A 44-year-old Librarian in Madison, New York, she had been sedentary her entire life, until 11 years ago. “I was never athletic at all,” she said. But then one day, she walked into a fencing club. “It was an impetus to change,” Leslie told me. “I stopped smoking and drinking, and I lost 40 pounds.” Now she competes at the national level, and does well.
Weight Loss in the Land of Oz
The Wizard with the MD has been under relentless attack for his peddling of miracle weight loss bullshit, and people are still buying it.
The FTC conducts a survey entitled “Consumer Fraud in the United States” with regularity, and for the latest one published in 2013 (PDF) the #1 form of fraud reported was in regards to weight loss products. Weight loss scams were also the #1 fraud for the survey before that, and the survey before that …
Believing stuff is fun.
Believing stuff is a form of instant gratification. It’s a dopamine rush you get from ordering that ab-shocker belt or doing that juice cleanse or buying that new diet book with the word “paleo” in the title or popping that garcinia-foreskin-ass-eye-eeeee-goji horse pill paid for with money that would be better spent on a bicycle.
And we have a short memory for failure. Sure, that last one didn’t work (and neither did the 16 miracle attempts before it), but this time it will. We believe we’re special. We have what is called an optimism bias. When we see those amazing before and after photos, we believe that even though it says “results not typical,” we’re going to be the lean and luscious atypical ones.
Maybe you’re special, and maybe you’re not. But you have it in you to do something amazing.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I am kind of into the science thing. I like rational theories substantiated via facts. I dig the scientific method and I wrote a book all about the science of exercise motivation.
Let’s put that on hold for a bit. With life-changing events like losing weight and getting in shape, sometimes you just have to feel it.
I want you to imagine someone who loves to exercise. I want you to imagine this person is you. You went from someone who hated it to someone who finds such great pleasure in physical activity that it comes to define you as a person. I want you to imagine this changing your life so that, years from now, people think of you as a workout warrior.
This is going to be hard. In fact, it may be one of the hardest things you ever do. But you can power through. You can learn to feel the love. You can make exercise and healthy eating a part of who you are.
The Ordinary Miracle
Still waiting for that weight loss miracle? They do happen, but it’s not going to come via something that magically melts fat; it’s more like a spiritual awakening.
Jen Hamel is a mother of two small children in Edmonton. Six years ago she was a smoker, a daily Slurpee drinker and a fast food eater. She was sedentary, unhappy and weighed 205 pounds.
“There was a catalyst,” she told me. “I saw a group photo from a family reunion and finally realized what was happening to me. The next day I saw commercials for Turbo Jam fitness DVDs, and because my kids were babies it made sense to exercise at home.”
Jen bought a DVD. And that led to many more changes in her life.
“It started with exercise, and then I began making small changes in my diet,” she said. “It took me a year to lose 65 pounds.” But it didn’t stop there. “Gradually, over time, I just became a fitness freak.” She’s down to 135 pounds, runs in Spartan races, does half marathons and competes in a women’s strength and fitness challenge called Femsport.
New Jen’s lifestyle became the polar opposite of Old Jen’s lifestyle. She was in the death spiral, and she got into a virtuous cycle. And she’s still in it, working as a personal trainer with an eye on her first marathon.
What happened to Jen isn’t an image-of-the-Virgin-Mary-in-a-grilled-cheese-sandwich miracle, but it’s a miracle nonetheless. People can change for the better. Have no faith in the false promises of charlatans and snake oil salesmen. Have faith in yourself.
It happened to Jen. It’s happened to countless others. It can happen to you.
Embracing Exercise Is Not Easy
I know you have doubts.
Most people don’t exercise, and they don’t want to start. It’s harder to move than to not move. There is no time. It’s painful. It makes you smelly. You don’t know what to do. People might make fun of you. You can get hurt. It costs money. None of your friends do it. Your PVR is full of stuff to watch. There are Internet friends who require your attention.
The exercise lifestyle is not an easy one to embrace. Many try and fail. Granted, I believe the reason they fail is that they approach it with the wrong attitude, the improper motivations and a lack of quality information. In other words, they’ve been listening to the bullshit spewed by Weight Loss Inc.
But falling in love with exercise and fueling it with healthy eating is something that happens. There is no “Secret” to “Law of Attraction” the flab away. No one ever had a pair of calorie-burning underpants change their life. How many owe fit and healthy bodies to a supplement or an ab-toning contraption from an infomercial?
But going from couch potato to workout warrior—and having it change your life—is something that happens every day. There are people who are overweight, inactive and with unhealthy diets who will start exercising, and they will learn not to hate it, then like it and eventually … love it. And then that will change everything else, including the way they eat. It opens the door to a better life.
One more time: It happens. It can happen to you.
Every day, someone falls in love with his or her soul mate. Every day, someone stands up to a bully. Every day, someone risks her or his life to save another. Every day, a mother makes a child’s awful day all better with just a hug. Every day, someone does the right thing even when the wrong thing was so much easier. Every day, ordinary things happen that appear miraculous. I don’t believe in weight loss miracles, but real-life miracles happen all the time.
Maybe this is the turning point. Maybe this is the end of the yoyo. Maybe the epiphany is on the edge of your consciousness, yearning to burst through.
Maybe you’re due for your real-life miracle.
The Long Road to Success
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” said some wise dude from long ago.
Fine, it was Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu in the sixth century BCE. Google rocks.
Psychologists have observed that it doesn’t matter if it’s one person planning an individual goal, such as getting in shape, or a large team planning to build a railway or the Chunnel; people will consistently underestimate the time, energy and resources it takes to accomplish goals. So be patient.
Take your first step, then your second, then a third, and eventually you will travel your thousand miles.
Then you can keep right on traveling.
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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com.