by Robert Maxwell
Diet and fitness fads have been around a long time, and one would think by now it's clear they don't usually work. Apparently not. Although at no other time in history have more gym memberships, fitness products and diet books been sold, we're achieving record numbers of overweight and obese people in this country. The latest numbers from Statistics Canada report that over 14,000,000 people 18 and older self-report as obese or overweight. That's 54% of our population. The resulting health problems cost the Canadian economy almost $4 billion every year. Yet the economy also shows an interest in fitness that's never been higher. Clearly something's wrong. I feel the problem boils down to temporary enthusiasm giving way to long term-laziness. To get and stay fit is impossible without willpower, and all the trendy products and gym memberships in the world won't change that. They might even do more harm than good, creating unrealistic expectations and a skewed perception of what works and what doesn't. In my experience, flashy fitness trends are best avoided. They almost never work long term, and often give participants the idea that old fashioned sweat and hard work isn't necessary. This is very damaging. If you're new to fitness and serious about long-term results, here are 5 fads best avoided.
I have nothing against the many trendy diets floating around the fitness world. Some are actually well thought out. Trouble is, they don't usually work. Whether it's eating paleo, the raw food diet, the Atkins Diet, Weight Watchers, or any number of others, people I know rarely end up any healthier or slimmer, even after "dieting" for years. The diets themselves probably aren't to blame. People are. Very few have the willpower to stick with a radical diet for more than a few weeks. Cheating quickly sets in, and results are sacrificed. Often participants don't even realize they're straying from their latest diet's rules. They just know they're not losing weight. This leads to discouragement, more bad eating, and often worse physical condition than before. Trendy or not, all weight loss diets work the same way – by creating a calorie deficit. No human being not in a calorie deficit will ever lose weight. The laws of physics dictate this. The complicated, restrictive nature of many trendy diets might create such a deficit, but not in a way that most people can sustain. Eliminating entire food groups, following a bland recipe book, or assigning "points" to different types of foods all skirt around the main issue. Nearly every new diet claims to hold the key to weight loss – the crucial bit of knowledge that all previous diets lacked. This isn't true. Trendy diets often fail because of complication, but complication isn't a prerequisite to weight loss. If you want to lose body fat, create a calorie deficit. That's it.
We've all seen these in action. They might not all last exactly 30 days, but the style is the same. Month-long "shreds". Short daily sessions of "high-intensity" cardio. Workouts named after female celebrities. I have seen many people become very excited about such routines, only to fail miserably at actually improving their bodies. I'm not saying these trendy workouts are worthless. I'm sure a few pounds are occasionally shed by their participants. But workouts like these have one fundamental flaw – they don't foster a consistently healthy lifestyle. What good is being active for 30 days, or 60 or 90? None if it stops there. Why do the creators of trendy workout regimes feel the need to break healthy living into bite-sized, month-long chunks? Perhaps because of the laziness and lack of discipline that's so rampant in our affluent society. The writers of "the 30-day shred" and other short term routines must figure that most people would bock at the suggestion that they live healthy for more than 4 weeks. Heaven forbid they make exercise a lifestyle. They are probably correct, but that doesn't mean people are better off exercising for a month then slipping back into their inactive lifestyles. Don't expect a short-term fitness plan to change your life. The only way you can truly change your life is by changing your life.
"Magical" Weight Loss Products
In fifth grade our teacher showed us a 1920's advertisement for magical soap. In it was a picture of a hefty woman using some, then shrinking. The product was called "reducing soap", and claimed to slim any chunky body part without diet and exercise. Even at 12, I was amazed that anyone ever bought it. How could people have been so stupid? Our teacher's reason for showing us the ad was of course educational. She made the point that with better education, people of the 1920's would not have been convinced to buy something so silly. An obvious scam. At the time I figured she must be right. Now I'm not so sure. We may have advanced technologically over the last 90 years, but the ignorance that allowed reducing soap to be bought and sold still exists today. We have our modern equivalents: waistline reducing body wraps, vibrating belts, fat burning pills, all-natural weight loss oils and many more. I can't help but think that in 90 years these will seem just as ludicrous as reducing soap seems today. People will do anything, it seems, to lose weight and look better. Anything but eat right and exercise. Please, don't be taken in by flash-in-the-pan fitness products that have no basis in science or common sense. You'll be disappointed. If you want to lose weight and get fit, make it happen the old fashioned way: hard work and a proper diet. It's the only way that works.
Just Add Cardio
As a personal trainer I hear from many disgruntled people unable to lose weight. Their excuses are many and varied. "I just can't say no to sweets", they say, or "I don't have good genetics for weight loss". Some folks believe they're doing everything right, and are genuinely mystified when the scale shows no progress. "I run on the treadmill almost an hour every day! I'm sure I'm burning lots of calories, so why aren't I getting smaller?" In a word, food. These frustrated trainees often feel that because they're sweating on the treadmill for 60 minutes every morning, they are absolved of all dietary sins. Trouble is, no amount of exercise makes up for a bad diet. Calories add up too quickly. If an 170-pound woman jogged at average speed for 60 minutes, she would likely burn about 800 calories. That's 4 chocolate chip cookies. If she then ate a cheeseburger, fries, drank a large cola and followed up with ice cream, it's easy to see why weight loss wouldn't happen. It can't. There's no mystery in why people who eat terribly and do lots of cardio never lose weight. It comes down to calories in versus calories out. They've got too much in and not enough out.
The term "healthy eating" is all connotation and very little real meaning. What exactly is eating healthy, and how does it help one lose weight? Ask a dozen people and you'll get a dozen different answers. Truth is, when it comes to weight loss, healthy eating doesn't matter. Not even a little. Calories matter. They're the only thing that determines whether or not excess pounds are shed. Does that mean eating healthy isn't important? Not at all. Our bodies are designed to run on proper amounts of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals. Deprive yourself of these and your health will suffer. But losing weight has nothing to do with the quality of your food, only quantity. Somewhere along the line healthy eating and weight loss melded into one issue. Now thousands of confused people hit the gym three times a week, eat plenty of meat, veggies, and whole grain rice, and wonder why they're not losing weight. The reason is calories. If you're in a caloric surplus, weight loss is impossible. It doesn't matter if you reached that surplus by eating chocolate cake or broccoli, the result is the same. No weight loss. How often I've heard people justifying their excessive eating with the excuse of health. "I know I'm having 4 cups of rice, but it's brown rice, so it's healthy." This is nonsense. Making healthy food choices is important, but unless you're also controlling calories, you'll never lose weight.