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Lifestyle Changes vs. Weight Loss Shortcuts

Which one gets you where you really want to go?


Updated March 26, 2009

Here's something that might make you feel better: Diets don't work. Dr. Len Kravitz, a renowned exercise expert, evaluated nine data-based research studies to find out what happens to our bodies when we diet. Here's what he found:
  • In women who dieted, BMR was lowered up to 20%, even more in very low-calorie diets
  • There was an average weight gain of 0-5 kg (0-11 lbs)
  • The women in these studies experienced a rebound effect after going off the diets, gaining much of the weight back

Lifestyle Change = Moderation.

Moderation. Even the word sounds boring, doesn't it? It certainly doesn't have the sparkly excitement of a shortcut…there are no big changes to make and no big results to look forward to. The thing about healthy living is that it's all about balance. You don't give in to every indulgence or even give up every indulgence, you simply plan better and try to make healthy choices most of the time. That doesn't sound so bad…so why don't we do it?

The downside

Three words: Slow weight loss. The thing about lifestyle change is that it's more about feeling better than looking better. If you make small changes, it may take weeks, months or even years to see significant changes and that's not very exciting, is it? Ugh. Just watch the scale not move over a period of weeks as you start a moderate exercise program and make some small changes in your diet. With this approach it may feel like nothing is happening, even though there are changes taking place. You're creating healthy habits, generating more energy, sleeping better and feeling a sense of satisfaction at all these good changes. For some people, those changes aren't even on the radar because weight loss has taken center stage.

Shortcuts = Absolute Answers

I'm convinced that one thing we love about following diets or other shortcuts is that there's no guesswork. Some nice person has figured out exactly what we need to eat every day or exactly what exercise we should be doing. Isn't it nice not to have to figure it out for ourselves?

The downside.

The problem, of course, is that these programs are designed for the masses and won't always fit your individual needs. What if the exercise program you're following involves equipment you don't have or workouts that are too hard or too easy? What if you're following a diet that's loaded with foods you hate? Or requires more cooking and grocery shopping than you have time for? Almost every diet will have at least one (and likely more) aspect that just won't work with how you live, eat and shop.

The Lifestyle Change = No Easy Answers

A person making lifestyle changes won't find any absolute answers. Instead, he has to find the answers himself by trying different things. How else will he figure out what he likes and what fits with his goals and schedule? Even more important is the ability to recognize when what you're doing isn't working and you need to try something else.

The downside.

It's hard to give yourself permission to take time to learn something, especially when you want results right now. It may take time to figure out what you like, what you're good at and what will work with your schedule. Many of us are so impatient to reach our goals, we don't want to waste the time it would take to try different things…what if it doesn't work? When you're making lifestyle changes, you're often on your own. Sure you can read books and magazines, get advice from friends or experts about what to do. But, in the end, you're the one who has to figure how to change your eating and how to move your body. You have to trust yourself and that's something many of us don't feel comfortable doing when it comes to health and fitness.

Shortcut = An Excuse to Quit

Another reason some of us like shortcuts is that they give us an excuse to keep living the way we want. Most shortcuts are impossible to follow forever so, when you finally quit or give up, it's almost like permission to back to that unhealthy lifestyle. After all, you obviously can't be trusted to follow this great diet…there must be something wrong with you, so why bother?

The downside


It's not you, it's the shortcut. If you can't follow something because it's too strict, too hard, too complicated or too something, you're better off taking what does work and discarding the rest. That means, of course, that you can't go back to the way you were living before, but that you have to keep working and changing. It may seem easier just to follow the same old habits we've always had rather than dredge up the vigilance, commitment and energy needed to make changes.

Next Page: No End in Sight?

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