It’s the new way to “get fit”. 12 weeks to lean, 8 weeks to more muscle, transform your life in 3 months!! Hell, I’ve even seen programs that promise abs in a month. Not to mention all the crazy promises on magazine covers. When did fitness become a quick fix?
It’s no wonder people struggle to maintain their new physique after they finish a program. It’s marketed in a way that says work now to get the body you want then you’re done! The truth sucks, but fitness is a lifestyle, and a lifelong pursuit. You can’t get the body you want in 12 weeks and keep it by going back to your old habits.
This is why I’m not a fan of these cookie cutter transformation programs you find online. They can tell you what to do for a while, but they don’t help you after that’s done. People are either left looking for the next new program - which offers another quick fix - or they go back to life as it was and regain the weight.
I got lucky when I started my transformation with a 12 week fitness program. I’ll be honest, I didn’t follow it 100%, but I started seeing results that I previously had not seen. Before this I . had gone to the gym regularly for a few months, then I would be off the wagon, back to it for a few months, back off. It was a gym rollercoaster, and with no real attention paid to my diet. It was no wonder I didn’t see any stellar changes in my physique up to this point. But I finished the 12 weeks, and with no other plans I jumped right into another 12 week program. I was faced with wanting to see more results, but I hadn’t learned anything.
Somewhere during that second transformation challenge I was introduced to my coach Mary. I told her I wanted to get on stage, but I didn’t know much about it. She got me on a meal plan, and with the advice of my husband I had started a hypertrophy program that he’d seen results on. That year I did 2 shows, but I feared the after effects.
Mary was there for me; she knew that I was worried about the post-show weight gain. Right away she helped me design a reverse diet and helped me get started counting macros. After I told her I was worried about my accountability going out the window she told me to keep sending her progress pictures, but now every 2 weeks instead of every week.
Ultimately, with her help I was able to build sustainable habits that kept me sane during my off-season. Two years later I’m managing my own off-season diet and training because I learned that it’s not about what you do for 12 weeks, or a contest prep, it’s everything you do after that. I was able to create a plan and form habits that I can maintain day in and day out.
The quick-fix cycle is a vicious one. I’ve seen so many of my friends make fantastic changes on a transformation program, only to be lost afterwards. They fall into the cycle of dieting and training HARD, to the point where they’re exhausted by the time the 12 weeks is over. Left hungry and worn thin their bodies and brains rebel.
Your brain doesn’t like extreme deprivation. It evolved to protect you against losing weight, especially losing weight fast. Your brain doesn’t see losing weight as a good thing, or understand the goal of wanting to look a certain way. Your brain wants you to survive!! So, it triggers cravings, especially for high calorie foods. It wants to start feeling better, and it wants you to put on weight that way the next time you face a shortage (which is what your brain sees when you diet) you’re more likely to survive.
That is why I preach about habits. A quick transformation is not a habit, it’s a balls-to-the-wall extreme solution for a problem you feel you have. It doesn’t set you up for continued success, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Creating healthy habits is the foundation of true, lasting change. An 8 week program might get you leaner right now, but it won’t keep you lean 6 months from now. And the weight regain after you finish the program will leave you feeling depressed and possibly worse than you felt before you started. You saw the results and are left wondering, “What did I do wrong?” You feel like you failed.
Lifelong health is a process that’s never done. It’s in the name: lifelong. You can’t expect that a 12 week program will be enough to keep you fit for life. It’s what you do consistently. It’s how you treat your body, and how you view your habits. It might not lead to results as fast as you’d like; this day in age we are conditioned to expect immediate results. But if you want results that last, expect to take the long road.
Think back to the last extreme diet you were on. How happy were you? What was your quality of life like? Did you skip going to friend’s birthday parties? If you went out with someone for dinner were you stressed out the entire time? Did you constantly feel like you had been hit by a truck? Were you using lots of pre-workout just to get yourself psyched up to “hit it hard” at the gym each day?
Quality of life is a major factor of dieting that is overlooked. It has a huge impact on our actions after the diet is done. We feel like we need to make up for all the fun times we missed out on. Competitors see this all the time. That first meal after a competition is usually an all out binge, they eat themselves sick. And that continues for days, weeks, even months. It happens to amateurs and pros alike. Bottomline: extreme diets are not sustainable and should not be treated as a final solution.
If your goal is to have extremely low levels of body fat, and get on stage then your methods will have to be extreme. But that’s only going to last for a small portion of your life, a handful of weeks. To have a healthy look year-round finding a sustainable plan that you can be consistent with is the primary goal. You can have the perfect plan written out, but if it makes you feel terrible and you can’t adhere to it, is it worth it?
Being lean won’t make you happy, no matter what “fit-spiration” memes tell you. Let your goals be bigger than a number on the scale. Make changes that enhance your life, not detract from it. It’s about changes you can make over the long term. You might not see dramatic weight loss immediately, but in the end isn’t slower progress worth it if it means you’ll still be fit years from now?