I'm not a huge fan of most reality tv, but I do love me some Biggest Loser. I know that the methods utilized by the show are not practical in real life. (Seriously, who wants to exercise for 8 hours a day? Major ugh.) Also they eat a very low calorie diet, and this combined with such an intense exercise regime would probably not be possible without the team of medical personnel that help oversee the show.
All that aside, the show is damn inspirational.
I get totally hooked by each person's story. I empathize with their struggle with weight gain, loss, and regain. I get sucked into their personal dramas, cry over their tragedies, and celebrate their successes. I literally applauded when Antoine and Alexandra got engaged during the finale a few seasons ago, which was kind of embarrassing considering I was at the gym at the time... All tangents aside, my point is that this show inspires millions, myself included.
Over several seasons of watching, I've noticed a thing or two. First off, there seem to be common themes of emotional eating brought on by tragedy, family histories of obesity and obesity-related health issues, and some cataclysmic life event that finally brought upon the need for change. Several contestants have mentioned that they need the Biggest Loser because they can't or won't be able to do it on their own. They need the help/time/focus to get their life and their weight back on track.
As inspirational as the Biggest Loser is to watch, I don't think these kind of results are attainable in real life. I've never met anyone who loses over ten pounds a week several weeks in a row, or who drops 100 pounds in 2 months. It seems this kind of reality tv doesn't depict reality. While it will most likely take those of us not on the show quite a bit longer to lose our weight, I do think we can learn from the show, and apply some of the concepts to our own weight loss journeys.
Here are some tips I've learned:
1) Plan ahead: as with the no starch diet, it is helpful to do a bit of planning when you are trying to lose weight. One example that worked for me was setting an established gym time that I thought of as an appointment, which made me less likely to miss it. Also, I have a few "go to recipes" for quick meals that are healthy, such as a smoothie for breakfast, salad with veggies and protein for lunch, and some lean meat and veggie stir fry for dinner. If you're a busy person, it might help to make some things in bulk and freeze them, or to find ways to get creative with healthy leftovers. It also helps to bring some healthy snacks along such as nuts or fruit leather, because I know I will get hungry between meals. I find the fewer things I leave up to chance, the more successful I am both on the diet and with my weight loss.
2) Make your health a priority: so often on the Biggest Loser I hear people saying they spend all of their time worrying about others and as a result end up overweight. This seems to be especially true of women. I think as women we let our care taking tendencies trump our own needs all too often. If you are serious about your health journey, you have to start putting yourself first. This can mean ensuring you have healthful foods to eat, carving out some "me time" to get in a workout, and finding healthy ways to de-stress that don't involve ice cream. One thing that has helped for me is working out first thing in the morning. I have to go to bed a little earlier and get up a bit earlier, but at least I know that regardless of what comes up throughout the day, I already exercised. Any exercise that happens during the day or after work is just a bonus.
3) Small changes count: when we think of the Biggest Loser, what most likely comes to mind is crazy hard workouts and screaming trainers. However, in the first few episodes they do start smaller and and work their way up. The trainers also encourage those who don't make it onto the show to find small things to do to get started. As a dietitian, many of use this same philosophy with clients and patients. It's helpful to find a few things you want to work on first and go from there, because radically changing everything about your life at once can seem crazy overwhelming. For me, I started with giving up diet soda and drinking more water. Then I made sure I worked out 5 days a week. Then I started working on my diet by eating more fruits and veggies and less junk food and dessert. After that, I bumped up my exercise to 7 days a week. As each new thing turned more into a habit, I was able to add more healthful practices into my daily routine without feeling crazy or like it was too much work to manage.
4) Do it for you: a lot of the contestants on the show talk about their children, spouses, and families, and how they need to lose weight for these people. I think that is a noble idea, but the contestants soon realize that ultimately it is up to them to do the work to lose the weight. I struggled with this as well, wanting to lose weight to make my parents more happy or proud of me, or to make boys I was dating find me more attractive. I found though that this would sometimes make me resentful and bitter towards these people, and sometimes I would deliberately overeat to spite them. Not healthy. I had to get to a place where I became my own catalyst. I had to be the one who drove myself to the gym, ensured I worked out, and felt good and proud of myself without looking to others for affirmation. I had to force myself to eat better and make healthy changes because it was better for me. This has been a lot of work, but it has been quite empowering.
5) Don't make excuses: we all have reasons that we struggle with weight. Maybe we are big boned, our family is all overweight, or there was a personal tragedy which led to us overeating. Maybe we are busy people on the go, running families or managing companies, and we are too busy to take care of ourselves. Maybe our metabolisms are painfully sluggish. Maybe it all just seems to hard. If we want to, we could make excuses for ourselves to be fat until we are blue in the face. Here's the truth about excuses: they get you nowhere. Maybe they make you feel a little better or justified temporarily, but they don't actually change anything about your situation. At some point, I just needed to put on my big girl panties and deal with it. I got to a point where I refused to let excuse after excuse hold me back. I'm better than these excuses. If other people can push through their own situations, so can I.
6) Start today: has anyone else noticed how many contestants have some huge life tragedy that has brought them to the conclusion that now is the time to start losing weight? Especially this season, it seemed that so many people had lost someone they love because of weight-related issues. I don't know about you, but I don't want to wait for tragedy to hit before I start making changes to improve my life. This concept is very similar to the idea of not making excuses, because we can always think of a better reason to start making changes tomorrow. Don't fall into this trap. Even during the rough patches where I "fall off the wagon" I try to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back on the horse the same day. Even a half day of being mindful and loving my body is better than a whole day of gluttony, excuse, and self loathing. You never know what tomorrow may bring. Do it now.
7) Calories in vs. calories out: losing weight is a lot like math. Your body at rest burns a certain amount of calories just keeping you alive. If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you burn more than you eat, you lose weight. For me, this has meant that in order to lose weight I need to both eat healthy and exercise. I've found that just eating better but not exercising or exercising but not eating as well has made me either gain weight or stay the same. Once I consistently did both together, the weight started coming off.
8) Exercise is cumulative: this is an idea that isn't touched on quite as much during the show, but is true nonetheless. So many of us are crazy busy these days, and the idea of spending an hour or two at the gym can seem pretty impossible. The great thing about exercise being cumulative is that you can space out your workouts throughout the day if needed and still reap the benefits. If you can't do an hour all at once, do two 30 minute workouts or three 20 minute ones. If your goal is 30 minutes a day you can even break these into three 10 minute chunks. Breaking it up can make it seem more manageable.
9) Try something new: a great way to stay motivated on your weight loss journey is to find a new activity to try out. If you have a gym membership chances are you can try out a few of their classes and see what you like. I've found I really like the Zumba, spinning, and kick boxing classes offered at my gym, and they are a fun way to break up my routine. I also really like hot yoga but it's a little pricey so sometimes I'll try out the new student special somewhere a hit up a few classes a week using their intro rate. Mixing it up like this also helps your body from plateauing because you are challenging new muscle groups and not getting stuck in a rut. Plus finding something that feels more like fun than exercise means you'll probably be more likely to do it.
10) Slow and steady wins the race: ok so this idea might seem a little contrary to the Biggest Loser concept. For me, though, it's become my mantra. Weight loss has to be a marathon, not a sprint. Because I want these changes to take hold and I don't want to backslide, I am thinking of this process as making lifestyle changes and developing new habits. It's not just a last ditch effort to drop a few pounds before ______ (insert event here: wedding, class reunion, hot date, etc). While having things like weddings and reunions can serve as powerful motivating factors, I need to stay focused on the fact that I need to continue on this journey even without any big vacation or bridesmaid dress looming in the future. Someday I will reach my goal, and then I will need to rely on the changes I've made to help sustain the weight loss. This will be work for the rest of my life. The knowledge that I'm going to have to work at weight management the rest of my life used to really piss me off, because it seemed so unfair. I've gotten to a place now where I've accepted it and I figure the sooner all of this becomes second nature, the better off I'll be. Also, one of my R.D. friends pointed out that sometimes being in a plateau state is still worth celebrating, because I'm not regaining the weight. Another friend brought up this point: "time will pass. At the end of the year, you can be skinnier, you can be fatter, or you can stay the same." I'm going to work to be skinnier, and once I get there I'll work to stay the same.
Me in pants that I bought in December:
Best of luck on your journey.