I have always loved, and hated “deadline” based fitness approaches. I love the fact that they motivate people to get back on track, and to become a leaner, stronger, healthier version of themselves for 8 days, 26 days, 8 weeks, or whatever duration of time that particular challenge is for. Seems pretty good, right? Well, yes, in theory, at the surface it is almost exclusively a positive thing for most people…right? In my experience, there are a number of pitfalls that await people who often utilize these challenges to lose weight and get in shape, and my intention is not to discourage anyone from participating in these challenges, but rather, to go into them with “eyes wide open”, and be better prepared to hold on to the results they worked so hard for. So, without further adieu, here are the
Top 5 Dangers of Deadline Based Diet Approaches:
#1 – “If it ain’t sustainable, it ain’t attainable.”
This is probably one of my favorite quotes of all time, and I use it all of the time with various clients at our Metabolic Studios. Typically, a new member will join, and tell me they are going to start working out daily. I often reply, “why?” Bewildered at my response, they express that “isn’t that what we are supposed to do?” They are often shocked that I tell them the reason they got out of shape to begin with is that their expectations did not align with their current lifestyle. If they expected to HAVE to workout 6 days a week to get results, and as a busy parent with a full time job, they couldn’t make this happen, then they view the entire effort as a failure, and stop. To prevent this from occurring, I often have them start 2-3x/week, building up to a training frequency they are both comfortable with AND can sustain over the long haul.
With diet and nutrition, the same principle applies. If you can’t see yourself adopting the changes you made during the “challenge period” to your life long term, then you are only setting yourself for failure, weight regain, and frustration. You will then HAVE to rely on these challenges, which are clearly not teaching you sustainable lifestyle habits, to reach your fitness goals. Anyone can drop carbs or go keto for 6 weeks. Some can do it for 6 months. But who do you know that can do that, or has done that, for 6 years? Personally, I know nobody, which has firmly entrenched the concept of “if it ain’t sustainable it ain’t attainable” in my mind.
#2 – You HAVE to have an exit strategy.
This is a sneaky one, but MAN, it is so true. Whether you are dieting for a wedding, photoshoot, doing an 8 week macro cycle, or participating in a challenge, you NEED to know what you are going to do once it ends. If you have no idea, or have not given it much thought, you are setting yourself up to revert back to old habits, regain the weight, and feel a level of sadness and self loathing that is not healthy for anyone. Design an exit strategy that allows for some more dietary flexibility, while still allowing you to keep most of what you worked so hard for. For example, if you just came off a rigid 8 week macro cycle, got great results, but only had a small “cheat meal” every week, maybe you hit the same macros M-F, strictly, but allow yourself more wiggle room on the weekends. Will you gain a couple pounds? Certainly. Will you have more of a life, and less stress around food? Absolutely. Will you be in the same condition you were when you started the cycle? I can assure you, you will not be. Balance is hard whether you are 4 years old on a see saw, or 44 years old and trying to maintain a healthy, but fun, lifestyle. Set yourself up for success with a solid exit strategy that allows for balance.
#3 – They can promote an “all or nothing” mindset.
This is probably the point I take the biggest issue with. We have dealt with this issue a lot at Metabolic, with clients telling us they are either “on macros” or “off macros”. Guys, I have a newsflash for you…you are ALWAYS on macros, you eat them every single day…it is just your conscious awareness of them that is the difference. I always joke that if we all had our macros on a computer screen attached to our forehead, updated every time we ate, we would all be ripped! But that is not reality, and we can either choose to ignore or not acknowledge our dietary indiscretions, or we can learn how to incorporate them into a sustainable lifestyle.
If your challenge has you eating 6 times per day, but you prefer to eat twice, what do you think you are going to do when the challenge is over? When you LOVE cereal, but cannot have it for 49 days on your challenge, what do you think you are going to do when the challenge is over? If you absolutely love a glass of red wine with dinner, but cannot have that anymore during your challenge period…what do you think you are going to do when they challenge is over? Sadly, I have seen people rebound HARD. Whereas they used to be ok with a bowl of cereal, now they have a box. A glass of red wine turns into a bottle. The “restrict” mindset, when taken too far, when there is no end in sight, can often backfire HARD, frustrate people, and cause them to go “all in” in the WRONG direction, and pile the weight right back on. There is a middle ground here, it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”, the only one writing the rule book is you, it just comes down to creating a system and approach that YOU can manage.
#4 – They imply that there is a “quick fix”.
Losing weight is easy. Maintaining weight loss? Now THAT is hard. Making the right decision, 80% of the time, 24/7/365 is by far, the hardest thing you will ever do in your life. In a world of food abundance, in a world where sitting on your butt all day is all too convenient, the daily decision making process can be stressful, and quite frankly, exhausting. Going into the challenge period with the mindset that this is not just a brief period of dietary strictness, and will take even more time to engrain the habits you need to sustain your results, is the most mentally healthy thing that you can do. People who are in great shape have worked HARD for their results for YEARS. Not days. Not weeks. Not months. YEARS. Years of sacrifice. Years of dedication. Years of saying “no”. Getting a jump start on your goals through a challenge is a good thing, so long as you have a healthy mindset of “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, and this journey is a process that comes with many ups and downs.
#5 – They imply there is an “end”.
All challenges, regardless of time frame, have an end date. Races have a beginning, and an end. Vacations have a beginning, and an end. Movies, both good ones, and bad ones, have a beginning, and an end. But this is not a race. It is not a vacation. It is not a movie. This is your life. Ultimately, the decisions you make on a day to day basis to be a leaner, stronger, and healthier version of yourself never go away. That is the harsh reality of the situation, and that is why there are far more people who are overweight than whom are extremely fit. The sooner you can come to terms with the fact that you are making lifestyle changes, and forming new habits that you can take with you for the rest of your life, the better.
Can challenges be used as a “jumpstart”? Yes, they can, but be VERY careful and mindful that the way you ate to lose weight, is the way you will need to eat to keep weight off. If this is not sustainable for you, or even possible, you should reexamine the challenge you are doing to begin with. Sadly, if you revert right back to old habits, you will pile on all of the weight you lose and then some, leaving you with a bloated belly, distorted relationship with food, and a real low sense of self esteem. It is not pretty, trust me, I have been there. Don’t view the end of your challenge as “ the end”, but rather, the beginning of your new lifestyle.
So there you have it. “5 Dangers of Deadline Based Diet Approaches.” Having a deadline, or a goal for an event, CAN be a great way to change your lifestyle for the better, IF you heed my advice, and follow my tips above. Please do not disregard all challenges, but do me a favor and go into them with eyes wide open, and a sound exit strategy in order to maximize your “after” picture, and most importantly, your “after after” picture.