San Francisco resident and regular runner Riley Steinmetz had two reasons for taking on a 30-day weight loss challenge she found online. “It seemed like a way to incorporate some weight training without having to pay for a gym membership,” she says. “And I was going to Hawaii for a week, so it was a last-ditch effort to improve my appearance in a bikini.”
But 20 days in, Steinmetz lost steam. “I found my motivation waning as time went on, and I felt like having a day here and there for a break would’ve been nice,” the 31-year-old says. “While I did notice some results, the program really felt designed for people who had never worked out before. Also, the results were gone like two days into vacation.”
Is Everyone You Know Following a Get-Fit Quick Plan?
Steinmetz isn’t alone, of course. According to a recent study, the U.S. weight loss market is worth $66 billion, and online dieting is worth at least $990 million. But as Americans continue to throw money at excess pounds, hoping get-fit-quick plans will be the gateway to lasting results, research says otherwise.
A paper published last month in the journal Endocrine Reviews states the truth pretty simply: “individuals who successfully complete behavioral and dietary weight-loss programs eventually regain most of the lost weight.” You may have seen how that scientific truth played out in real life last year when research revealed that many former contestants on TV’s The Biggest Loser hadn’t just regained lost weight, but their metabolisms had significantly slowed down as a result of drastic dieting and exercise.
If It’s Too Good To Be True…
So if the science clearly indicates that dropping lbs in a hurry is a bad idea, why is your Facebook feed flooded with friends who insist on advertising their latest weight loss adventures?
“They set you up for success and make you feel like when you get to the ‘end result,’ your body will be so much better and therefore you will be so much better,” says Ontario-based personal trainer Stephanie Schultz, who coaches clients to ditch the diet and deprivation mentality. “Sure, you may lose the weight, but these results are unrealistic and usually obtained in an unhealthy way.”
Schultz, an outspoken eating disorder survivor, knows that firsthand. She says she dabbled in an array of slimdown programs over the course of her disease, and is only now able to see them for what they are. “Honestly, I laugh when I see them, but that’s only because I have done many of them and I know how detrimental they are both physically and mentally. Usually quick-fix meal plans or diets are super restrictive and deprive your body from the nutrients it needs.”
Medical professionals agree that a too-good-to-be-true diet and exercise plan is likely to be, well, exactly that. “The ‘get-fit quick’ plan usually doesn’t provide sustainable results unless it gets at changing habits and your lifestyle,” says Washington D.C. family medicine physician, Shilpi Agarwal, MD. “It has to instill a lifestyle change like eliminating sugars or processed foods so you can train your body to know what healthy eating and living is like instead of just three days of eating cucumbers and walking on an incline.”
Is Any Plan Better Than No Plan?
While dramatic results may not last a lifetime, Agarwal says a plan that actually addresses and improves problematic behaviors can sometimes jumpstart long-term change. “If the plan helps introduce you to exercise and you never exercised regularly before, I think it’s a great way to get you motivated and part of a community,” she says.
Steinmetz did see some benefits from her 30-day challenge…even if the journey was cut short. “Overall, I thought it was a reasonable program,” she says of the daily 15 to18 minute workout videos. “It was usually pretty easy to get motivated since it was only a few minutes—it actually got me to wake up in the morning for a workout, which I never do.”
This kind of bonus behavioral change doesn’t surprise fitness instructor Jackelyn Ho who believes in the power of a hard reset when it comes to reaching goals. “I don’t hate quick-start programs because I think any program that motivates someone to get moving again is a success,” she says. “True, some people fall off afterward, but at some point, it’s up to the participant to dig deep and keep pushing through on their own. Hopefully, the program was good enough to resonate with them for that post-program motivation!”
The Foolproof Method for Lifelong Fitness
Even with those potential pluses in mind, professionals say consistency is the only key to lasting success. “Fitness is a lifestyle,” says Sheila Kelley, the creator and founder of S Factor, a pole dancing-based fitness program for women. “You need to embody your life and not try to just get through a 15-minute routine and expect to live in a truly healthy body. The point is to just keep your body in motion so you can keep the brilliance of your body intact.”
But the reality of course, is that many people opting to get fit quick aren’t in it for body “brilliance,”they’re in it to up their hotness. Experts, however, say that if aesthetic results are the only goal in sight, it’s time to redefine your concept of fitness. “Weight is just a number,” Agarwal says. “But the amount of stress relief you can get from exercising and becoming dedicated to a routine is amazing.”
“I coach balance. Being healthy and fit is not a 20-day thing,” Schultz says. “It’s a lifelong journey. It has its ups and downs. It has good days and bad days. I believe in coaching people with different styles of training that they enjoy—not just exercises they can do to look a certain way. Because if they don’t enjoy it, well, they are going to hate it. And fitness isn’t something you should hate.”
Steinmetz finally learned that lesson when she ditched the get-fit-quick mentality and tuned into her body’s natural rhythm. “My philosophy for lifelong fitness now is to find something you like and be okay with not being the best,” she says. “That second part was very tough for me to learn—I always wanted to ‘win’ everything. It’s cliché to say that there are no shortcuts, but there really aren’t. Just start slow, get better at it, and give yourself the time you need to settle into a new routine.”
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.