Twelve week body transformation challenges, clean eating challenges, whatever other label they put on a restrictive crash diet to make it seem like a good idea. These things are very popular and they’re a good marketing angle for us business people. For you the consumer though… this is a case of FAILURE BY DESIGN.
By the very nature of what it is, we’re talking about temporary measures for a temporary result, at best. Do this for twelve weeks… then stop doing it again.
When you stop doing it, you go back to your previous condition. And you WILL stop doing it, because it is going to SUCK. That’s the “challenge” part. Restrict to 4 or 6 or 800 or 1000 calories per day less than you actually require… who knows how many less exactly, as it’s a one size fits all prescription (usually 1200) that doesn’t take your height, age, other physical stats and dieting history into account.
Banishing any foods you find convenient, enjoyable or otherwise appealing is a challenge that is going SUCK, too. Let’s not forget about that part.
Worse than merely “going back to your previous condition” when you go off the challenge… we KNOW that restriction of energy intake changes rate of metabolism detrimentally. This is why you invariably end up heavier than you started, each time you come off a diet. Your regular habits might be for example providing 300 calories a day more than you can put to use… after training your body to run on less fuel, that same amount might now effectively be 400 calories more than you can put to use. I posted a link to the science on this during the week, and this is why the cycle of dieting has failure built in.
So… failure is ensured with these things. Because in the first place the energy provision is not adequate to your physical needs, the restriction of food choices is not suitable to your human, psychological needs… and even if you somehow do gut it out for 12 weeks… in the end this is only detrimental to your chances of achieving and maintaining your goal body condition long term.
Calories are what counts. But not the way you’ve been told.
Make no mistake about this. Calories matter.
An excessive energy intake (aka too many calories, more than you have a use for) results in accumulating more body fat, because your body just does not know what else it should do with it. The answer however is not to recklessly slash calorie targets to the lowest amount you can scrape through the day on. There is no “magic number” of calories that everyone should restrict to for weight loss purposes.
Rather, each person will have a suitable range of energy that will be suitable for them to maintain a healthy goal weight range and fuel their active lifestyle. For most people it will be enough to be within this suitable range “most of the time” and indulging a little extra on occasion will all average out over the longer term. People with more ambitious goals may be enthusiastic enough to dial in tighter energy and macronutritient targets and hit them more consistently for optimal results from training. Again though, their energy requirements will be higher than most people’s and so there will be room in the plan for some indulgence all the same.
Being in whatever your goal shape is, whether that is a more ambitious goal of more athletic condition, or just a more average, every day “healthy and not over weight” condition… this comes from what you do habitually, long term. Not from what you challenge yourself to do for brief periods here and there.
Come to think of it, 12 weeks is not so brief. It is close enough to a quarter of a year. If you are going to 12 weeks of effort into anything, make it something that you will get a long term, positive result from and not a temporary one at best.
All that being said, I also offer a 12 week program and from time to time I do bill it as a “challenge” of sorts. The challenge however is not to go hungry and swear off all of your favourite foods. The challenge is, firstly, to disregard all of the false ideas about restriction of calories and “bad foods” that we’re constantly bombarded with from unscrupulous (or just misguided) sources.
The real challenge is more of a “get your shit together and get organised” challenge, to establish the habits that will ultimately lead to achieving and actually exceeding your goals in terms of health and body condition. There is no easier answer than this: if you care about being in athletic condition, training simply needs to become a permanent fixture in your daily routine.
The challenge is to establish the habit of regular training and other healthy, enjoyable activities, and to practice meeting either a simple target range of total energy intake, or more precise targets if you are more ambitious.
Contrary to what most people have been tricked into believing, for people with a more active lifestyle participating in training with the goal of a stronger, leaner, more athletic body condition… the real challenge is often in eating enough food to provide the energy, protein and other resources required to perform, recover, and build that strong, lean body as an adaptation to training.
How could you expect to facilitate that with just 1200 calories a day?
Our goal should be good health, strength, happiness and a guilt free relationship with food. For life. Not “starving some weight off temporarily” which is all most of these 12 week challenges are selling.