It’s New Year’s resolution time and lots of you want to lose a few extra pounds. It’s also the time we start seeing lots of 90 day challenge’s and weight loss contests. I asked my buddy Matt Terry, of Body Solutions, what his thoughts were (as you can see below, he had a few so we’ll post in two parts). Matt knows first hand the issues with weight struggles. Going from an obese child, to an Olympic athlete including a silver medal in the Pan American games in weightlifting, to college football to helping clients in the fitness world for over a decade. Matt holds numerous certifications and is currently finishing his education in functional medicine. He and his team help people with general weight loss, sports performance, fitness competition prep and functional nutrition coaching.
I hate weight loss contests. Why? Well I have many reasons, but first let’s go over some pros and cons. There are very few good aspects to contests. Mainly, they set a specific time frame and keep a person on track toward his or her goal and it generally gets someone motivated. This is really where the pros stop.
Next, we will cover many of the cons, but first a little insight into how the fitness business works.
Before I owned my own studio, I ran big chain clubs, one the largest in the business. And you know what drives those clubs? Money. Clubs run weight loss contests to generate revenue. I’m certainly not saying there aren’t people or clubs in the fitness business who run weight loss contests to help people, because there certainly are. But the vast majority of the time, contests are simply money makers and lead generators. Think about it-usually the entrance fee is cheap, they coincide with hot fitness times of year (New Years and right before summer) and the contests play on people’s emotions to get them involved. You see ad copy similar to “are you sick of NOT getting results like these?” Does that motivate you? Does it make you want to start? After all, if that person did it, can’t you? Contests are used as lead funnels for trainers or some kind of program. Most people will try on their own, be unsuccessful, and hire a trainer.
Ugh. I had programs like that shoved down my throat by our fearless fitness leaders when I was a personal training manager. I however, was one of those people that really wanted to help people so I didn’t mind. That is until I started seeing trends of what people and trainers do to try to win in a weight loss contest.
Major cons with contests:
- People lose fat/weight at completely individual speeds. And men, given that they have more beta receptors (help fat loss), will go much faster than women who have more alpha receptors (stops fat loss), not to mention generally much better thyroids and more testosterone. Without understanding this, a female client can easily become discouraged and give up. We always educate people on what can happen. We do not talk time frames; we talk healthy habits.
- Calories are only one small part of fat loss, NOT the only part. Generally, these contestants are on incredibly low calorie diets with insanely high activity levels. This is unhealthy, unrealistic and unsustainable, not to mention metabolically damaging.
- Fat stores toxins, the faster you lose fat, the faster you lose toxins and most obese people are incredibly unhealthy. Their gut ecology is terrible and their ability to detoxify is compromised at best. Their sleep quality is also extremely poor. So what happens when people start circulating toxins but can’t get them out? They get sick. I monitored several contestants in a local “weigh loss contest” and they were losing “weight” so quickly most got very sick.
- Hormonal changes, which are one of the major aspects of fat loss, happen slowly, there is no specific time frame. For example, most people have had a large intake of trans fat, saturated fat, and higher sugar intakes over time. This causes changes at the cellular level. Ever heard the term insulin resistant? This is one of the reasons why fat sometimes feels hard, and solid like one large piece. At the cellular level, instead of the phospholipid layer being fluid and allowing hormones to communicate effectively making them sensitive, that layer is stiff like concrete. This leads to hormonal resistance and these hormonal messengers have a hard time communicating to each other. A person like this, despite doing everything right, may see no results for 6 months! I have seen this many times. But I educate the client, the person stays the course, and fat starts dropping off in large amounts each week once, their hormones are more balanced. But if their contest was only 90 days, the client would see zero results and the trainer looks incompetent.
- The end result will not always be healthy! I am currently working with a client who worked with a local very well known trainer for figure show preparation. After his guidance of extreme low calorie, two hour workouts daily of both weights and cardio, she came to me with badly altered sex hormones, no thyroid function, terrible Fibromyalgia symptoms, chronic fatigue and she’s heavier then she has ever been. She is on the road to recovery and doing much better, but a great example of the illusion of health. Unfortunately, we have seen several like this
- Contestants do unhealthy “tricks” to win. I’ve heard of a male contestant who won a local weight loss contest, again for the second time, both times losing over 100 lbs. He was on a liquid diet, insane amounts of activity and the night before the final weigh in had a colonic done losing several pounds. Not to mention, before the contest he went on a huge eating binge. Is this healthy or realistic? Others workout in trash bags, don’t eat or drink on weigh in days, take large amounts of fat burning concoctions etc. Is this really weight loss? Also, since the trainer is under pressure to have the client perform, that trainer then shifts a large amount of pressure to the client. Not a good relationship, not healthy, not maintainable. Remember unhealthy practices will usually yield unhealthy results.
- The faster you go the more likely you are to gain it back. This is usually based on the fact that when someone loses a large amount of weight very quickly, they also lose lean (muscle) tissue in the process. This makes their likelihood of regaining their weight very, very high. In that same contest I tracked a participant’s progress (I only did his nutrition, I would not participate in the contest and advised him against it) he lost a total of 54 lbs in 90 days. Too bad for him only 34 of it was fat. The rest was water, glycogen and unfortunately muscle. NO ONE in a contest loses 100% fat, sorry doesn’t happen. We have had clients lose in the range of 95 to 99% fat, but it doesn’t happen in 90 days, it’s a slow, consistent process.
Matt will be back next week with the rest. Stay tuned folks. What are your thoughts on healthy weight loss?