It occurred to me recently that the public doesn't know how common rapid weight loss and transformations are in the first 30, 60, 90 days. To the layperson, these stories may sound stupendous, awe-inspiring and rare. However, they are actually the rule. Every club, every boutique, every trainer, every workout video, has many many extreme transformations in the short term. There is nothing special or uncommon about this. In fact, this emphasis on excitement and rapid progress, it appears, causes long term failure. Long term success stories, you'll find, you won't find.
Look up any statistic you want on the American public awareness of health and fitness, and its involvement in fitness programs and diets, and you will find that it is growing all the time. Every year the supplement industry grows. The fitness industry grows. The healthcare and pharmaceutical companies continue to expand dramatically. Yet, paradoxically, more people are unhealthy than ever. One in two American men and one in three American women will get a cancer diagnosis. If that weren't bad enough, Nepal and a handful of other countries in the world have a one in fifteen-hundred person incidence of cancer. So, this doesn't need to be the way we live. In fact, even within this country, the Amish have a 40-70% lower incidence of cancer than their non-Amish counterparts. Constant stimulation and incessant pursuit of excitement in general is rendering increasingly worse outcomes. And it isn't just that; more people think they aren't overweight than ever while concurrently obesity is at an all-time high.
Obviously, something is wrong. That something is an unwillingness to consider what an enjoyable sustainable healthy lifestyle will look like. It's called the long game. Predominantly the fitness industry pedals rapid transformation, sexy advertising, short term focus, immediate gratification. Predominantly the consumer wants exactly the same. The answer, however, is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE. We have to find small changes which improve us, small changes which we can keep doing in perpetuity, small changes which add up to something big in the end. Right now most people aim for big initial changes, and these add up to degeneration and failure in the end.
I've written about this before here. This is a significant problem which almost no one is addressing, because there's money to be made by continuing to promote this fallacious narrative, and the consumer continues to be complicit in supporting products and services which have no basis in science or long term effectiveness.
To compound the problem, there's a false dichotomy which obscures a healthy way forward for the populace. You don't need to choose between throwing your hands up or being a fitness fanatic. There's this enormous chasm between the two which houses genuine health and realistic sustainability. We know that overeating and sedentary ambivalence isn't the answer. But the extreme opposite simply doesn't pan out either. Some people who are seemingly "fit" are even less healthy than their overweight counterparts. Being lean can certainly help fight a variety of risk factors; but excessive systemic stress in order to get and stay lean is more than a Faustian bargain. I've met with many former hard-dieters, exercise-purgers and physique competitors whose hormonal profile is shot; and they are having a tragic fight to even get to a normal body composition. Nevermind that among the millions of people on earth who have incredibly high quality of life into their 90s and beyond, NONE are carrying mountains of muscle. We want to be strong. We want to retain and build lean tissue. But any extreme is a dice roll with costs; and the bill will come due. Any excess in body mass (even lean tissue) is additional organ demand. Longevity studies on lucid centenarians and supercentenarians find they have lower body mass. Long story short: we need to get smaller, but not via means which overstress or injure us.
It's been interesting to watch the trends of people attempting to do the right thing for their health. At first I was really pleased to see that boutique and specialty fitness programs had had the fastest growth in the fitness world by an enormous margin. They put to shame the combined efforts of all big box gyms; and they are increasingly eating a bigger and bigger piece of the pie. The monster clubs are an anachronistic dinosaur which is breathing its last breath. As I've been following this, I've kept thinking this was an indication of positive changes in health and fitness culture. However, it seems that people aren't investing in the boutiques out of a heightened sense of informed consumerism, educated decision-making or desire to be involved for the long haul. Instead, it's the new status symbol. The focus has completely shifted away from what is productive and beneficial for people, and it is preoccupied solely with feelgood in-crowd bragging rights. What could be and should be a symbol of returning the industry to meaningful practices and improved thinking in the consumer is just another kicking the can down the road. What's worse is that the large fitness organizations, sensing that they are getting absolutely crushed by the boutiques, have retaliated with a doubling down on their emphasis in the short term. If you've paid any attention at the advertising in big boxes, you've noticed they have totally abandoned sincerity. What once was at least a veiled attempt at being honorable is now a nonstop flood of promotion aimed at increasingly short term practices. As soon as one is over, the next pitch rears its head. I wish this were a joke, but I've seen "member challenges of the week." Yes, we are now trying to pump people up for only seven days. Before you know it, there are going to be programs promoting single day or single hour rapid transformation. The trend is actually moving further away from realistic sustainability and closer to sensationalizing extreme short term programs.
I talk about that here:
When we put this obsession with excitement in context, it's really such an oddity. In just about every other facet of life, we take for granted that worthwhile outcomes will be the product of years of commitment. Whether we consider someone's profession, schooling, artistic mastery, parenting, you name it, no one really thinks in timetables of 30-90 day commitments. We measure proficiency over a lifetime, over decades, over at least a few years at minimum. Think about that. Those are just subsets of life. Yet somehow we think it's reasonable that health and fitness, the very foundation for all your pursuits, the centerpiece of your ability to even perform in any and all subsets of life, should warrant an investment measured in days? It's ludicrous. But the deranged thinking that believes in extreme initial excitement as valuable goes hand-in-hand with short timetables.
That's why rapid transformations are not just correlated with long term failure. They are causal. The mere act of holding up fleeting emotion as admirable IS immaturity. It excludes from its paradigm future success. Frankly, it excludes the future altogether. If your entire budget of energy and focus is aimed at the near term, doesn't that obligate you to divest from the long term? Of course it does.
Here's the deal: we have to change the conversation entirely. Professionals, return to integrity. Please start setting appropriate expectations; and be honest about the fact that the more rapid someone's initial transformation, the less likely they are going to stay plugged in. Yes, it's irritating to see that "success" comes to the dishonest; but that should not be an excuse or equivocation to give up on doing the right thing. Consumers, as hard as it is, think about health and fitness as a lifelong investment. Determine what amount of energy above your current baseline is sustainable. Today, that may be the simple addition of a daily walk, meditative practice, or several glasses of clean water. In the future, it can be bigger and more dramatic investments. It's very much a Road Less Traveled type of situation. This isn't a victim-blaming by any stretch of the imagination. However, you do have to consider that people are conditioned through incentives; and as long as we incentivize "experts" to provide thrilling messages with no substance, the more the "experts" are going to feel the need to provide thrilling messages with no substance.
I hear it all the time: we need that stimulus, that exuberance, that provocative intoxication to get people started; then we can do right by them. It sounds good. It seems to make sense. It feels fair. But it is exactly untrue. There is no evidence, no data, and no study to support that proposition. It's a feelgood lie, without even a few believable anecdotes. The time has come to shun rapid transformation. Seek and hold in esteem only worthwhile long term or lifelong investment and commitment. Do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing. We will never end with integrity if we begin with spin.