How To Be Better Than The Biggest Losers and Create a Lasting Change

Yesterday, we talked about why participants on the show The Biggest Loser aren’t exactly role models or inspiring figures for our own efforts. Actually, they might be examples of how NOT to go about getting healthy permanently.

Many contestants regained the weight immediately after the show, and these strategies that were held up on the show as shining examples of health were nothing more than a house of cards – theatre to trick us, entertain us, and unfortunately set unrealistic expectations that cause us to look poorly at our own situation!

According to the show’s doctor, the recommendation for show contestants is to exercise at least 9 hours per week to maintain their weight loss. That is a tremendous amount of time to exercise for somebody who is also trying to live a normal life and do regular people things.

I read that number and made this face:

Steve Frog Face

Nine hours of exercise per week is a lot of freaking exercise for someone who is just starting! For reference, I exercise about 5 hours per week.

Why is exercising more and more NOT the solution to a permanently healthy life, but a set up for failure?

Let’s say, for example, that you choose to exercise 9+ hours per week, which results in a net loss of a few extra thousand calories per week. Setting aside the fact that it is incredibly challenging to build or maintain the habit of exercising that much each week while living a normal life, advocates for this sort of routine expect you to keep this up every week, for the rest of your life in order to stay “fit.”

That’s right. They might sell you on a 30 or 60 day workout plan – implying you’ll shed the pounds, be healthy, and look great… but time won’t freeze over. Things won’t stay that way forever.

That, my friends, is the greatest trick lie the devil ever told.

Instead, when you stop burning these calories each week and don’t change anything else, you inevitably regain the weight. And that’s why 99% of people fail to keep the weight off: they’re fighting this battle with one hand tied behind their backs…

After all, we have LIVES!

What’s the solution for those of us in the real world?

Think Permanent Solutions: The New You!

legos permanent

In addition to strenuously exercising for hours each day, the doctors also gave contestants all sorts of specialists and coaches to support them. What happened?

“Unfortunately, many contestants are unable to find or afford adequate ongoing support with exercise doctors, psychologists, sleep specialists, and trainers — and that’s something we all need to work hard to change.”

The idea that we all need a personalized team of experts to change our life sounds both amazing and incredibly unrealistic. It’s not only mentally detrimental to the show participants, but to everyone watching. It subtly sends us the message that this is a Herculean task, only accomplishable by the these “special” people.

Oh what’s that? You don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to throw away? Sorry!

We’re here to tell you that this thesis is wrong. Our success stories, and thousands of others getting healthy in the NF Rebellion every day prove it wrong.

Regular people, with regular jobs and regular responsibilities (kids, a social life, etc.), can implement a simple yet long-term solution that really works. It involves looking at your life and the changes you will make through the lens of permanence and balance.

As you make change, we need to start thinking of it as “this is what I do now” instead of as “I’m going to do this for a while until I go back to what I was doing.”

It’s true: what got you HERE won’t get you THERE. If you want to have real change, you can never live like you’re living now: something fundamental has to change permanently.

Fortunately, any permanent change, no matter how small, qualifies as different from normal:

  • Drinking 23 sodas instead of 24 sodas a day permanently qualifies as a change.
  • Skipping one meal per week permanently counts as a change.
  • Choosing vegetables instead of fries for ONE of the 14 meals you eat out per week counts as a change.
  • Drinking coffee with 3 packets of sugar instead of four packets of sugar counts as a change.

I don’t care how small the change is – in fact, the smaller the better, in my experience! What’s important is that it’s a change you can live with, that you can do without breaking the bank, that doesn’t freak you out, and that is sustainable.

The best place to start?

Focus on Diet

veggies

It’s time to realize that exercise is only 10-20% of the long-term solution when it comes to sustainable weight loss. Your nutrition, your relationship with food, your cell’s relationship with food, your microbiome’s relationship with food, and your mindset about food make up the other 80-90% of the puzzle.

The simple truth is that if you want to lose weight and keep the weight off, you need to focus on finding a way of consuming fewer calories than you burn each day consistently.

If you burn 2,500 calories each day and only consume 2,000, over the short term you can lose about 1 lb a week. As you lose more weight, you burn fewer and fewer calories at rest (there’s less of you to have to “maintain”).

Exercising can burn a few extra hundred calories, but that work can be quickly undone with food choices.

For instance, you can eat a bag of Doritos and drink a Coke, and it would take about 5 miles to burn the equivalent amount of calories. Or, you could simply cut out the bag of Doritos and the Coke! Of course, we haven’t even talked about nutrients, being satiated, the evil influence of sugar, and fueling your body with the right food as reasons not to eat like crap. Just the pure weight loss math should be enough to get you angry and make a change!

That’s why we believe the true solution is building a healthy, sustainable relationship with the food you use to fuel your body. You aren’t just “skipping the Doritos this month until you reach a goal weight” – you’re “eating fewer Doritos on average, FOREVER.”

Through personal experiences and the results of thousands upon thousands of people here on NF following our path, we believe gradually changing your dietary habits in a healthy, sustainable way is the way to find lasting success. For many, going “cold turkey” and dramatically changing everything can also result in long-term success. The important part is that these these short term dramatic changes must be able to translate into long-term, permanent changes!

Long story short: stop trying to outrun your fork! (It’s one of our Rules.) Stop throwing more and more exercise at the problem. Stop rewarding yourself with unhealthy foods when you come back from the gym or a run. Stop beating yourself up if the idea of exercising for 10 hours a week is unsustainable for you for the next decade.

If you’re interested in learning more about this stuff, read the following:

Now, beyond nutrition changes, it’s time to change our mindset on how we implement these changes.

Make Exercise Permanent

runner beach

Now, although exercise is a small part of the puzzle, it’s still a part of the puzzle! Finding an activity you love is central to long term success. That’s why we wrote about how to exercise without realizing it. They found exercises that made them happy or motivated – they got hooked on how the exercise made them feel:

Hiking with friends, walking each morning, LARPING, rock climbing, geocaching, dancing, climbing on stuff, martial arts, parkour, adult gymnastics, yoga, playing on a playground, joining a rec league…

Building activities like these into your week on a regular basis is a great way to exercise without thinking about it. No more: “ugh, time to go do that thing that sucks that I hate and I can stop doing once I lose enough weight.”

Just like we need your food changes to be permanent, we need your exercise habit to be permanent too. And if you hate running, or you despise gyms, DON’T DO THOSE THINGS! Find something you enjoy and start small.

Now, I also wanted to talk about another way to permanently build that workout habit: falling in love with progress.

There’s a reason the tagline of Nerd Fitness is “Level Up Your Life, Every Single Day” – getting better, faster, stronger is addictive. We love progress as humans, even if the path is hard. You might think you could never fall in love with running, strength training, or yoga… but then you give it a try for a few weeks and you see yourself improving.

As you get good at a thing, it soon stops being painful and starts to becoming a challenge you enjoy. And then, *gasp* – eventually it’s fun. You can’t wait to get back into the gym or on the pavement to see what you can do. You start to yearn to exercise – it becomes a part of who you are.

If you’ve never had this relationship with exercise, don’t worry. It’s not something you either have or you don’t. It’s something you have to cultivate (and which many people fall into by accident). All of our success stories, people who have lost 100s of pounds, say the following: “I can’t believe it, and I’d never thought I’d say this… but I look forward to exercising now.”

What changed? They attacked the problem with the right mentality:

  • Build the habit first. And build it small. No matter what type of exercise you choose, we recommend starting out VERY slowly. That’s why we even suggest a morning walk for a few weeks as a starting point for many: It’s better to build the habit so it becomes as automatic as brushing your teeth. Once it’s not painful to go do the thing, then you can introduce increasing difficulty into your routine.
  • Use a program: Don’t just go for a run or head to the gym to “do something” and come home. You would NEVER do that in a video game. Instead, you go out to complete a level, kill a bad guy, or level up your character by grinding out a number of quests and minions. By heading out without a plan, it becomes very difficult to get into your workouts. You can’t see them as a thing worthy of respect – a thing that is going to work for you – but just a thing you have to do. Find a program that is tried and true – something you KNOW that will work if you follow it. Then do it.
  • Track your progress. When you are in any video game, things get exciting because you are working towards something. You know you are getting better. Maybe you are ranking up your character in an RPG. Maybe you are beating level after level in Mario. Maybe you just are taking all your friends’ money at poker. It doesn’t matter what the game is – in every game there’s something that signals to us that we’re winning (or losing). Exercise can sometimes feel like this nebulous thing… “Ah I go out and work my ass off, and what happens? Nothing! Boo!”That’s why it is essential that you have a real life experience bar – you should be able to SEE that you are moving in the right direction. We have a whole article on that here, but the short version is that we recommend at least taking photos.
  • Have the right mindset: Can you go in truly expecting change over the long term? Can you be patient enough to wait for the first sign of changes at month 2, 3, or 4? Can you prepare yourself for some bumps in the road and stay on the path even if you have to make some tweaks to what you’re doing? This is the difference between success stories and those who try and try again. This time needs to be different: You need to stick around for your mistakes, and correct them as you go. Don’t let things going wrong deter – let it empower you. Make the changes, and see every mistake as an opportunity to be even better once you fix it. All you can do is look forward. Will you seize the opportunity?

Find your own permanent path

yoda

Whatever you’ve done up to this point got you where you are.

It’s time to make real, permanent changes. Avoid the flashy diets, with sensationalist promises.

With the right strategies, permanent change isn’t nearly as scary as you might think.

We can hack our environments to help with that, we can surround ourselves with the right people, and we can make adjustments that are seemingly so small that it seems like no big deal.

I’ve seen it happen thousands of times, and I can’t wait for it to happen to you. When you stop riding the boom-and-bust, diet-and-binge roller coaster, and instead accept that you’re building an upgraded version of yourself, you’ll look back a decade from now and laugh while saying “I can’t believe I used to eat like that!”

From people like Staci who used to chain smoke 2 packs of cigarettes a day and now deadlifts 420 pounds, to Anthony who wears his loose skin proudly like a battle scar from the 200+ pounds he’s lost, we have a community of people who will never ‘go home again,’ because they have no desire to.

They like their new home.

So I leave you with this: what is ONE change you can make permanently to your life today, be it your nutrition, mindset, environment, or exercise strategy?

Get a little bit better every day, and I can’t wait to share your “before/during” photos down to road.

-Steve

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photo: Nathan Rupert: Runner, Rosa Say: Calendar, Reiterlied: Yoda

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  • Dana Myles

    I’m all about the dietary changes first (with the daily walk tucked in for fun) so since I joined the Nerd Fitness Academy, I’m working my way through the Nutrition Quests. As I look at what I eat on the daily, I’m finding myself being prompted to make better choices already. It’s sad to see what I’ve been shoveling down my gullet. Sigh. But I’m on the right path now and looking forward to the changes becoming permanent.

  • Becky Jahn

    What a great reboot! Thank you, Steve for this jumpstart when I really needed it! I am a big proponent of one small, permanent change at a time, but I had lost sight of it. I need this badly right now. I’m away on vacation and just got word tht my dog died in his sleep last night. First impulse: eat/drink myself into oblivion! Instead I need to take a lesson from my granddaughter: she went for a run on the beach when she got the news. Tomorrow morning I walk on the beach. Also, I had been looking at building to double workouts a day. I’m thinking tht may not be the right direction now! One hour 5-6 days per week is it! Thanks a million !

  • astra

    What have I done. Ok I said to myself I’m going to eat what’s in my house before I shop again.
    Yes so I’ve just had noodles and bread with Chilli in a stir fry kind of thing.
    I ate steamed fruit and rice and ate cereal and milk because that’s what’s left ..
    I finished a so called protein powder but it’s just chocolate and fructose and sucrose so that’s not on the next list.
    I may as well eat chocolate instead.
    How fo I feel.
    Not bad actually I feel really alive because I’m not bogged down by the Hyphenates telling me I should eat what they are eating.
    I run. I need fuel.
    You don’t fill your car with sand do you well I don’t eat foods that deplete my muscles and yes I’ve got muscles and I’m not scared to say so.
    I eat carbs. Fuel. And you know what my dr says I look lije I’ve lost weight. So she weighed me. Yes I had.

  • Marc

    In your Biggest Loser articles today and yesterday, you did not mention the slowing of resting metabolism (see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/02/health/biggest-loser-weight-loss.html?_r=0) that might occur with significant weight loss. Is this an oversight or an inconvenient truth?

  • Lucinda

    Hi there. My first post here, although I’ve been a Rebellion member for a while! My thing: I’m cutting down on TV at night. Just the news as background to cooking my dinner and if I succumb to NCIS on a Tuesday I will only watch one new episode, not three. Well, maybe 2 new episodes and not the NCIS New York repeat! On Thursday nights, if I watch the Murdoch Mysteries at all I will only watch the first one not the second. That’ll do for starters.

  • Ulfgard Leo

    Sorry Steve, you totally lost me here.

    That article you reference in the last and current article contains very strong points that you do not even mention. The article was not only about the biggest loser but also contained references to other studies. The bnottom line is: if you change your diet, your body will adapt and OVERCOMPENSATE. The result that 6 years later all participants still had notable changes in their hormone system and a decrease in metabolic activity is HUGE. Hungry all the time, still having a metabolism that sets you up for weight gain as soon as you eat the recommended amount of food a day is a devastating result. As quoted: “this is like a desease”.

    Also the article outlined that the participants actually tried to stay on track for several years, completely against your thesis that this was a “short term change”. Why should they go back to there old ways if they decided for public humilation in order to get rid of their health? don’t you think that this experience alone is infinite motivation t to prevent going back to their old self?
    Why don’t you talk about this instead?

    Really, the last two posts undermined what NF was about: a place of truth, even and especially if they are inconvenient.

    A Shame.

  • Molly Mol

    Small changes, over time, definitely add up in big ways. I started removing things almost 10 years ago. Sodas were first, then fake sugars, then fast food, then baked goods, then refined sugar. It was painless since it was only one little step at a time, over a decade. Now, I can eat 1500-1900 Calories a day consistently without feeling like I am missing out. I can eat ice cream every night for dessert and still lose weight. I still go to Starbucks every morning. It’s not about where or what you eat, it’s about how much, when and why.

  • Sharon

    First time that I didn’t really enjoy the post on here, because it feels incomplete..

    For someone who eats 85% paleo (and the other 15% is milk, cheese, yoghurt), a diet based on (homecooked meals that contain:) meat, veggies, fruits and nuts and occasionally some rice, and works out 4 times a week (crossfit) and still struggling to get the weight off..
    MFP suggests to only eat 1200 kcal a day to try and lose some weight. I tried that for months (again, while only eating heathy food, no sugar, no refined foods) and it didn’t work.
    Now I just try to go with my gutfeeling when it comes to portioncontrol, I almost never have cheatmeals and work out 4 times a week and do all my transportation by bike.
    I don’t even know where to adjust even small changes anymore.

  • Taylor

    We plan to cover set point theory in full in a later article. It’s a huge topic with a variety of different caveats, nuances, and varying viewpoints. We wanted to keep the focus on contrasting extreme/fast weight loss seen on the show, with slow and steady success we see every day on the NF boards and the NF academy. Stay tuned for more!

  • Taylor

    Hi Ulfgard, sorry for your frustration!

    We plan to cover set point theory in full in a later article. We realized after reviewing the points made in this article and doing some research on what the literature said, that this point demands a LOT more attention (you’re right!).

    Set point theory (what the article alludes to) is a huge topic with a variety of different caveats, nuances, and varying viewpoints, and we wanted to do it justice.

    For now, we firmly believe that the rapid weight loss displayed and held up on the show is unsustainable and a harmful example. In the article to come, we’ll be exploring all sorts of factors (including the rate/speed of weight loss) as it relates to your body’s tendency (or not) to defend a certain weight.

  • DeahH

    In January we switched from creamers to half &half and a bit of real sugar for our morning coffee to try to avoid the fake ingredients. Today we ran out of half&half so I tried my coffee black with just a tiny bit of sugar and it was… okay. Not awesome. But I drink coffee seven days a week so maybe that’s my small change for now.

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  • geo mod

    What are the stats for Nerd Fitness members? How many successfully lose weight and keep it off? How long have they kept it off?

  • Goran Dimic

    Cool article! But that photo of you is awesome & needs to be meme-fied! Hahaa! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • ahmed

    Very motivational post! I really appreciate you my dear 🙂

    By the way I have something to share with u 🙂
    Do you know the MYTHS of GYM? If not then check them out! http://skinstylefitness.blogspot.com/2016/06/5-top-gym-myths-you-dont-know.html?m=0

  • And somewhere deep in the heart of the forums, a new thread was begun…the “Incredulous Steve” meme thread…

  • Alex F.

    Great article! If you are looking for equipment to get yourself in shape, go to b2brazil.com/activities-sports-entertainment/fitness-gym-equipment. This online marketplace has products from around the world, especially from Brazil!

  • Hey Sharon!
    I’m no expert but after listening to many health podcasts, I would say to check your hormones and your sleep.

  • Very nice post, thanks for this.