Thursday, May 22, 2008

12 weeks vs life

There’s no doubt that the key to successful weight loss is to approach it as a permanent lifestyle change – unless you want to get to your goal and then rapidly regress to the place you used to be. And nobody wants that, obviously. But does a permanent change of habits exclude 12 week challenges, such as those promoted via the Body Blitz and Body for LIFE competitions?

Actually, there’s no reason why you can’t use a 12 week challenge as just one part of your new way of life. If you choose a challenging yet realistic program to follow, and can maintain your focus long enough to see it through, you can achieve some fantastic results in that time. Trouble arises when people set their sights on a goal 12 weeks down the track, and see that point as the time when they’ll be “finished”. ALL their focus is on that magical 84th day, and when it comes, assuming they’ve been committed and trained hard and eaten well, they’ll be feeling great. They have their photos taken and immediately heave a sigh of relief, thankful that the deprivation and grinding hard work is over. Phew.

They usually celebrate by eating everything in sight, and probably downing more than a few drinks too. Then they get back to normal. Normal? Uh-oh. If ‘normal’ to you means sitting on the couch most of your spare time watching TV, while chowing through bags of potato chips and blocks of chocolate, eating takeaway every time you’re too tired/busy/stressed to cook and feeling relieved that you don’t have to look at another veggie, you’re in for a rude shock. You can’t go back to your old habits: not unless you want your old body back.

The way I see 12 week challenges is that they can be a great way to kick-start a lifestyle change. You can choose to go a little harder than normal, then ease into a long-term, more moderate program. I also find it psychologically useful to break my year up into shorter blocks, setting goals and deciding on the activities I’ll do to achieve my goals for each block. 12 weeks is a handy time period to use. Looking ahead years into the future and thinking about how you will eat/train and so on to maintain or improve your new physique forever and ever and ever can be mind-bogglingly daunting. Looking ahead 12 weeks at a time though – that’s achievable, I can do that.

It’s rather like the way athletes plan their training. Sure they have long-term goals, but they periodise their training, breaking it up into 3 or 4 cycles each year, depending on whether they’re actively competing, or in the pre- or post-competition phase. They only have to focus on the goals and results for the particular cycle they’re in at the time.

You can have all kinds of other goals along the way – you might work towards a particular event, maybe a fun run or triathlon or an endurance walk, for example. Having something other than the scales and tape measure to think about is important if you’re really going to make being healthy a lifetime thing. You can change the focus every 12 weeks if you like – maybe in your first block, you aim to lose weight and work up to running 4km. Then for the next 12 weeks, you could work on maintaining your weight and improving your running time or distance, before moving onto further fat loss and a new athletic challenge. You can make your goals anything you like: typical athletic sports, a team or other sport that you’ve always wanted to try, maybe dancing or yoga. Maybe you want to be the new International Trampoline Champion. Great, whatever, just get moving.

Of course there’s no rule that says you must work in 12 week blocks. There’s nothing magical about that length of time. It’s just long enough to see some good results, yet short enough that most people can stick with it. But if your sporting season is 16 weeks long, or there’s a fun run you want to do in 8 weeks’ time, then make that your timeframe, put together a training and nutrition plan and go for it.

So, 12 week challenges? Getting to the end is hard, sure, and if you manage it, you deserve some hearty congratulations and a small celebration for your efforts. But it’s the weeks, months and years after Day 84 that presents the real challenge. Where are the competitions, the cash prizes, the flashy cars, the wardrobes of sports clothes for living Day 85 and beyond?

The real prize is improved health and fitness, self-confidence and the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile for yourself. Anything else is just icing on the cake. I know what I'm talking about. Winning something is nice. Gaining a new body and a whole new life is something else again.


GreenMom said...

I certainly do like the idea of a 12 week program, however I find it so hard to follow through even past 1 or 2 weeks. I have no willpower at all, which is my biggest pitfall. I am one of those who overeats under stress which is about everyday. Anyways, thanks for sharing this article, I will try again and see if this could be something I follow through with.

Sara said...

GREAAAAAT post! I know *I've* certainly been guilty of falling into old habits after a "challenge". People don't talk about AFTER the challenge enough. I really appreciate these posts about how you've managed to keep your weight off after all these years! It seems like we're hearing that DIETS DON'T WORK more and more now, FINALLY. Lifestyle changes are where it's at. Keep spreadin' the word! You're proof!

Unknown said...

Great post!

Cherub said...

Well said.

Debstar said...

I couldn't agree with you more Kerryn. There always has to be a challenge and mixing it up is the only way to keep the enthusiasm going. I think that's where alot of people go wrong, they start with one thing (ie running), get bored or disappointed with the results and give up altogether.

I have a short attention span and have found that I work better doing short stints of 6 weeks.

Sara said...

I'm half way through writing a blog post about this very thing (and now that you've given me a great post to link to I really should get on and finish it!). How many people do I know that lost heaps of weight in a 12 week challenge and never regained any of it? Mmmm... that would be none! Not one! Some lost it again and some did not. Some ended up fatter than before they ever did a 12 week challenge and disheartened as well.
There is so much more to it than gritting your teeth for 12 weeks!

Kek said...

Greenmom, if you've struggled to stick with a program in the past, maybe your nutrition plan was too restrictive, or your training too demanding? Or maybe your mind started going forever and ever and ever?...aargh! Perhaps you need to commit to a shorter timeframe and nail that first. How about 4 weeks? Mentally, that's far less of a challenge. Prove to yourself that you can do it, and then build on things from there. Make sure you work in some food treats and some rest and recovery days. All work and no play and all that....

It took me a while to make the mental switch to lifetime moderation, rather than going flat out for a short while, then just sliding back into my old life.

Deb, as well as mixing it up to avoid boredom, you have to find the thing or things you're passionate about. If you're just doing an activity because it's good for you, but you actually hate it, you're bound to fall off the wagon.

And Sara T, of course diets don't work. God, if I ever had to survive on 1200 Calories a day again, I think I'd rather fling myself in front of a bus. Geez, if I have to miss breakfast for a medical test, I get homicidal. I totally get where you're at with the no dieting thing. Go, you!

*pokes Sara L* Get writing, woman!

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