The secret is simple: go slow ‘n’ easy!
You’ve seen him: the fitness convert who decides, overnight, to become a contender in the Olympics of jogging. Two mornings in a row you see him trotting past the house with his mouth open, bound for glory, arms flailing, with the price tags on his spanking-new jogging suit flapping lazily in the breeze. The third morning, he doesn’t show. Or the fourth. In fact, that’s the last you’ll ever see of that jogging outfit – though you’ll hear about it for months.
Comical, eh? The neighbour having a dramatic, and extremely brief, fitness attack. But before you start feeling too awfully smug, consider your own case. Ever go on a crash diet, shedding five to ten pounds as easily as taking off your shoes… and then gain it all back in a week? Ever determine, once and for all, all in a single weekend?
Unfortunately, say the experts, the fast and furious approach to any lifestyle change can take the joy out of the whole experience, lead to injury, and (worst of all) make your attempts to change very short-lived indeed.
Sending Fat on Vacation… Permanently
Weight loss is a short-lived change that is all too familiar to most of us. It’s no big deal getting people to lose weight. People lose millions of pounds every year. But only two to five per cent actually keep it off.
Rapid weight loss tends to be temporary, says Jeanne Segal, a California psychotherapist, because people merely shed pounds without taking the time to understand why they overeat. “If you’ve been doing something for the past 20 or 30 years, there are good reasons for it,” she says. “You may be bored or lonely, you may be trying to hide your sexual attractiveness, and you may simply be trying to numb yourself. But people jump into weight-loss programmes without understanding these underlying reasons… and when they do lose weight they get in touch with what they’ve been trying to avoid all along. And the weight comes back. What you have to do is eliminate the original reason for overeating.”
The best way to approach a major dietary change is slow and easy, says Terry Snyderman, a registered nurse who has been teaching natural foods cookery in Philadelphia for more than two decades.
“People have an ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude toward diet. They have this vision of how their diet should be, and they impose all this pressure on themselves to change completely,” she told us. “But I try to inspire them to make the switch at their own pace. It should be pleasurable, because after all, eating is a celebration of life, and if you don’t enjoy it, something’s wrong.”
The first thing you should do she suggests, is “get clear on where you are now,” by carefully examining your present diet. Then draw up a list of dietary goals, to “define where you see yourself going, to make sure you know what you want to change.” Then, in easy stages, lay out the stepping-stones for getting yourself to the other side.
If you’re trying to add whole grains to your diet, for instance, she suggests you do it in “percentages” – make the switch to whole-wheat bread first, then start using wholegrain pastas, and so on. Pay attention to the after-effects of foods: Junk food may be easier to leave behind if you really pay attention to the way you feel after eating it. That half-sick feeling that follows too many cream-filled cupcakes, for instance, cam become a great motivator for change. And as you move further out onto the frontiers of taste, “you should always make sure there’s at least something familiar in there. You’ve got to take risk by including new foods with new tastes, but don’t risk it all at once.”
Your body will no doubt appreciate the cautious approach, because a dramatic change in the foods you eat causes physiological changes that take time to adjust to. Several doctors have reported, for example, that people who suddenly add a lot of fibre to their diet often complain of temporary stomach cramps or gas; but if fibre is increased gradually, these problems don’t occur.
Before long, Snyderman tells her students, “The things you want to eat will be the ones your body has adapted t. What seems hard now will be effortless in the future.”
For many people, that effortless future is often difficult to imagine. But Snyderman recalls an elderly couple in one of her classes who decided they would take one full year to change their diet into the one they wanted. “I really respected the wisdom of these people, who decided to make a slow, steady transition, one that would really last,” she says. “Because it’s the same with eating as it is with anything else: If you try going too fast, you end up taking two steps forward and one step back.”
And so with Exercise
But dietary changes are just one part of the weight-loss equation – the other part is exercise. Dragging yourself out of the old easy chair to exercise regularly can be difficult – but no more difficult than making the switch from a high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt diet to a more natural one.
And, as with diet so with exercise. You don’t have to kill yourself to get its benefits. The wisdom of the turtle’s approach applies equally well.