Updated: Sep 21, 2020
I have never known anybody enter my gym and tell me that they’d like to lose some weight but do it as slowly as possible. Maybe that’s an unrealistic expectation on my part, but it would be a very realistic attitude for new members of the gym. A sustainable approach to weight loss is far more sensible than seeking out any of the increasingly popular quick fix options that are out there in abundance in the market place right now.
We are a society that revels in instant gratification. From the minute we feel hunger we want our food to be ready as fast as possible, when we’re online we’ll click the mouse at high speed, frustrated if we don’t land on our desired webpage within seconds, and when we order online, we expect delivery to be next-day. If we don't have to wait for something why should we? What would be the point in that? Unfortunately, this desire to get things done quickly goes loses sight of the fulfilment that can be had from getting things done slowly. Sometimes better things do come to those who wait.
If you google “weight loss” you’ll be almost instantly overwhelmed by the information that is presented in the top searches. “28-Day Weight Loss Diet” “Lose Weight- Up to 14lbs in just 1 week” “Look and Feel Better in 12 weeks”. Now re-read those three examples again, and tell me you aren’t most drawn by the proposition of losing 14lbs (6kg for the metrically minded) in just one week. If weight loss is your goal, why wouldn’t you go aim for the speediest result possible?
But don’t be fooled: slow and steady wins the race. As a facility owner and trainer, my biggest challenge by far is changing the prevailing mindset about the speed at which weight loss should happen. I’m all too familiar with the abundance of companies and personal trainers who trade in short-term fixes, with unrealistic targets and soul-destroying regimes. It frustrates me that people (and I’m afraid to say it’s mostly women) will pay a lot of money to get their quick fix weight loss “transformations” where they can flaunt impressive before and after pictures… only to find their achievements completely unsustainable in the long run. If you want to lose weight, eat slightly less and move more. If you manage that consistently, a transformation will be all yours, and it can be a lasting one, although it might take longer than a week. You do not need to pay someone to help you with the basics, providing you have the commitment to start off.
Plenty of people like the sound of fast-track diet and exercise plans because they have clear-cut rules: exercise daily, don’t eat carbs. Don’t eat meat. Don’t eat anything but pea soup. However, many of us have trouble sticking with these strict plans. We then fail and then we fall into classic yo-yo dieter territory. The recurrent loss and regain of weight is known as “weight cycling.” And although much more research needs to be done on the subject, experts agree that yo-yo dieting can affect mental health, cholesterol and blood pressure at the very least. If you follow the rules, you can see success quickly in the scales, but you fail to gain any sustainable benefits, and you may lose more than just weight.
I’m sure some may disagree with my slowcoach methods here at SO51Fitness but you’ll never hear me talk about weight. In fact, it took me months after opening to get a set of scales for my gym. Why do you actually NEED to know your weight? What relevance does it have? If you’re looking to lose weight to feel more confident, then surely it’s more important how your clothes fit? Body weight is just a measure and although I agree it has its place in tracking progress in weight loss, it’s not the most relevant one. Body fat percentage, visceral fat, hydration and muscle mass will change your shape so why do we get so het up with worrying about our weight?
When it comes to women, our weight fluctuates daily. Yes, daily! The average adult female weight can fluctuate around 5 or 6 pounds (that’s more than 2kg) per day. It all comes down to what and when you eat, drink, exercise and of course sleep. On top of these daily fluctuations we may experience temporary weight changes as a result of stress and hormone levels during our monthly cycle (a topic I’ll cover next month in more detail).
A sensible approach to weight loss is not to not worry about weight loss so much. Instead, “eat, move and be healthy”. This is the title of a book by Paul Chek I read many years ago, one of the first nutrition books that I ever came across, and probably the first time I’d read a book that all made such logical sense. Chek explains that we all respond to food, exercise and stress in different ways; his book helps readers to address issues that may be preventing them from looking and feeling their best. Weight loss comes when we understand and treat the body as a whole system. There are so many factors that can affect our ability to achieve our goals but if we stick to the basics—if we eat real food and take regular exercise—we will improve our overall health.
I’m determined to build these insights into the programmes that I offer at my own gym. I agree that tracking food and exercise can be beneficial, particularly at the start of a weight loss journey. How long this tracking should go on for, in my opinion, is a matter for individuals to decide; there doesn’t necessarily need to be an end point. For some people, tracking is useful until healthy habits are learnt and become ingrained, for others tracking becomes a habit in itself that helps them to feel in control of what they are doing to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There are many people who benefit most from their fitness regime when they take their eye of the scales and stop counting the calories. We are all different and should all approach weight loss and maintenance in a way that suits us.
In essence, what I promote to my members at SO51Fitness is to go slowly: inform yourself about ways of eating and exercising well, be prepared to make changes, be consistent, and finally—be patient. Definitely don’t get fixated on weighing yourself too often, and allow yourself a minimum of 12 weeks to really notice changes. Those who make real, sustainable lifestyle changes are better-equipped to keep weight off. Slow and steady wins the race.