The Problem with Lose Weight Fast Programs

May 31, 2013 1:02 pm / Posted in , , ,

With over 10 years in the personal training business, I’ve seen many programs and exercise routines that claim to help people lose weight fast. I have to say that they are not all created equal. Some are fad diets that come and go when the next fad diet comes around. Some are based on insane machines that do more harm than good.

But the ones that annoy me the most, are the workout programs that promise you will lose 20 pounds in 20 days, or that make some other version of the same claim (30 lbs in 30 days, 90 in 90, etc). Here are a few reasons why you should raise an eyebrow when you read these promises.

Habits Take Time to Build

If you have put on a few extra pounds, chances are it hasn’t happened in the last 20 days alone. Over time, you made decisions and lifestyle choices that became habits. According to the psychologist Philllipa Lally, it takes an average 66 days to form a new habit. So while you might lose weight fast in those first 20 days, you won’t have made the lifestyle changes that ensure long term health. This ensures that eventually, you will need to come back for more training.

You Are Only Getting Started

Think back to when you were learning how to ride a bike: you might have had training wheels, you would have maybe worn a helmet and pads, and your parents were probably nearby to encourage you, regardless of whether you were successful or not. With all that protection and encouragement, it was a safe environment to learn.

Now what if they kept pushing you to ride your bike longer and faster despite the fact that you were frustrated and didn’t really feel like it after falling for the fifth time in a row? I know many people would have lost interest in riding a bike at all! It’s the same thing with losing weight: your personal trainer should create an environment where you want to exercise and where you can make mistakes, not one where you feel frustrated and bitter at the process.

Punishment doesn’t lead to lifestyle change

Punishment can be “motivating,” sure. If you yell at people to move faster and work harder in order to lose weight fast, they will likely pick up the pace and sweat a little more. But once they leave the gym, the motivating effect stays at the gym. This is because punishment is an external, or artificial, motivator and research shows that intrinsic, or natural, motivators have more lasting results.

What intrinsic motivators can help in a weight loss setting?

  • Challenge: the desire to excel at something;
  • Cooperation: the motivation to help others achieve their goals;
  • Control: the need to have control over what happens to your body;
  • Curiosity: interest in a new or funny exercise that you haven’t tried before [link to down on the farm];
  • Competition: the desire to better someone else at a given task.

This list of intrinsic motivators also includes “recognition,” and I agree that it’s important to recognize peoples’ efforts, but we also want to avoid making people dependent on external recognition when they’re building new lifestyle habits.

Reduce Overall Body Fat, Rather than Lose Weight Fast

Weight is a poor measure of how good your exercise program is. For one, when people are overweight, the first thing to go is water weight. This can drop quickly, and is one of the reasons lose 20 in 20 schemes appear to work. But what if you’re only 10 lbs overweight? The amount of work you would have to do to lose 20 lbs in 20 days is ridiculous, and could even lead to injury.

The problem with these lose weight fast schemes is that they focus too much on weight as the key metric, when the reality is that body fat is a much more useful measure of how you’re doing. In my own gym in Westboro, I use three different indicators to uncover peoples’ total body fat so we can measure fat loss and muscle gain.

The advantage of this over just measuring weight is that people will get far more insight into what’s going on in their bodies and will likely see something change every few weeks, even if their weight plateaus.

Food Deprivation Can Make it Harder to Lose Weight Fast

One unfortunate side-effect of weight obsession (or ab-session) is that people will deprive themselves of food in order to lose weight fast. Never ever ever do this.

For one, food deprivation slows down your metabolism, which makes it harder to lose weight. But really, what’s the point of going without food? Instead of cutting out foods, focus on introducing healthier, more nutritious foods into your diet. You will still lose weight and you won’t be hungry and miserable.

3500 Calories = 1lb of Fat

Let’s think of this for a bit – 3500 calories go into 1 lb of fat. That means that to lose weight fast at a rate of 20 lbs of fat in 20 days, you would have to burn 70,000 more calories than you currently do. Considering most exercise sessions might burn 150 – 300 calories, even if you cut 300 – 500 calories a day from your diet, you’re still only burning about 2lbs of fat a week.

Here’s the thing: that is a great result!

You can burn more than 2 lbs a week – most doctors won’t recommend it, but you can – but you will be a hungry, tired, completely miserable wretch all the time. And if your motivation to lose weight is to feel better about yourself, then you’ve failed from the outset.

Some of my clients have reported feeling happier and more alert by simply eating unprocessed foods and walking for 10 minutes a day. They now do far more intense exercises, but they got there by slowly building up to the more difficult stuff, not by being thrown into it.

Lose weight fast programs push people to the point where they don’t actually enjoy the process, and treat people like losers if they can’t keep up. If you ask me, the real losers are the so-called “professionals” who promise unrealistic results, yet can’t put together a motivating and engaging exercise program that offers long term health benefits.


Burke Cleland is a personal trainer and nutrition coach in Ottawa. If you’re looking to lose weight or improve your overall health, contact him today.

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