In the classic story of the tortoise and the hare, the bunny is fast and arrogant, taunting the turtle about his slow pace. At the end (spoiler alert- haha) the turtle wins the race because his slow and steady strategy is more sustainable for the long haul. The bunny runs far ahead at first, but wears out quickly and takes a nap midrace, while the turtle chugs along and finishes in front.
You can relate this story to your fat loss journey. Who wins? The hare who uses extreme behaviors and wears out, or the tortoise who plays the long game?
I am passionate about this topic because I was the queen of yo-yo weight loss for the better part of a decade. I was excellent at losing weight and often maintaining the loss for up to a year. I thought maintaining my weight for a year was proof that it was sustainable because a year seems like a long time! Never the less I was gaining weight and losing the same 20-30 pounds every other year. It wasn’t healthy.
I executed extreme behaviors, and I called it a lifestyle, but I could only hold on to those tight restrictions for so long. Inevitably, something would trigger a relapse in weight gain: I’d go on vacation, I’d get sick, or I’d deal with a significant life stressor, and I’d break. My all-in mentally switched to all-out, and I’d struggle to switch back, eventually gaining back all the weight that I lost and then some —it’s a shitty way to live.
The last time I gained significant weight was after a loss was immediately following one of those insane workout DVDs. It was a nine-week program of 45 minutes to an hour of high-intensity workouts, six days a week. It seemed effective when I lost a lot of weight, but I white-knuckled my way through the program, dreading every tough hour, counting down the days until I completed the nine weeks.
I didn’t have a plan for week 10. I went on a vacation and started to indulge, a lot. When I came home, I couldn’t bring myself to start up that program again, it was too taxing, both mentally and physically. I planned to start a new program, but I spent the next six months promising myself that I’d start over Monday while the weight crept back on.
I was good at losing weight with extreme methods, but I was terrible at keeping it off for more than a year.
The life lesson that I learned the hard way is that slow weight loss is more sane and sustainable. Without heavy restrictions or extreme exercising, I figured out that I could maintain my weight forever. I could enjoy food and learn to love the time I spent exercising. I didn’t have to hammer my body into submission, I could take care of myself, enjoy healthy food, and love the way I move my body for exercise.
The truth is that I still sometimes struggle with an all-or-nothing mindset. I often have to check myself. If I feel that familiar fear of an indulgence, I remind myself that one meal does not make or break a healthy lifestyle: It’s what you do most of the time that matters, not what you occasionally do. Or if I find myself indulging too much or too often, I now have the skills to pull the reins in before it gets out of hand.
These days my weight over a year may fluctuate five to six pounds rather than 15-20. I run a lot less obsessively, lift weights a lot more, and allow indulgences. I focus on healthy sustainable behaviors and allow myself the pleasures of food and drinks with friends and family. This shift in mindset enables me to have a healthy body and a healthy mind.
FAST WEIGHT LOSS (THE HARE)
Feels satisfying at first
There’s no denying that stepping on the scale and seeing a substantial drop in the number feels good, but that emotional attachment to a lower number on the scale can be a detrimental to long term results. The scale does not tell the whole story, and a smaller number on the scale is not always a positive result. If you emotionally need a lower number at any cost; that cost could be your ability to keep the weight off.
At risk for muscle loss
If you lose muscle along with fat, it lowers your metabolism because muscle tissue burns more calories at rest than fat. If your metabolism decreases because of muscle loss that means you need to eat even less or exercise even more to maintain your weight. Aim to retain muscle and decrease fat. Significant drops in weight usually include muscle.
Encourages yo-yo weight
When you lose weight too quickly, your chances for a weight rebound increases, the biggest mindset mistake I made was I would think, “I need to go back to that diet, or that exercise plan, because it worked for me.”
What I didn’t realize that if I needed to keep going on and off of it, it was not working for me at all. A plan that you have to go on and off on it because it’s too extreme to maintain all the time, isn’t working.
SLOW FAT LOSS (THE TORTOISE)
Requires patience and trust in the process
Do you want to lose and gain the same weight over and over or lose it once and for all? If you know the magic is in the slow process, there is no reason to chase the magic pill. Aim to lose up to 52 pounds over a year. Could you lose more? Maybe, every person is different, but having realistic expectations is the first step.
I don’t know about you, but these days in my life, a year flies by so quickly I often wonder where it went. What if you dedicated a year to sustainable behaviors, set realistic goals, and showed up to do the hard work required for a year? How would your life be different a year?
Easier to maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors
Without extreme restrictions or behaviors, it is easier to fit your real life into a healthy lifestyle, because there is room for family celebrations, drinks with friends, work functions, and birthday parties. You don’t give up when you have a bad day, because the next meal is a fresh start. You make small changes to your habits over time. Every healthy choice is a cause for celebration, because it’s more about the habits and the lifestyle than it is about quick results.
Doesn’t need to diet anymore
After a while, the diet mentality disappears. You start to want to eat the foods that are healthy for your body, and junk food becomes a bit less desirable. You’re no longer on or off a diet. You don’t need scheduled cheat meals or cheat weekends. You eat well most of the time, because it makes you look, feel and perform your best. You don’t have to cheat on your diet or take a diet break; you can always enjoy an occasional indulgence.
I wasted way too many years trying to be the hare, when the path of the tortoise was the answer.
Does any of this sound familiar? Can you relate? I’d love to hear from you.
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Questions? I’d love to help.