For years Jo was told
"Just eat less, move more!"
Despite to fact that this advice had been batted around for years, this saying did nothing to help her progress. Here's why.
At its most basic, weight loss is about "eating less and moving more." Weight is lost when you expend more calories than you consume. However, this is where the simplicity ends.
The truth is that the phrase "eat less, move more" is harmful. The human body is a complex system of mechanisms with a countless amount of physiological, psychological, and environmental factors at play. Being overweight is not just a choice that you makes.
"Eat less, move more" implies that fitness is simply a matter of WILLPOWER—that you have to simply put in the effort in order to get fit. Failure to do so is simply a lack of trying.
The truth is that In the long term, no amount of willpower alone will drag you out of bed every morning to run if you hate running. Nor will it help you gag down florets of broccoli if you despise them.
Let's go back to Jo
She weighed 79kgs, and decides it's time for a change. Jo buys a bestselling diet book and resolves to follow the book's sample diet to the letter. She doesn't know that the sample diet is just 1,000 calories a day, or that it's less than half what she typically eats. Nor does she have a firm target weight in mind. She just wants to lose weight—the faster the better.
The pounds seem to fly off Jo's body at first—24 pounds in just six weeks. Her husband jokes that she loses a pound every time she takes a shower.
But there's something Jo doesn't know: her diet has already failed her. Because she's hungry all the time, her adherence gets a little worse every day. And because she's been over 79kgs her entire adult life, Jo's metabolism fights back. She looses lean tissue, her resting metabolism has also downshifted. By the time Jo finally concedes that she's no longer following the diet, she's regained some of the weight, and her body is primed to regain the rest, plus a few extra pounds.
What Jo doesn't know is that rapid weight loss like this leads to a plummeting level of LEPTIN, a hormone that regulates your weight.
When you lose weight, leptin levels decrease, which leads to an increase in hunger and a decrease in metabolism. Similarly, when you eat a lot, your appetite should decrease. Combined, the effects are supposed to allow you to achieve a somewhat stable weight.
However, this has an implication for weight loss: your body will fight back proportionately against your success. The more aggressive the weight loss, the harder your body will push back—and the harder it will be to succeed. You may coast off the success of the first few weeks, but with each passing day you'll utilise more WILLPOWER just to stay "good."
Jo is relying on WILLPOWER. She's trying to battle nature by eating less and moving more. In the battle of nature vs. WILLPOWER, nature always wins.
Success doesn't come from WILLPOWER, but creating a maintainable, positive feedback loop—a motivation machine that says "the results that I get out are worth more than the effort that I'm putting in." When it comes to staying motivated and sticking to your fitness program, this is the only thing that really matters.
Jo may have created a positive feedback loop at the start, but it was unsustainable. She probably got extremely hungry and found it increasingly difficult to lose weight. Undoubtedly, life also got in the way. At this point, her feedback loop became unsustainable. What Jo probably chalked up to lack of motivation was quite simply the inevitable inability to sustain this feedback loop, thanks to lots of physiological and environmental factors.
No one can rely on willpower forever. Willpower is the ignition that gets a car started, not the gasoline that keeps it moving. It should be protected at all costs through the creation of habit and the motivation-perpetuating positive feedback loop.
That's why it pains me to see people who want to lose weight, do meaningless things for fitness—say cutting back on salt, eating organic or making it a point to "run every morning". Sure, they may sound like healthy activities, but many times the opposite is true. Firstly, make sure that the exercise you do is EFFECTIVE and indeed no amount of exercise is going to get you the weight loss results you want if your diet is broken. All you get is a whole lot of pain for very little reward.
Painful activities that don't yield a return are in fact "unhealthy" in the long run if they utilise willpower but don't yield a substantial return on results. The act of reducing salt, eating "organic", and "moving a little bit every day" (just for the sake of it) can actually prevent you from creating a healthy lifestyle.
Hate running? Then don't run. Don't like giving up pizza? Then figure out a way to fit it into your diet. Don't like salads? Get your vegetables elsewhere.
By understanding that "eat less, move more" isn't the answer, you can learn that fitness is a skill not a talent and develop it as such. Most importantly, you can forgive yourself for the times in the past that you've failed and renew your motivation to keep trying.
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