Why you are failing at a 'Fitness Challenge'

he health and fitness industry is absolutely saturated with "fitness challenges" such as "4-Weeks to Your Best Bikini Bod" and "6-Week Shred for Summer" (more so when it comes to those couple of months before summer) but when done correctly, will have people eating enough food to fuel performance and increase the quality of life as well as improving body composition and views of their body. Not only that they are able to eat proper food and not feel the ‘guilt’ if they fall off track or do not complete the sessions. They will also see food and exercise as enjoyment and not as a task. 

But sadly, this is very rarely how it is done.

These challenges usually consist of girls and women eating less or around 1200 calories a day and training 6-7 days a week (most likely intense HIIT workouts) and sometimes even 2 sessions a day on top of their already busy lifestyle.

Put simply, undereating and overtraining, this where we start to see some big issues when it comes to health and fat loss. Often this will only increase stress on the body both physically and mentally. This in turn will raise their Cortisol level (stress hormone) so even when you are eating next to no calories your body fat percentage will not change as you are wanting.

Specifically, after the challenge is done, often, these young girls and women will put all the weight back on plus additional weight within a matter of months.

Below are my 3 reasons why most of these fitness challenges fail.

1. They drive metabolic adaptation

When it comes down to fat loss, we know from the research that it comes down to 1 main factor, and that is the number of calories we take in vs calories we put out and consistency over time = healthy results.

This means that you need to eat fewer calories than what your body is burning to lose fat. We want to do this slowly over time as this is more sustainable and healthier than making drastic changes (such as dropping calories to 1200 calories – which for most females is well below their basal metabolic rate). We do this slowly to avoid something called metabolic adaptation. This is when your body down-regulates your metabolism to survive. Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) will lower, meaning your metabolism will begin to slow down (this is not what we want if fat loss is the goal) and some of your hormones will start to work against you to try and return your body to homeostasis (balance) which means you hit a plateau. If you are looking to workout different calories you need, I have created some short videos to explain calories (inyourstridefitness)

There are many factors involved but it is Leptin (one of the hunger hormones) that is responsible for this. Its job is to signal the brain that you are full, and it is stored in your fat cells. When you lose body fat your leptin levels also decrease meaning that the signal to your brain is reduced so you will experience an increase in appetite and hunger hormones.

Ghrelin is another hunger hormone; it is their job is to signal the brain that you are hungry. This is increased when calories are dropped which then further increases appetite. Another hormone worth checking is your Thyroid, more specifically T3. As your body fat decreases, this also lowers the output of T3. T3 is the more active hormone that your thyroid produces and is a key driver to your metabolism, hence why when people have Hashimoto's or Hypothyroidism their food intake needs to be modified to support the changes.

I personally suffer / live with an Underactive Thyroid and have since a very young age, but it is balanced by medication, but food and balance of exercise is a HUGE factor to take into consideration.

Put simply, you are hungrier, your appetite is increased so you want to eat more (which leads a lot of girls to binging) and your thyroid hormones are not working as effectively to help you burn fat! More than likely, we are then going to reach for the high carb and sugary foods that will give us that ‘sugar high’ and ‘feel good feeling’ but then shortly after with unwanted regret.

2. It is a challenge, and they don't care about your personal health

At the end of the day, the people running these challenges are mainly interested in easy money and know what you are here for and that is to get quick results without considering your health. The best way they can assure this is by starving your body of calories and overtraining you. It is very much a ‘cookie cutter’ business but getting someone to perform exercises or eat foods that they may not like or even be able to do and not be offered alternatives seems very unfair. These people might be complete beginners or even have unknown intolerances. Which means when they are told to eat – for example 6 eggs a day this can cause disruption to their digestion and add swelling or sickness to their routine.

What this does, is put your body under immense amounts of stress on top of an already stressful lifestyle trying to manage everyday stressors such as relationships, financial and emotional issues. When your body is under this amount of stress, its ability to burn fat becomes impaired. This way of eating and training is rarely sustainable for everyday people leading to failing and then struggling to get back on the wagon with an additional mental stress believing they are not good enough to have completed the challenge. And this is a continual cycle that they are never fully educated on with the results they do or don’t get.

3. They don’t take into consideration the ‘weight regain cycle’

I had come across a study that was conducted with participants completing 2 bouts of weight cycling (lost weight via a challenge, to gaining it all back, did another challenge, lost weight again then gained it all back again).

After they went through the first weight loss phase, they gained the weight back 2 times as quickly, when they dieted again, it then took them DOUBLE the time to lose the weight compared to the first time and then even more shockingly they regained the weight 3 times the rate compared to the first phase.

This is due to fat cells shrinking in the first phase, then returning to their normal size when they gained the weight back, but they gained even more fat cells. Now in the second phase, they have more fat cells to shrink, hence why it took longer for them to lose the fat, then, when they regained the weight, they had MORE fat cells all fighting to get back to their original size. So, they gained 3 x the amount of weight.

This is also from people who are on these challenges aren’t told how to ease themselves back into ‘normal life’ post challenge. How many challenges have you done, only to put the weight back on, and then jump onto the next challenge hoping for the same result? Only to find that is did not come off as easy, and it was then even easier to gain more weight after!

My top 3 critical considerations when it comes to sustainable weight loss

1.  Live an active lifestyle without becoming obsessed with exercising. Exercise should be a way to improve quality of life, not get in the way of it.

2. Avoid making drastic changes and instead, look for consistency over time which will yield long term sustainable fat loss. If you are still not sure on the information, contact a professional. Don’t have the aim to be in a quick fix state of mind. Enjoy the process and plan if you do have an event / holiday coming up.

3. If you are coming out of a challenge, I recommend looking into something called 'reverse dieting' as this will help your body return to its normal function while minimizing fat gain.

More importantly, ENJOY the process! Stay happy and healthy.

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