Being very overweight or very unfit often go together, and the two can produce an endless downward spiral. The prospect of getting back to fitness and a normal weight can feel overwhelming, if not impossible. What are the best ways out of this?
Magazines and websites love feel-good stories; let’s face it, who doesn’t? Tales of those who have lost a great deal of weight or gone from couch potatoes to high-level athletes are particular favourites. For anyone whose weight has run away with them, or who has let their exercise regime fall away, these stories should be inspirational. In practice those who are very overweight or very unfit can feel that the task is utterly beyond them. Looking beyond the articles - what is the mind-set needed to accomplish what seems impossible?
First things first – what went wrong?
Unless a problem is immediately life-threatening, it is always worth stepping back first to find the cause. Knowing that this has been eliminated is the first stage in restoring confidence. For someone who has lost fitness due to injury, the cause may have been obvious – an accident or illness. If the cause is unknown, for example an on-going joint or muscle problem that came ‘out of the blue’, it is a good idea to see if there was something that may have triggered it. For example, it might have been a change in exercise routine resulting in poor technique, or a longer-than-usual run or cycle ride that overstrained muscles and caused damage.
For those seeking to lose a large amount of weight, it is equally important to think how the situation arose in the first place. Weight gain has many causes. Common reasons include stress that causes over-eating, poor food choices, lack of time meaning that food has to be grabbed ‘on the run’. Some medications can cause weight gain. Pregnant women may not be eating for two, but will inevitably put on weight and despite what the celebrities would have us believe, real women are not usually back in their skinny jeans before the baby is a month old.
Lifestyle changes play a huge part in weight gain. A new job with lots of business lunches and long hours will quickly mean a tightening of belts. Being at home with small children can result in the fatal ‘finishing up the leftovers’, and being always ‘on the go’ may mean grabbing meals on the run.
Where do we start?
The normal phrase used for dealing with huge problems is ‘eat the elephant one piece at a time’. This may not be the most appropriate metaphor in this case, but the underlying message is good. Big problems cannot be tackled in one piece – they need to be broken down into manageable sections. This means that something can be achieved and there will be a justified sense of progress.
For those who are looking to lose weight, fad diets and extreme starvation have been repeatedly proved not to work. They may result in a short-term loss, but the key to weight control is a change of lifestyle. No-one can live on meal-replacement shakes or very restricted diets for long, even if the concept was not so demoralising.
Those who have been very fit and active, but find themselves recovering after a long layoff will also find obstacles to morale. A slow and steady approach is also essential here, with a realistic attitude to what will be immediately achievable. The concept to keep in mind is that all progress is valuable, even if it is in small steps.
What are some suggestions for tackling these problems?
For those seeking weight loss:
For those seeking fitness:
Tasks may look impossible – but remember that how things look is often not how they are. Other people have fought back from lost fitness or being overweight, and there’s no reason that you can’t do it as well. Good luck!
Being too obsessed with weighing yourself is also a bad idea. People are desperate to be their 'ideal weight' and rely on the scales too much to tell them when really they should also consider how their body feels. Some people really are 'big-boned' and weigh more but aren't fat!
An awareness of what's healthy to start with is always a good idea. TOo many people just consider themselves a healthy weight when they're clearly not. If you don't arm yourself with knowledge then you won't do it.
It may be a clichÃ© but moderation really is the key. I spent my late teens trying to lose weight, then bingeing and going to exercise extremes. My weight was up and down like a yo yo. Now I practice healthy eating, cut out the junk and exercise regularly and I am a stable, healthy weight. That's really the only thing anyone should do if they want to lose weight or get fit.
Small goals and accountability did it for me! I spent a few years travelling and came back a fair bit bigger than when I went away - it took a small goals, such as running for 5 minutes longer each night to get me to my goal. Working with a personal trainer at my gym too helped as I felt I had to keep it up to ensure they saw improvements!
Seems to me that the really important thing for anyone who is really unfit or overweight is to take some responsibility. I don't want to sound harsh, but as long as you don't accept that you got yourself into this state, how can you have any hope of getting yourself out of it? I think the advice on analysing what went wrong in the first place is particularly pertinent in this context.
I'm living proof that it's possible to achieve fitness from a very poor baseline. I was THAT mother of young children who finishes their leftovers and always eats on the run so eloquently described in this article. With three stone to lose, I couldn't bear the thought of being stared at as I puffed away at a gym. But a friend convinced me to join her at our local women-only gym. The pounds dropped and my confidence increased. Now I couldn't imagine life without my four workouts a week. It's the first step that's the most difficult - get over that hurdle and you're already more than halfway there.
Forget the fad diets, they never work. Far better to take exercise and eat a balanced diet