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Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Real Fitness Isn't About Weight Loss
This story was on my local nightly news last night (here's the text story if you don't want to watch). I love that the news media is reporting on the incredible weight loss stories of people like this woman. I think it's good to show stories like this, especially in our modern culture that is obsessed with the obesity epidemic as well as the latest and greatest diet craze. Features like this can inspire a lot of people to start their own quest for physical fitness.
At the same time, I dislike the way the media and shows like "The Biggest Loser" handle the concept of diet and fitness. Usually scenes on The Biggest Loser involve Jillian Michaels yelling at some fatso on the treadmill for a half hour, or making them engage in some ridiculous exercise they can't complete while standing over them in a spandex two piece (not that I mind the standing part...Jillian Michaels is hot...in a scary, slightly manish way...which, now that I think about it, isn't hot at all). The weekly weigh-ins on that show are like a game show. I'm surprised nobody wins a car. And everyone's diet is nonstop salads and chicken breast for months on end.
Not only does the show make dieting and exercise look painful and not very fun, I think the whole premise of a diet and exercise plan that revolves around weight loss is a little ridiculous. If you've followed my blog for a while, you already know what I think that sort of of fitness and diet regime. If you haven't been following, first...what the hell is wrong with you?! This blog should be the focus of your entire life! Aside from that, whether you do or don't know, I'll give you a long and short version of that rant. The long rant can be found on this guest post that I did for the Vanessa Runs blog.
The short rant is this: I think that dieting and exercising solely for the purpose of weight loss is unsustainable at best, and downright unhealthy at worst. If you are exercising and eating right only to lose weight, at least one of the following is going to happen: you'll lose interest in what you're doing, you'll plateau, or you'll reach your weight loss goals. Either way you'll probably go off your diet and exercise plan at that point, and start sitting around on your fat ass eating cheesy poofs (or whatever food got your ass fat in the first place). That's hard on your body, your mind, and especially your waistline.
Here's an example. I know a ton of people who are jumping on the P90X bandwagon. Now I have no problem with P90X as a workout system. It is very well balanced, and includes some of my favorite stuff like yoga and high-intensity interval training. It produces amazing results. I have plenty of friends that say things like, "P90X is amazeballs! I lost 100lbs in two days doing 500 clapping push-ups and eating nothing but air! YogaX and KenpoX bitches!" I have no idea what that person just said, and if they are my facebook friend I probably just unfriended them for barking jibberish. Quit putting the letter "X" after everything you say. Anyway....
Here's my prediction. That same person that lost 100lbs will not be working out or dieting in 3-6 months. That's because, for as great as P90X is, it's also a 90 day program (hence the 90 in the P90X...I suppose the X stands for "extreme" and the P stands for "pay lots of money"). A lot of people I know go off of P90X after that 90 day cycle. Some do because it's fricken hard and they don't like it. Some because it takes up too much time. Some people have reached their weight loss goals and don't see the need to do every conceivable type of push-up at 4am anymore, then go for a run at night.
Whatever their reasons, the fact remains that the sort of rapid weight loss you see in the first 90 day cycle isn't sustainable. You're going to plateau at some point when your body adapts to your diet and exercise intensity. And since the focus of the program is on rapid weight-loss first and foremost, neither is P90X as a sustainable diet and exercise plan. I don't know a single person who has continued to do P90X regularly after their first or second cycle (at least as prescribed...i.e. do every workout and follow the diet for 90 days at a pop). What are they doing instead? They're probably not moving as much, not eating as healthy, and slowly putting all of that weight back on. The on-a-diet, off-a-diet, cycle of the American weight loss craze continues.
On the other hand, what I love about this news story is that it does the whole "look how much weight she lost!" story in a way that promotes a lifetime health and fitness. Instead of making this woman's weight loss the primary focus of the feature, they talk about how she developed an interest in Muay Thai boxing. They show how she signed up for a class, got hooked, and eventually developed enough skill and confidence in the sport to enter her first boxing competition. Then they go on to tell you how you can get started with a physical activity or sport too. Oh yeah...did I mention that in the meantime she lost 130 pounds?!
I get a lot of questions from family, friends, and followers asking me for weight loss advice. My answer is always the same. Find a physical activity or sport that you really enjoy and do it...pretty much every day. Eat a balanced diet in moderation, but don't worry so much about what you're eating or how much. Just don't go crazy. Your diet and your weight loss will take care of itself.
Are you going to lose 100 lbs in 90 days? Maybe...but probably not. But you won't have to do 300 sit-ups while being screamed at by some meat head on a $90 DVD at 4am either. Are you going to set yourself up for a lifetime of health and fitness? No doubt in my mind.
How do I know this? Because when you find something in fitness that you love to do, you'll follow the same path as the lady in this news story. You'll try the activity out a couple of times. You'll get hooked and want to do it all the time. You'll start doing it more and more. Maybe you get a goal or two specific to your activity and want to push yourself to reach it. That will make you work harder and longer.
All the while, you're gaining confidence. That's because with your new-found activity and slightly better diet, the weight is starting to come off. Hey...this shit is working! Not only that, you're gaining confidence because you're getting better at whatever you're doing. You're getting faster, stronger, and more agile. Hey...I'm actually good at something! So you do the activity more, or more intensely. And maybe you watch your diet a little better so that you get better results. Everything snowballs on itself. And it really doesn't have to stop. Every success you have in your chosen activity can become motivation to achieve bigger things both in your fitness and your diet.
I love this story because it aligns with how I think everyone should approach their weight loss goals. That is, weight loss shouldn't be your goal in a fitness and diet plan at all. Weight loss should be a welcome side effect. Lifelong fitness and happiness should be your goal.
Your weight is just a number, and a pretty arbitrary one at that. I've been both the most and least healthy in my life at my current weight of 195lbs. During my last year of college, I weighed 195lbs...and I chain-smoked, drank, ate crap, never worked out, and had a beer belly along with size 36 waist pants that fit me pretty snuggly (hey...that's big for a tall, lanky guy!). Now I weigh 195lbs and I can run further and faster than ever before, I have more strength, I eat a healthy paleo diet, and I just feel plain better. And my body doesn't look too shabby either. Although it was never my goal, I fit into the same pants that I wore when I first entered college as a 165 lb beanpole dork as a 195lb beanpole dork.
I certainly am proud to be back to the same waist size as I was in high school. You know what I'm more proud of? Running a marathon in memory of my father (love you Dad!). Besides...what's more impressive? Someone saying, "I lost 50 lbs"....or someone saying, "I lost 50 lbs and just finished my first marathon!" Your weight loss goals aren't going to be there forever. Eventually you'll have lost all the weight you can reasonably lose. A sport or physical activity you love will provide you with a lifetime worth of motivation and happiness.
None of us folk that you see lining up at the start of a marathon, or an Ironman triathlon, or even a Muay Thai boxing competition got that way overnight. We followed the same path as that lady in the video. Maybe we lost 100 lbs in a short period of time like this lady...maybe we didn't. But we're probably fairly satisfied with the way we look and feel. And after this marathon, you'll probably see us at the starting line of another one, and another one, and another one. We don't worry about our weight or our diet much anymore because it's where it needs to be to achieve our goals. We don't quit running or whatever because the race is over and the goal is met. We'll just get another goal. And we do it all because we love what we do.
Find what you love and do it today citizens!