A new year is approaching and it’s all too predictable. Television, radio and social media are chock full of ads for diet and fitness plans and products that promise the sun, moon and stars. And with it comes my frustration and sadness with witnessing people – both loved ones and our society as whole – making attempts to take control of their health in all the wrong ways. Eventually, when their efforts don’t produce the results they want, they give up, feeling like failures. That’s terribly sad to me.
My frustration is with the mindset. The false belief that making drastic changes in diet and exercise will produce quick results, that one will reach her goals in a matter of weeks, and that these results will last a lifetime. This is where elimination and deprivation diets are born. It’s also where the deconditioned believe that the only workout worth doing is one that resembles that of a professional athlete. It’s a strategy that has proven again and again to fail.
I’m also frustrated with many who claim to be in the fitness industry who feed this mindset because that’s the easiest way to make a buck. It’s why the mindset won’t die – people are making millions off it and the pool of people willing to pay doesn’t get any smaller.
This warped mentality puts the focus on body image – a number on the scale, a waist measurement, a dress size – rather than well-being. It encourages a strategy of quick, extreme fixes for the goal of temporary weight loss rather than a gradual adoption of fit habits for the goal of a healthy life. The focus, strategy and goals are wrong-headed.
You don’t have to take my word for it. The following are a few of the perpetuating myths surrounding the most common weight loss gimics that have been debunked by scientific studies, experts and the test of time:
- Going all-in on a vigorous exercise plan is the only way to exercise for weight-loss & fitness: Many join a gym, sign up for trendy fitness classes or buy expensive equipment thinking they need to jump feet first into the exercise pool to kick-start their fitness. Then, because a deconditioned individual is performing workouts designed for the conditioned, extremely sore muscles, time crunches and injury all conspire to make the workouts less frequent until they become non existent. These aren’t the only reasons for the drop out rate. It’s actually a psychological road block – the fear of being judged – that is the top reason new exercisers eventually quit. Read about it here. It also stands to reason, the more challenging and vigorous the workout, the more likely a newcomer will feel she’ll be judged negatively by others.
- Eliminating an entire food group is the proper way to lose weight and be healthy: Of all the crazy fad diets that have circulated over the years, those promoting the elimination of entire food groups for weight loss and health are the ones that most concern me. Whether it’s eliminating all carbs, all meats, all fats, or all animal products it’s all wrong. Every one of these macronutrients provides our bodies with unique, vital nutrients we need to function properly. The only foods we all should eliminate from our diets are highly processed foods. Eliminating anything else is not only unsustainable but unhealthy. Here is an example of its unsustainability and why experts say elimination diets are unhealthy.
- Eating healthy means you must deny cravings and deprive yourself of treats: All evidence shows that this approach backfires. It leads to binging and yo-yo dieting. Just as elimination diets don’t work its sister diet, deprivation diets, aren’t realistic or healthy in the long run either. Read about Weight Watchers’ study on deprivation diets here.
And here are the sobering facts that prove my points:
- 50 million Americans diet each year, only 5% keep the weight off… (Colorado State University)
- the rest regain 2/3 of lost weight within a year and all or more within 5 years. (National Institute of Health)
- Over half of the diet industry’s claims are false. (American Dietetic Association & Federal Trade Commission)
- 50% of new gym members quit within 6 months… (International Health Club Association)
- of those, 90% quit within the first 90 days. (International Health Club Association)
- 67% of gym memberships are rarely, if ever, used. (statisticbrain.com)
- 70% of a typical gym membership cost is wasted through underutilization. (statisticbrain.com)
What these statistics have in common is those attempting to achieve weight-loss and general fitness usually do so by making huge, drastic lifestyle changes. This is where the mistake lies. Our society’s thirst for instant results may work in the tech world but is an abject failure when it comes to health and fitness. It’s not that weight-loss and fitness are unachievable, it’s that most go about trying to achieve them in the absolute wrong way.
My Small Steps Philosophy
A fit life is attained by making small, realistic and sustainable changes in food consumption and exercise over time. This allows a person time to create and hone new, fit habits that then become adopted and integrated into her everyday life. The result is a person who is living a fit lifestyle each and every day, making her healthy and strong for a lifetime.
I have used this philosophy to create my Small Steps blog series. The series promotes an incremental strategy to exercise with the focus on finding a variety of workouts and movement one enjoys. Eating for fitness also means adopting an incremental strategy to diet with the focus on consuming a balance of all three macronutrients sourced from a wide variety of minimally processed plant and animal foods in the correct portions. In both cases the goal is overall health.
The first post of each month, I provide one healthy change to work on for that entire month. Sometimes it’s a diet change, sometimes an exercise change and sometimes one of each. The idea is to concentrate only on that one change for a month so that it becomes ingrained into your daily meals or weekly exercise routines, making you able to take on another small change at the beginning of the next month.
If you are in need of a fitness reboot, steer clear of the extreme strategies that can only lead to frustration and discouragement. Check out 2016’s first Small Steps post next Monday and join in. Leave the world of fitness failures behind and begin anew to a fit and happier you.
Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional. My diet recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry. Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals. If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet. Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.