

First of all, I have always suspected that the personality type who spends a lot of time worrying about how they look might also be the type that worries more about everything.  If so, then we can assume elevated cortisol which means more fat and less muscle.  If you are a stress case with way too much on your plate and bad sleep patterns, major physical changes will be tough to achieve.  Throw in some stress about your appearance and you are officially stuck in a negative feedback loop.  Worrying about how you look = more stress = more cortisol = more fat/less muscle = more worrying about how you look.  (Important note:  If this is you, more exercise is likely not the answer unless you aren’t exercising.  Caloric restriction diets are also a bad idea.)

Second, body loathing probably goes hand in hand with low self esteem in most cases.  Whether the relationship between how you look and how you value yourself is correlated or causal, the outcome is often difficulty with compliance.  An attitude of “I don’t deserve better than this” will block your path to success every time it rears its ugly head.  If you sometimes feel like efforts to improve yourself are pointless, especially if you have struggled with your self image for a long time, you probably cheat on your diet and skip workouts more often than you should.  This, of course, also creates a negative feedback loop.  Cheating = more self loathing = more feelings of hopelessness = more cheating.

My best advice – find a way to enjoy the means to the end.  Most of us with success stories love the way we eat and truly enjoy our workouts.  You can too.  The easiest way to learn to enjoy your journey is to find people to journey with.  My clients at CPC cheer for each other, encourage each other when the going gets tough, and contact each other when someone starts slacking off.  Without asking, I’m sure Sarah and Chrissy can attest to the same thing at Norcal Strength and Conditioning.  Another great way to stay motivated is to focus on physical capacity goals.  Stop thinking about your appearance every time you drag yourself to the gym and start thinking about lifting heavier weights, moving faster, and accomplishing things that your friends think are impossible.  Posting a video on Facebook of you doing a pull-up or a heavy back squat will put you on the receiving end of much admiration (and maybe a little envy).  Each little personal record will act as a stepping stone to a new you.  One day you will be on your way to the shower and the mirror will stop you in your tracks.

“What the….?  When did I get so hot?!?”

Changing your focus could change your life.


  1. Emily says

    there is so much truth in this. for years i struggled to look a certain way and would basically starve myself (and ruin my metabolism) to attain it. and i never got to where i wanted to be. then something magical happened. i stopped caring and started training. my goals became strictly about performance and sustaining strength. one thing led to another and now i feel great, and look a lot better too.

  2. Carley Augustine says

    I just found your blog last week, and I am hooked. As soon as I get my first paycheck (I’m starting a teaching job from being broke in Grad School), I am going to buy up all of your books.

    This blog touches me. I am a worrier. And a counter. I incessantly weigh myself daily. I monitor everything I eat. I value my worth based on that number on the scale. The thing is, I’m tiny. I’m 5’4, 120. So it’s quite ridiculous. I LOVE working out. I may be slightly addicted to the side effects of exercise. (calm, fit, happy feelings). I joined a roller derby team in December, and it changed me. The grueling 2 hour skates 3 times a week made me begin to realize my new strength. Which was necessary, because I was hit by a car while walking across a street in a freaking crosswalk on campus. I have some irreversible knee damage; torn things. There is no distance running, jumping, or tennis in my future. Plus I lost 7 pounds after the accident, and it wasn’t fat loss.

    Ok, my point. I feel like finding you is the final step in my internal change. I’m 35 years old. I look somewhat 25 years old. I am always obsessing about being fit, strong, thin… and eating. I feel that I can take the paleo step, and concentrate on health instead. So, thank you.

  3. says

    Fantastic post! Now just to put it into action. I struggle with the the fact that my ideal aesthetic is hard to achieve for some of the same reasons you highlighted and everyone thinks I look great as I am now but I still want the ideal. I keep telling myself to let it go and just enjoy the body I have now. Maybe changing the focus to being stronger and faster is a better way to go.

  4. says

    LOVE, LOVE… LOOOOVE this! I am so motivated to get in shape and help others get in shape and it wasn’t until I realized my new goals were lifting heavier weights and being able to do more push-ups did I realize I value the STRENGTH that I feel more than the pounds on the scale. I have a friend who is struggling and I am helping her out by making he realize she did better at losing weight when she had a goal (run further in order to do her first 5k). I will definitely be sending this post on to her to help her better understand that the final piece (eating well) will only happen when she values how well she feels after eating well (and how run down she feels after eating crap!).

  5. says

    Interesting post, and I was only thinking about this topic yesterday.

    I am going into my 4th weekof paleo at the moment, after numerous attempts to start and failure to get past 2 weeks. The aesthetic motivation has been taken away from me as I am 6 months pregnant, so no matter what I am going to get bigger (although I am hoping to get LESS big through eating well).

    I think I have made it this far because this time my motivation is feeling better, and so far I feel amazing. My headaches have all but gone, I have so much more energy, and feel less anxious.

    I think that focussing on how you feel is more of an effective motivator because the results are almost instant, and continue to get better. The physical changes take longer, and when they are your focus they often don’t happen fast enough.

    Great article!

  6. Janet says

    I’m a soon to be 40 year old, mother of 3, nurse for 17 years, 10 of them on night shift in ICU. My youngest son died at 19 months, after being born with Marfans Syndrome. He was sick his whole life and I was his mother/nurse. After he died I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s hypothyroid, depression, arthritis, migraines and high blood pressure. All this to say, I have not taken care of myself and starting behind the eight ball so to speak. I have recently ‘gone paleo’ and taking my family with me. Starting off exercise with push ups, body weight squats, & kettle bells in my garage, and walking. Things are going sloooow to say the least. I can’t go by looks or even heavy weight at this point. Just have to go by faith that what I’m doing is best for my health and the health of my family. That’s more important.

    • JasonS says

      It sounds like you might need a coach, Janet. Based on the very limited information you gave us, I would say you should be seeing some fairly rapid change. Any chance you live near the Portland, OR area? I would LOVE to work with you! You are my favorite type of client because you have so much potential to feel better.

      • Janet says

        Love your passion! I’m from Kentucky. Just gleaning what I can from the blogs/websites of paleo. My husband is also guiding me along. He’s read so much more than I have. However, I will look into finding a local coach. An outside perspective might be beneficial. I would love to start feeling better and have more energy. Thanks!

        • Christa says

          Please get yourself a book “Why do I still have thyroid symptoms when my lab test are normal?” by Dr. Datis Kharrazian. It will set you back less then $15 on Amazon. Lots of great stuff on a natural approach to treating Hashimoto’s. Good news- first step is to go gluten-free which you’re already doing with the paleo diet. You can also check out for a list of practitioners familiar with this approach who can help you tweak things so that you can decrease inflammation and bring your immune system back into balance and feel better faster.

          • Traci says

            Just a thought… try avoiding nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers) and see if you feel better. I noticed a huge difference. I suffered with migraines for years, mild depression and recently hypothyroidism. I have been paleo (autoimmune style) for about 3 months now and I am off all medications.
            Good luck!

  7. Sarah says

    Great article!!! What you described (the stresser) was me to a “T” from high school through college – and although a D-I Swimmer, swimming 10k yards per day, I always looked fit buy soft. Six years ago, after I graduated and got married, I made choices to decrease stress in my life and started taking the focus off my body image; then I went Paleo last December, and I can’t believe how much better I look! I just told my husband how having no goals for my body has given me the freedom to have the body I always wanted. I work out when I can and still love it- but it’s not the obsession it once was; I have not made a weight/image goal since college and look better than I EVER have (even high school); thank you for your great article. I agree – keep up the great insight!

  8. Holly Eva says

    This is definitely food for thought. I have been living Paleo since May 4th, and I lost 15 lbs. the first month because I treated it more like a Science experiment that I had to go through with to see what would happen.

    I kind of went through a confusing period after I had hit the 30 day mark and decided that maybe I should stick to it to reach my goal weight (which means 20 lbs. more had to go). This just lead to a mounting concern and some frustration as I had plateaued at the weight I got down to after that first month. Now I’m looking at ways to step up my game on my exercise routine and I try to ensure I get plenty of uninterrupted sleep.

    While I seem to be losing and gaining the same 3 lbs. (bouncing between 157 and 160) I have noticed that I feel pretty good, and have started to adopt the idea that this really isn’t about the physical goals I’ve set for myself so much as it is about making sure that I will still feel great at the end of the day. Thank you for the perspective, it really is difficult to not obsess about an aesthetic goal when one of the driving forces behind taking this step is what you want to achieve aesthetically.

  9. says

    Great point about the cortisol circle. In today’s world we are inundated with way too many stressors. Each one causes another cortisol dumb, one big cycle until one day Mr Adrenal Gland simply says “I’ve had enough,” and stops working.

  10. julie says

    Dude, I love your posts! They really make a lasting impression on me! I found your blog, too.
    You’ve inspired me this week. I need to find a new exercise crowd and Crossfit just might be it. Thanks so much, keep posting, please?

  11. Daria says

    A timely post for me. I changed my eating habits in May. I lost weight effortlessly at first, but I was looking at my thighs this weekend and getting frustrated that this patch of fat won’t seem to leave them even though I’ve been very active.

  12. says

    Love this post! It really resonates with me. My life (and body) totally changed when I shifted my focus from working out to lose weight to working out to get stronger/better/faster.

    This is one of my favorite tips to give clients too– find an activity or exercise that you love and do it because you LOVE it. Focus on loving it and enjoying it, and NOT on losing weight.

  13. says

    Another good point to make is that there’s a difference between the number on the scale and what you see in the mirror. I lost 20 pounds in my first month of paleo eating – went from 210 to 190, and have remained at 190 for the past two weeks. However, my body has continued to reposition what it’s carrying, so my jeans are getting looser and I’m looking fitter, even though I haven’t lost any weight.

    It’s okay to enjoy the aesthetic benefits of the diet, just don’t tie your emotions to a number! I’d rather zip up my “skinny jeans” and find they’re not skin-tight than see a lower number on the scale any day.

  14. Primal Recipe says

    So true…great advice! I’ve noticed in my clients who want to lose weight but have other health issues (various autoimmune diseases or digestive issues) if we focus on doing what we need to do to help relieve those issues, the weight comes off easier then with my healthier weight loss clients. I love your suggestion of working on personal bests in specific activities…….anything to keep yourself focused!

  15. Dawn says

    Hey Sarah/Jason, thanks for a great post. I saw your comment to Janet, Jason & I was wondering if you are interested or know anyone who is of coaching online/skype/ichat? I am from the Portland area originally (Aloha) but after 17 years in Germany I’m now in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I’ve done the fundamentals class with a CF level 1 coach in Germany & was solidly WOD’ing for about 3 months before I had to move. LOVED it & even though it was the toughest work out program I’ve ever done, the group was awesome & so was the payoff :-) My nearest CF gym is a little more than an hour away and I’m really having trouble motivating myself to do it from my house/garage. I have a little bit of equipment but not enough to do full on WOD’s…..any suggestions appreciated. I also have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and have not worked out (even walking) since I moved here in November. Feeling depressed and lacking drive. Go gluten free for 3 or 4 weeks & then fall off and stay off for awhile. The longest I’ve done paleo is 12 days. Thanks for any tips you can provide!

  16. Shannah says

    This is such a wonderful post. My husband and I were discussing this very issue over (Paleo) dinner at our home with friends the other night. The biggest life-changer for me was when I began viewing food as medicine rather than entertainment, or therapy, or rewards, or any of the other myriad unhealthy ways we view food.

    My health rapidly deteriorated after the birth of my first son and it took 3 years to figure out that it was gluten and dairy. My family also has a lot of Multiple Sclerosis (my mom and aunt), Type 1 Diabetes and ALS. With a host of auto-immune diseases in my family and known severe intolerances to the very foods that can trigger them, food IS medicine for me. I have two sons and husband who need me and life is too short as it is.

    I have been gluten/dairy-free for a couple of years but decided to take the Paleo Plunge (not to be confused with the Nestea Plunge) in February and have never looked better in my life. But my goal was not at all aesthetic. My goal was to eat in such a way that I can keep up with two young boys and hopefully be around long enough to chase my grandkids. The icing on the cake was getting back the body I had in high school.

    I have, in the past tried to lose weight merely to look better. It never was successful because the driving force in this scenario was nothing but will-power and will-power is finite. It will only last until you get distracted. However, it’s effortless to maintain the course when your goal is reflected in the sparkling eyes of two precious little boys. The love for my family and myself is my driving force and it’s infinite.

  17. Meghan says

    Thank you for this post. so true.. everytime I have decide to get fit because I wanted to look good for an event I have failed. I am currently on a journey to improve my health, Because I want to be able to be to enjoy life and be active. So far since I have made that shift in my mental game I have more motivation and see this as a good thing not a obstacle!

  18. Michele says

    Thanks Jason for the wake up call!

    I am a worrying body loather and am not doing myself any good!

    My story is that in December of 2009 I weighed more than 330 lbs and in 2010 changed my eating and started CrossFit and am now 222 lbs. Lately though I have been struggling with bingeing on sugary dairy and gluten loaded foods. I am realizing that part if the reason that I am sabotaging myself is that I am ashamed that I still feel huge and parts of me look deflated and awful and I am afraid of what I might look like at my healthy weight. I have to stop worrying about all that and start working on my WOD times.

    Thanks again I found this post extremely helpful!

  19. Amy says

    You know how things come into our lives at the most perfect moments? I have slowly been discovering that the above is my problem entirely. It’s hard to face the fact that you hate your body no matter whether thin and fit or overweight. A brain thought problem is causing me to be overweight?! Yup. So, I’ve had the epiphany, now what?

  20. Mrs. F says

    I needed to read this today. I’m caught in a bit of a stress loop, and it’s showing up in how often I make poor (though “small”) nutritional choices and a bit of a defeatist attitude in the gym. Although, I had not put 2+2 together until you wrote it out, Jason. I don’t know about other women (because it probably is mostly women), but I get up and I focus on the ONE area of my body that I just think looks bad and if it isn’t looking at least average, it affects my whole day.

  21. Wendy says

    This is a great post Jason that hits the nail on the head for me. I have always had a belly to varying degrees since I was a kid. My older sister telling me that I looked 3 months pregnant when I was a teen has stuck in my head.(I wasn’t pregnant) I have always wanted those washboard abs. Five kids and quite a few years later I am still somewhat stuck on it. I have been paleo since february and it has helped my eczema, but I have not lost weight. I actually ate pretty healthy before. I did two weeks of On Ramp (cross fit) and felt great but got hurt and haven’t been able to return yet. Once I am 100% and able to return, my goals will change. Heck, they already have. My seven year old has been paying too much attention to her mother and has expressed a few times how she wants to be as thin as her 9 year old sister and is not thin enough. We have had talks with her about this and have finally gotten it through her head that she does not need to lose weight. They both are very thin by the way (and Paleo). I was not obsessing about my weight in front of her, but the little things she heard here and there were picked up on and magnified. The last thing I want to do is have any of my daughters have body issues. I have lived through it and only want them to be healthy. I am starting with me and am setting a good example. Goodbye washboard abs, hello healthy and energetic me! If the abs happen to appear, so be it, but they are not my goal.

  22. Maria says

    Thank you for this! It was a much needed reality check…

    On a somewhat related note. I have been eating paleo for a month or so and for the past two and a half weeks my stomach has been constantly distended. To the point that I look several months pregnant. Any ideas as to why this might be? It is awkward and my clothes don’t fit. Thanks so much.

  23. Drenka says

    Hey thank you very much for this! I’ve just gone Paleo (literally, it’s my 6th day today ;)) and I am a combination of what you described (weight obsessed, scared of the mirror). I’ve always been quite an active person and always had a sporty body, until I moved countries, gave up sports and got a 9 to 5 job. In 3 years I gained about 66 lbs… now I am short an fat: 5,1×183 lbs. I’ve been really trying to lose weight since the beginning of 2010 when I embarked myself in a diet, followed by a dietician, that was somewhat a combination of high protein, non refined grains/fibers, sugarless treats and skimmed milk. By August 2010 I was 165 lbs, I stopped losing weight and I was always constipated, bloated and I was feeling also somehow intoxicated. Tried natural laxatives (Psyllum), then normal laxatives, then I started having stomach acidity and cramps in my intestines (for 3-4 months, I looked like a pregnant woman and I ha pains as if I was constantly in labour), cured with anti-acids and some more laxatives until I decided to go and visit some proper doctors. They found out that I am fructose intolerant, that I have a lightly fatty liver and IBS as well. They also thought that I had Hashimoto Syndrome until the blood test ruled it out. So their advice was that to help with the IBS I should give up non refined grains and go for the refined ones and eat less fruit trying to privilege bananas over apples and other high fructose fruits, who actually DID help resolve my constipation and in 5 months helped me also to get back to 187.3 lbs (I so missed you NOT!).
    Then, the turning point: a friend of mine convinced me to join him in his gym and to start training in Thai boxe (3xweek, 1,5hrs, bloody heavy workout!) and then for over a month he talked to me about the Insuline Resistance syndrome and persuaded me to look a bit further into it cos he thought I might have it… and yeah, the symptoms are all there so I decided to try and go Paleo for a month and see what happens. I thought I wouldn’t have lasted more than 2-3 days without carbs or sugars but I’m on my 6th day already and I feel great. My performance in the gym has improved, I feel happier, I eat lots of stuff I like (avocado, I love youuu!!!) and in only 6 days I already lost 4.3 lbs… and I have never had constipation, YAY!
    And btw, yesterday for lunch I had leftover grilled lamb+oven roasted sweet potatoes (my last dinner before going completely paleo) and I got high on potatoes! lol! Sugar increased in my blood and I felt sooo weird. I wondered how would I feel after eating a cookie and then I realised that no, I don’t even want to know and that I am more interested on how I will feel after 6 months of Paleo. Thanks for this website guys and for the inspiring posts, I hope I can keep up with it and feel even better soon! Thak you thank you thank you! :)

  24. Jessica says

    I’ve had a somewhat different experience.. I’ve been eating paleo and working out for about 21/2 years. Although I really like the way this lifestyle makes me feel, I don’t think it’s had a positive effect on how I look.
    I don’t have body image issues, and I’ve never had a weight problem. I just think Paleo makes me look a little gaunt and ropy which I don’t think is attractive. It’s just a small thing, not enough to make me give up the diet, but it’s annoying. I do like the changes I see in my husband’s body since he’s gone Paleo

  25. Evelyn says

    Is that the correct link for Primitive Stimulus? It brings me to a site that’s not in English.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *