Extreme weight-loss programs, like those depicted on "The Biggest Loser," are unrealistic for most people and can be followed by regression after the program's end.
By Karen Repassy | Fitness columnist
Are you a fan of extreme weight-loss shows?
You know, the reality television shows such as “The Biggest Loser” that have contestants race to see who can lose the most weight in as little time as possible? For many, these shows may be inspirational. After all, it can be inspiring to watch contestants put in the work and be rewarded by losing 10 pounds each week, in some cases.
How do they do it, though?
For these shows, contestants eat a low-calorie diet and perform four hours of extreme workouts daily. Some contestants eat as few as 1,000 calories a day, all under the close supervision of a professional while additionally being disconnected from the outside world.
Unfortunately, this is not a realistic plan for almost everyone else. But, in part because of the success we see on TV, this is a format that has become ingrained in our culture. We think that to lose weight, we must eat a lot less — less than our body needs to function properly — and exercise a lot more.
But what happens to contestants after they leave the facility and go back into the real world?
A recent article in the New York Times reported many contestants end up putting much of the weight back on. Some contestants added 100 pounds to their frame once they returned to the real world. The question then becomes, “Why can’t they maintain and keep these incredible results?”
First, an extreme weight-loss program will wreak havoc on your metabolism. Dr. Jade Teta, a popular fitness, weight-loss and self-help author, said “As you diet using the flawed ‘Eat Less, Exercise More’ model, you set in motion a host of metabolic adjustments that lead to greater hunger, lower energy, increased cravings and decreased metabolic rate.”
In other words, our bodies perceive these programs and their fast results as a form of stress. The body tries to defend itself from such radical change by increasing our hunger, increasing our cravings and lowering our ability to burn calories.
Teta goes on to say, “As a result, (eating less and exercising more) halts or even reverses your dieting efforts.”
If you are a “yo-yo” dieter, or someone who has experienced cyclical weight loss and gain, you are familiar with this. You will eat less and exercise more and, to begin with, you may get pretty good results — but then it all stops.
When the results stop, you may feel discouraged. You are more likely to give into the uncontrollable hunger and cravings, which your body has heightened to protect itself from the stress of the extreme change. As a result, you pack on the pounds again — sometimes ending up heavier than you started.
Such programs are also hard to comply with over the long-haul.
Does it sound reasonable for these contestants to return home and continue exercising four hours a day while working a full-time job and supporting a family? Does it sound reasonable to live on fewer than 1,400 calories of food each day?
I believe it’s impossible to stay the course when you’re starving, listless and feeling defeated.
All of this begs the question: What does work?
That’s it — no four-hour workouts, no extreme calorie-cutting. This works because compliance plus results will equate to long-term success.
If you want to achieve long-term weight loss results, here are four questions to ask yourself. These are the questions I used to break my own habit of “yo-yo” dieting, and these are the questions I ask my nutrition clients to get them on the path of slow and steady positive change: Can I commit to an hour of yoga twice per week? Can I commit to 20 minutes of weight-bearing workouts twice per week? Can I take one day off and rest? Can I eat protein and veggies and have healthy snacks when I need them to keep hunger and cravings at bay?
That’s it — no four-hour workouts, no extreme calorie-cutting. This works because compliance plus results will equate to long-term success. It is the perfect balance of energy output with calorie intake. Eating well (note: not starving yourself) curbs hunger, bolsters energy and controls cravings. The weight-bearing workouts build muscle. And, finally, yoga reduces stress.
This is an easy regimen with which to comply, and the fact that it is do-able matters. You can do this for yourself right now. Check with your doctor first, and if you get the go-ahead, start applying all the above.
Start with one thing. Comply to it and stick with it. When you notice results, add the next thing and keep going.
It will take longer than what you might have witnessed on television, but if you sustain the changes to your lifestyle, your transformation also won’t come with the emotional roller coaster of losing the weight and putting it back on.
Karen Repassy is a professional nutritionist and certified yoga instructor at Winter Garden Yoga, 12 W. Plant St., Winter Garden. She is certified in Functional Yoga Instruction and Metabolic-Effect Nutrition. You can learn more about Karen and the classes offered at Winter Garden Yoga by visiting wintergardenyoga.com, calling (407) 579-9889 or emailing [email protected].