Everywhere you look there are outlandish claims of rapid weight loss. They all use numbers to express a ridiculously high number of pounds lost in a impossibly short period of time. A decade ago it was 12-week transformations, then eight weeks, then four weeks, then 17 days…
You can get abs in six seconds, you only need to work out for eight minutes, or 20 minutes three times a week, or for four hours total, or…
Or it’s all just a bunch of crap.
Eating healthy and exercising regularly is lifestyle that takes a lot of practice. One does not transform from doughnut-scarfing couch potato into diet-conscious workout warrior overnight. Furthermore, we live in what is called an obesogenic environment. It means the environment is making us overweight, as is evidenced by higher than ever obesity rates at all ages. This happens for two reasons:
Much less important is a moderate decrease in the amount of physical activity we engage in.
Far more important is a dramatic increase in caloric intake.
Why food is the biggest problem
We’ve got machines to do our work for us so we don’t have to move as much, but far more challenging is the continual and easy access to highly palatable food. Not only does food taste a lot better these days than it used to, but it’s easy to get. Fast food joints are open 24 hours a day and located just a short drive away. Hell, with the advent of drive-through restaurants, you don’t even need to get out of your car to get a take-out meal. Don’t feel like driving anywhere at all? Then they’ll deliver.
Modern society has made it possible for you to never leave your couch, except to go to the bathroom and answer the door when the food arrives. When it comes to being healthy, looking and feeling good, modern society is your enemy — a powerful one. Food that tastes unnaturally awesome has addictive properties. It is load with sugar, fat, and salt, creating a chemical cascade in your brain that is an intricate interaction of hormones, neurotransmitters, endorphins, satiety signals, and reward sensations. It overwhelms you and causes you to eat way past the point of fullness. You lose control of caloric intake.
The environment we live in promotes sloth and gluttony. You must battle this environment to be healthy. You cannot win this battle in mere days or weeks. It takes years of practice to resist the urge to sit still and stuff your face with the ample supplies of tasty morsels that are pushed in front of you daily.
You will try and you will fail. You must try again.
It is okay to fail ten times, as long as you try eleven. Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward…and that’s just about enough clichés for one article.
How to make a change
People hate change. If you’re living a fast-food lifestyle and eating a lot of high-calorie junk while not getting any exercise, you cannot simply change everything about your life in one day. It is just Too. Damn. Hard.
Pace yourself. Practice. Do it in increments. Don’t be in a rush. Baby steps. I personally believe that focus gets things done, which is why if you have eating issues, then table those changes for now and instead just focus on exercise. The reasons why are many:
- Again, it allows you to focus on changing just one behaviour at a time, which increases your likelihood of success.
- Exercising say, four hours a week requires that you only be motivated for those four hours. Controlling food intake is far harder because it requires 24/7 motivation.
- Exercise is a proven gateway behaviour to healthier eating. This happens because the rush you get from intense exercise works on those same neuro-chemical reward pathways in your brain as do things like drugs, alcohol, gambling and yes, even highly palatable food. When you exercise you blunt the reward you get from eating something yummy, because you already got your “fix” from sweating.
- Exercise also gets you craving more healthy food to fuel exercise performance, although you have to do it mindfully, so you see becoming an exerciser as giving you the power to resist junk food rather than entitling you to a reward. If you burn off 300 calories on a treadmill then reward yourself with 500 calories worth of cheesecake, that’s just bad math.
It can take you many months to get to the point where you actually like exercising, and then many more months of incremental changes in your diet to get to the point where you achieve significant positive changes in body composition. It’s a total process that can take years to be successful.
Or you can try ten quick fix approaches in that time and fail at all of them. You decide.
This all needs to be broken down into manageable pieces, and must be practiced again and again. You need to look at your lifestyle as one of constant training to get better. You need to quest to get better at pushing yourself with exercise, and pushing yourself towards eating healthier and eating less if you want to be healthy, fit, strong, and look your best.
Practice at exercising and healthy eating is what gets to somewhere that’s, if not perfect, is greatly improved.
James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. He writes the column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Los Angeles Times and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get a free metabolism report at Body For Wife. Email James at email@example.com.