Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Slow and steady wins the race


Most of us get impatient when it comes to losing weight, toning up, building strength or other fitness goals. We typically want to make faster progress than is realistic. Consistently following a healthy diet and exercise program works magic, but it is slow-working magic.

It can be pretty tempting to try short cuts such as using the latest diet-aid fad, skipping meals, or driving ourselves with extreme exercise. Unfortunately, most often such attempts at cheating nature end up setting us back on our health and fitness journey. I’ve definitely experienced that a time or two myself. Try to avoid falling for the short-cut trap, or if you fall in, climb out, dust yourself off and begin again with a wiser, more patient attitude.

One lady I know who has tried to lose weight for more than six months has gained weight instead. She continues to set herself up for failure because she won’t recognize what she’s doing wrong or try a different strategy. She severely restricts her calories during the day because she’s “dieting” but then she has strong food cravings at night and compulsively binges. If she ate enough during the day, properly fueling her body with healthy foods, including a balance of lean protein, veggies, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats, she likely wouldn’t be famished and binge at night. She would end up eating fewer calories.

The best way to promote weight loss is to keep your body fueled. Otherwise not only do you develop cravings, your body goes into “famine mode” and burns less calories. It’s important to address your hunger throughout the day. I keep a pack of peanuts or another healthy snack with me whenever I’m out so I can satisfy my hunger if need be rather than becoming ravenous and later shoveling in food indiscriminately.

Another woman I know who is trying to lose weight heard on television about the wonders of using green coffee bean extract to boost metabolism and assist in appetite suppression. I discouraged her from using a diet aid unless it was part of a reputable medical weight-loss program supervised by a physician. Unfortunately, soon after beginning to use the supplement she developed atrial fibrillation. While there is no way of knowing whether the caffeine (or some other substance) in the supplement precipitated her health condition, her doctor told her not to take it anymore because the effects of the supplement have not been thoroughly studied. Also, dietary supplements are not FDA approved and vary by manufacturer.

A third common mistake when it comes to short cuts is to overdo it with exercise to the point that you hurt yourself or give up on exercise. In part I blame cultural influences such as “The Biggest Loser” for making folks want to push themselves so hard. It’s best to start off slow and build your cardio, strength and flexibility over time. Listen to your body. When you first begin training especially you should be able to talk comfortably while you’re doing your cardio.

When I hear about gyms that provide a bucket to vomit in for those who are really pushing themselves, I truly believe we have become far too enamored with the boot camp approach. The reality is that it’s completely unnecessary to drive yourself that hard in order to get fit and/or lose weight. The bottom line: Research has proven that high intensity exercise leads to more injuries and higher exercise dropout rates. I lost 45 pounds and am maintaining that weight loss through combining a healthy, balanced diet with walking and resistance training. Why short cut your way to a set back? Like Aesop said, “Slow and steady wins the race."