I am just going to put this out there, weight loss and diet challenges are broken. The reason is simple, whatever juice fast, paleo challenge or whatever you are on does not last for most people. This is how the trajectory typically goes, challenge starts everyone is pumped and engaged, first few days everyone is making their 16 ingredient recipes and thinking “you know what, this isn’t great but if you are grading on a curve it’s not half bad”. Then after about a week of eggs for breakfast and chicken and broccoli for dinner. Your choice is simple, gut it out or quit. Maybe you are holding out for that magical “adaptation” period all the zealots talk about. It does come a bit, I am not going to lie about that because when you lose ten pounds of water weight pull-ups are a lot easier. You won’t be lifting shit but when you look in the mirror and you are less bloated maybe the sacrifice is worth it. So you gut out the 30 days and you start to make a list of all of the things you are going to eat once it’s done. Certainly you are going to have some wine or beer, probably some ice cream, maybe some pasta and possibly all on the same day. Maybe you over do it, maybe not, if you don’t it might be surprising to know that you don’t feel awful the way everyone thinks you would. Your depleted glycogen stores are back and even though your cardio might suffer because you gained a few pounds over night the weights you are lifting feel light. If you over do it maybe you will come back, a lot of people don’t and the reason is simple.
We need to change the way we view challenges
First let me start by saying that food allergies are real so when you take out every single thing that could possibly cause a food allergy it’s highly possible you will feel better. That is a good thing. Excluding the extreme examples most gluten or dairy allergies come in the form of degrees, so going from having dairy six times a day to having it every fourth day can make a big difference for a lot of people. Same with gluten, if you have oatmeal for breakfast every day and go to having it once a week you will might also feel better. So the challenge of most challenges isn’t to just suck it up and eat lean meats with vegetables because honestly you should have known that probably works. I can’t tell you how many people say to me “I do great on Paleo Challenges but the minute I add beer back in things go to pot”. So the answer is quite simple, if you plan to live a life of restriction for the rest of your life it’s possible that your challenge will stick. An alternative viewpoint would be to look at a 30 day challenge as an opportunity to find options to things that are currently hurdles for you. I am not a fan of 100% challenges for this reason, if you don’t think you can live the rest of your life without having a beer having a plan that doesn’t incorporate beer makes no sense at all. It might sound like I am being judgmental but I am not, I fell into a lot of these pitfalls myself until I figured out that I needed to include all of my “must haves” and make slow changes over time.
So the real challenge of a “Diet Challenge” needs to be changed to incorporating aspects of your current life with a newer healthier life. For a lot of people that means solving alcohol or desserts. For me it was desserts. I slept best after a big meal and a night of ice cream. So when I moved to a healthier lifestyle I had to have an answer for desserts, most every night I have some form of dark chocolate but every night I have a smoothie. Together they are both about 400-450 calories a night that I find enjoyable. I could eat ice cream too and I do occasionally but I like the volume and flavor more plus I get some good micronutrients (vitamins) from the chocolate and smoothies. For alcohol maybe changing the type occasionally will be a solution or possibly the amounts. Everyone is different but I can assure you that if you can’t answer these questions for yourself you will fail and if you follow the broken “challenge” model it will be accompanied by a lot of guilt and sometimes binge eating. If you find yourself binge eating or “guilt eating” I am just going to say to you that you are eating not because you are weak, it is typically because you are hungry. You just had a bad plan.
Start the way you want to finish
Look, I realize you want to reverse the damage you have caused yourself over the course of many years but what is the hurry? Sure you can eat less and empty out your fat cells but guess what happens when you go out with your friends and celebrate once you are “done dieting”, that’s right, those empty fat cells want to fill up. Your body doesn’t care what your goals are, your body wants to save your life and storing fat is one of the primary ways it can accomplish this. You might want to be skinny but evolution has another agenda. So I am going to just put it out there that huge restriction often causes weight to come back with interest because the strategy of just eating fewer mashed potatoes does not work. Want to succeed with Weight Watchers, you are going to need to starve yourself for the rest of your life. Want to run your way to health, guess what, your body is going to adjust. Want to know the secret of very low body fat percentages, as a general rule having muscle is a HUGE advantage. So starving yourself while just running is broken (notice I am not saying you should avoid running). Eating good nutrient dense foods (without dramatically changing amounts) while lifting heavy stuff is a much better plan. If you haven’t lifted or done any serious weight training extreme dieting while doing so misses the point of why you are lifting weights in the first place. The easiest way to explain it is that if you have unused muscle and you start using them they get stronger and grow. Ladies like to call this “tone” but trust me Michelle Obama’s arms aren’t awesome because she is toned, they are awesome because her muscles are strong and grew. You could potentially eat like shit and still get a favorable result with resistance training but you won’t be substantially healthier doing it that way. The best option is to have a balanced approach with some form of cardio, resistance training and meals that have nutrients and then occasionally eat for joy. For most people they expect food or drink to provide them some level of relief after a hard days work, study or whatever. It works but if you use it as a crutch too often things go down hill fast so I am arguing for balance but that isn’t all I am arguing for……
Performance needs to be the driver
When people talk about “diet and exercise” they have it wrong. Diet implies restriction and exercise implies some form of hell you would rather not be doing. So let’s change diet to “The way we eat” and let’s change exercise to “The stuff we like to do to get better”. If your plans are to start moving more you should incorporate some form of whole foods diet most of the time but if you feel burdened by the term “clean eating” I can assure you that isn’t what I mean. Joyless eating just shouldn’t be your plan for life not matter how you eat. Secondly let’s try and maintain some muscle because, well, it will help you be a better person and might just help you out if you slip on some ice one day.
A new type of challenge
On January 15th we are going to start the new Lean You Challenge. The entry fee is $5 and those proceeds will go to charity. I will provide the prizes which will be $200 for both the men and women’s group. The winner will be determined by votes from the group (Lean You is a private group for adults on Facebook). You will be asked to provide “before” pictures privately, the only way these pictures will ever get shown is with your permission, there is both a male and female judge that can receive your pictures.
Here is some basic thoughts in order because one major goal is to use data points to chart progress:
The challenge will go for six months and entries will be cut off with four months to go.
We will be using Fitocracy to track our workouts. If you don’t plan on working out don’t enter. One of the main goals of this is to increase performance.
Once a week we will be measuring various parts of our bodies to track changes.
Some optional data points that could strengthen your chances of winning:
Pictures of meals you eat. Not just steak and asparagus and not just pop tarts. Try and give a holistic picture of how you got better.
Tracking body fat percentage, you can do this any number of ways and we will talk about those options in a later post.
Weight, if you become obsessive related to the scale you might want to avoid this one but as one of many data points I find it useful.
I won’t be tracking macronutrients but for some people to stay on track this is important. Feel free to add this as a data point but if the goal is to eat 900 calories a day that won’t be viewed as a positive. We eat to perform.
Changing the way we view progress
The goal of the challenge is to simply become a better version of the person you are already. You can do that the next time you put something in your mouth. You can also do that by taking the stairs and not the elevator. Mostly though do it with others. Not because we will hold you accountable because in the end all of our journeys has to be personal. I find that a good nurturing community makes a big difference mostly because you know that others are on a similar path. Sometimes their path has a part you can do to make your path better.
The goal of dieting should be to never have to be on a diet again. So why not just start there? I am just going to say it, screw dieting. 2013 is the year of performance!