Not long ago, one of members of my health club poked her head in my office for some advice and assistance. Linda was a 46 year old mother of two, and she had been a member for over a year. She had been working out sporadically, with (not surprisingly) sporadic results. On that particular day, she seemed to have enthusiasm and a twinkle in her eye that I hadn’t seen before.
"I want to enter a before and after fitness contest called “12 week body transformation challenge." I could win money and prizes and even get my picture in a magazine."
“I want to lose THIS”, she continued, as she grabbed body fat on her stomach. “Do you think it’s a good idea?”
Linda was not “obese” by any means, she just had typical “moderate roll” of abdominal body fat and a little bit of thigh/hip fat that many forty-something females struggle with.
“I think it’s a great idea” I reassured her. “Competitions are great for motivation. When you have a deadline and you dangle a “carrot” like that prize money in front of you, it can keep you focused and more motivated than ever.”
Linda was eager and rarin’ to go. “Will you help me? I have this enrollment kit and I need my body fat measured.”
“No problem,” I said as I pulled out my Skyndex fat caliper, which is used to measure body fat percentage with a “pinch an inch” test.
When I finished, I read results to her from caliper display: “Twenty-seven percent. Room for improvement, but not bad; it’s about average for your age group.”
She wasn’t overjoyed at being ‘average’. “Yeah, but it's not good either. Look at THIS,” she complained as again she grabbed a handful of stomach fat. “I want to get my body fat down to 19%, I heard that was a good body fat level.”
I agreed that 19% was a great goal, but it would take a lot of work because average fat loss is usually about a half a percent a week, or six percent in twelve weeks. Her goal, to lose eight percent in twelve weeks was ambitious.
She smiled and insisted, “I’m a hard worker. I can do it”
Indeed she was and indeed she did. She was a machine! Not only did she never miss a day in gym, she trained HARD. Whenever I left my office and took a stroll through gym, she was up there pumping away with everything she had. She told me her diet was strictest it had ever been in her life and she didn't cheat at all. I believed her. And it started to show, quickly.
Each week she popped into my office to have her body fat measured again, and each week it went down, down, down. Consistently she lost three quarters of a percent per week – well above average rate of fat loss – and on two separate occasions, I recall her losing a full one percent body fat in just seven days.
Someone conservative might have said she was overtraining, but when we weighed her and calculated her lean body mass, we saw that she hadn’t lost ANY muscle – only fat. Her results were simply exceptional!
She was ecstatic, and needless to say, her success bred more success and she kept after it like a hungry tiger for full twelve weeks.
On week twelve, day seven, she showed up in my office for her final weigh-in and body fat measurement. She was wearing a pair of formerly tight blue jeans and they were FALLING OFF
HER! “Look, look, look,” she repeated giddily as she tugged at her waistband, which was now several inches too large.
As I took her body fat, I have to say, I was impressed. She hadn’t just lost a little fat, she was “RIPPED!”
During week twelve she dropped from 18% to 17% body fat, for a grand total of 10% body fat lost. She surpassed her goal of 19% by two percent. I was now even more impressed, because I had only seen a handful of people lose that much body fat in three months.
You should have seen her! She started hopping up and down for joy like she was on a pogo stick! She was beaming… grinning from ear to ear! She practically knocked me over as she jumped up and gave me a hug – “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Don’t thank me,” I said, “You did it, I just measured your body fat.”
She thanked me again anyway and then said she had to go have her “after” pictures taken. Then something very, very strange happened. She stopped coming to gym. Her "disappearance" was so abrupt, I was worried and I called her. She never picked up, so I just left messages.
No return phone call.
It was about four months later when I finally saw Linda again. The giddy smile was gone, replaced with a sullen face, a droopy posture and a big sigh when I said hello and asked where she’d been.
“I stopped working out after contest... and I didn’t even win.”
“You looked like a winner to me, no matter what place you came in” I insisted, “but why did you stop, you were doing so well!”
“I don’t know, I blew my diet and then just completely lost my motivation. Now look at me, my weight is right back where I started and I don’t even want to know my body fat.”
“Well, I'm glad to see you back in here again. Write down some new goals for yourself and remember to think long term too. Fitness isn’t a just 12 week program you know, it’s a lifestyle - you have to do it every day - like... forever.”
She nodded her head and finished her workout, still with that defeated look on her face. Unfortunately, she never again come anywhere near condition she achieved for that competition, and for rest of time she was a member at our club, she slipped right back into sporadic on and off workout pattern.
Linda was not an isolated case. I’ve seen same thing happen with countless men and women of all ages and fitness levels from beginners to competitive bodybuilders. In fact, it happens to millions of people who “go on” diets, lose a lot of weight, then quickly “go off” diet and gain weight right back.
What causes people to burn so brightly with enthusiasm and motivation and then burn out just as quickly? Why do so many people succeed brilliantly in short term but fail 95 out of 100 times in long term? Why do so many people reach their fitness goals but struggle to maintain them?