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Is There a Shortcut to Weight Loss?

How your shortcut might end up the longest road to your health and fitness goals


Updated March 26, 2009

There are a lot of things in life I expect to happen instantaneously. I expect web pages to load in seconds, my husband to hop to my every request and my kitties to obey me. Okay, some of my expectations are a little out there and I'm not alone in that, especially when it comes to exercise.

What are your exercise expectations? Are they realistic? What happens when those expectations aren't met? If you're like me, you get frustrated, angry, perhaps enough to give up. Or maybe you search for a shortcut…a diet, a pill or a gadget to finally get you where you want to go. With all the choices out there, it's easy to believe there's something out there that will make this weight loss thing easier, isn't it? But are there any shortcuts to weight loss? And, more importantly, do shortcuts actually help us or hurt us?

The Shortcut to Weight Loss

What's the fastest way to lose weight? Ask that question and you'll probably get a variety of answers, depending on who you ask. A fitness expert, like myself, probably wouldn't even answer that question since an expert is usually more interested in safe, permanent weight loss. Fast weight loss often doesn't fall under the safe/permanent category. Ask your friend or co-worker and he might say you should skip a few meals and start exercising your tail off. Someone else might say to starve yourself or go on a liquid diet, maybe take some diet pills. Whatever the answer, most would probably fall under the category of shortcuts or, in my definition, a method of weight loss that isn't sustainable long-term. Some typical shortcuts could include:

  • Diet pills, fat burning supplements, laxatives
  • Fad diets or very low calories diets
  • Skipping meals or not eating at all
  • Questionable fitness gadgets or programs that offer amazing results for very little work (e.g., 6-minute workouts or ab machines, etc.)

Most of us have probably tried at least one thing from that list in an effort to lose that stubborn fat. But what happens when you follow a shortcut? You lose weight, go off the diet or start eating again and end up gaining even more weight. So, while shortcuts aren't always bad or dangerous, if you keep trying them again and again you might actually end up worse off than you started-several pounds heavier and a few weeks or months gone that you can't ever get back.

Two Roads to Weight Loss

In my experience, there are two roads to weight loss: There's the shortcut road which involves things like pills, diets, infomercial gadgets, etc. and then there's the long road, which usually involves lifestyle changes such as more exercise and less crappy eating. I'm convinced that most people already know the best road to take. We know the long road works…just look at The National Weight Control Registry, which has studied long-term weight loss for over 5,000 people. In one study, it was found that, "A little over one-half of the sample lost weight through formal programs; the remainder lost weight on their own. Both groups reported having used both diet and exercise to lose weight." A descriptive study of individuals successful at long-term maintenance of substantial weight loss

Despite the fact that we know these shortcuts probably won't work, we're still compelled to try them…maybe because the alternative doesn't offer quite as many dramatic results. Think about it. Making a lifestyle changes is a slow, plodding process. There's no dramatic weight loss, no big changes that make us feel like we're accomplishing something…just small, day-to-day changes that when, taken together over a period of time add up to a better life.

So, which path do you choose when it comes to getting healthy and losing weight? Taking a look at these different approaches may help you learn a little more about yourself and nudge you in the right direction.

Shortcuts vs. Lifestyle Changes

Shortcut = Drama and Excitement

Shortcuts are exciting, aren't they? They offer big, sweeping changes that, of course, lead to big sweeping results. We like seeing instant results, don't we? It's kind of fun (at least at first) to totally change your life in a day…it makes you feel like you're really doing something whereas just changing one or two things (as in lifestyle changes) doesn't feel like much is being accomplished. The weight loss is usually dramatic and exciting as well since most diets end up cutting your calories much lower than what you've been eating. Another thing about shortcuts like diets or skipping meals is that you often feel hungry much of the time. For many of us, going hungry almost seems like a goal in and of itself after years of believing that eating is just wrong.
The downside.
So, what do you have to look forward to with this approach? Most likely, fast weight loss and a temporary feeling of accomplishment. Know what else you have to look forward to? Gaining it back.

Next Page: Diets Don't Work

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