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Maintenance - not a 12 Week Program (Venuto)

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Old 09-02-2004, 12:29 PM   #1
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Default Maintenance - not a 12 Week Program (Venuto)

I don't know how many of you get the Tom Venuto Newsletter - (that's why I put "Venuto" in the title - if you already read this article, then you can feel free to pass by...) but the article just SCREAMED to be in the Maintainers forum, so here ya go!

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Editorial: Health & Fitness is not a "12 week program"

Not long ago, one of the members of my health club poked her head in my office for some advice and assistance. Linda was a 46 year old mother of two, and she had been a member for over a year. She had been working out sporadically, with (not surprisingly) sporadic results. On that particular day, she seemed to have enthusiasm and a twinkle in her eye that I hadn’t seen before.

“I want to enter a before and after fitness contest called the “12 week body transformation challenge.” I could win money and prizes and even get my picture in a magazine."

“I want to lose THIS”, she continued, as she grabbed the body fat on her stomach. “Do you think it’s a good idea?”

Linda was not “obese” by any means, she just had the typical “moderate roll” of abdominal body fat and a little bit of thigh/hip fat that many forty-something females struggle with.

“I think it’s a great idea” I reassured her. “Competitions are great for motivation. When you have a deadline and you dangle a “carrot” like that prize money in front of you, it can keep you focused and more motivated than ever.”

Linda was eager and rarin’ to go. “Will you help me? I have this enrollment kit and I need my body fat measured.”

“No problem,” I said as I pulled out my Skyndex fat caliper, which is used to measure body fat percentage with a “pinch an inch” test.

When I finished, I read the results to her from the caliper display: “Twenty-seven percent. Room for improvement, but not bad; it’s about average for your age group.”

She wasn’t overjoyed at being ‘average’. “Yeah, but it's not good either. Look at THIS,” she complained as again she grabbed a handful of stomach fat. “I want to get my body fat down to 19%, I heard that was a good body fat level.”

I agreed that 19% was a great goal, but it would take a lot of work because average fat loss is usually about a half a percent a week, or six percent in twelve weeks. Her goal, to lose eight percent in twelve weeks was ambitious.

She smiled and insisted, “I’m a hard worker. I can do it”

Indeed she was and indeed she did. She was a machine! Not only did she never miss a day in the gym, she trained HARD. Whenever I left my office and took a stroll through the gym, she was up there pumping away with everything she had. She told me her diet was the strictest it had ever been in her life and she didn't cheat at all. I believed her. And it started to show, quickly.

Each week she popped into my office to have her body fat measured again, and each week it went down, down, down. Consistently she lost three quarters of a percent per week – well above the average rate of fat loss – and on two separate occasions, I recall her losing a full one percent body fat in just seven days.

Someone conservative might have said she was overtraining, but when we weighed her and calculated her lean body mass, we saw that she hadn’t lost ANY muscle – only fat. Her results were simply exceptional!

She was ecstatic, and needless to say, her success bred more success and she kept after it like a hungry tiger for the full twelve weeks.

On week twelve, day seven, she showed up in my office for her final weigh-in and body fat measurement. She was wearing a pair of formerly tight blue jeans and they were FALLING OFF HER! “Look, look, look,” she repeated giddily as she tugged at her waistband, which was now several inches too large.

As I took her body fat, I have to say, I was impressed. She hadn’t just lost a little fat, she was “RIPPED!”

During week twelve she dropped from 18% to 17% body fat, for a grand total of 10% body fat lost. She surpassed her goal of 19% by two percent. I was now even more impressed, because I had only seen a handful of people lose that much body fat in three months.

You should have seen her! She started hopping up and down for joy like she was on a pogo stick! She was beaming… grinning from ear to ear! She practically knocked me over as she jumped up and gave me a hug – “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Don’t thank me,” I said, “You did it, I just measured your body fat.”

She thanked me again anyway and then said she had to go have her “after” pictures taken.

Then something very, very strange happened. She stopped coming to the gym. Her "disappearance" was so abrupt, I was worried and I called her. She never picked up, so I just left messages. No return phone call.

It was about four months later when I finally saw Linda again. The giddy smile was gone, replaced with a sullen face, a droopy posture and a big sigh when I said hello and asked where she’d been.

“I stopped working out after the contest... and I didn’t even win.”

“You looked like a winner to me, no matter what place you came in” I insisted, “but why did you stop, you were doing so well!”

“I don’t know, I blew my diet and then just completely lost my motivation. Now look at me, my weight is right back where I started and I don’t even want to know my body fat.”

“Well, I'm glad to see you back in here again. Write down some new goals for yourself and remember to think long term too. Fitness isn’t a just 12 week program you know, it’s a lifestyle - you have to do it every day - like... forever.”

She nodded her head and finished her workout, still with that defeated look on her face. Unfortunately, she never again come anywhere near the condition she achieved for that competition, and for the rest of the time she was a member at our club, she slipped right back into the sporadic on and off workout pattern.

Linda was not an isolated case. I’ve seen the same thing happen with countless men and women of all ages and fitness levels from beginners to competitive bodybuilders. In fact, it happens to millions of people who “go on” diets, lose a lot of weight, then quickly “go off” the diet and gain the weight right back.

What causes people to burn so brightly with enthusiasm and motivation and then burn out just as quickly? Why do so many people succeed brilliantly in the short term but fail 95 out of 100 times in the long term? Why do so many people reach their fitness goals but struggle to maintain them?

The answer is simple: Health and fitness is for life, not for "12 weeks."

You can avoid the on and off, yo-yo cycle of fitness ups and downs. You can get in great shape and stay in great shape. You can even get in shape and keep getting in better and better shape year after year, but it's going to take a very different philosophy than most people subscribe to. The seven tips below will guide you.

These guidelines are quite contrary to the quick fix philosophies prevailing in the weight loss and fitness world today. Applying them will take patience, discipline and dedication. Just remember, the only thing worse than getting no results is getting great results and losing them.

1) Don’t “go on” diets. When you “go on” a diet, the underlying assumption is that at some point you have to “go off” it. This isn’t just semantics, it’s the primary reason most diets fail. By definition, a “diet” is a temporary and often drastic change in your eating behaviors and/or a severe restriction of calories or food, which is ultimately, not maintainable. If you reach your goal, the diet is officially “over” and then you "go off" (returning to the way you used to eat). Health and fitness is not temporary; it’s not a “diet.” It’s something you do every day of your life. Unless you approach nutrtion from a lifestyle perspective, you’re doomed from the start.

2) Eat the same foods all year round. Permanent fat loss is best achieved by eating mostly the same types of foods all year round. Naturally, you should include a wide variety of healthy foods so you get the full spectrum of nutrients you need, but there should be consistency, month in, month out. When you want to lose body fat, there’s no dramatic change necessary - you don’t need to eat totally different foods - it’s a simple matter of eating less of those same healthy foods and exercising more.

3) Have a plan for easing into maintenance. Let’s face it – sometimes a nutrition program needs to be more strict than usual. For example, peaking for a bodybuilding or fitness contest requires an extremely strict regimen that’s different than the rest of the year. As a rule, the stricter your nutrition program, the more you must plan ahead and the more time you must allow for a slow, disciplined transition into maintenance. Failure to plan for a gradual transition will almost always result in bingeing and a very rapid, hard fall "off the wagon."

4) Focus on changing daily behaviors and habits one or two at a time. Rather than making huge, multiple changes all at once, focus on changing one or two habits/behaviors at a time. Most psychologists agree that it takes about 21 days of consistent effort to replace an old bad habit with a new positive one. As you master each habit, and it becomes as ingrained into your daily life as brushing your teeth, then you simply move on to the next one. That would be at least 17 new habits per year. Can you imagine the impact that would have on your health and your life? This approach requires a lot of patience, but the results are a lot more permanent than if you try to change everything in one fell swoop. This is also the least intimidating way for a beginner to start making some health-improving changes to their lifestyle.


5) Make goal setting a lifelong habit. Goal setting is not a one-time event, it’s a process that never ends. For example, if you have a 12 week goal to lose 6% bodyfat, what are you going to do after you achieve it? Lose even more fat? Gain muscle? Maintain? What's next? On week 13, day 1, if you have no direction and nothing to keep you going, you’ll have nothing to keep you from slipping back into old patterns. Every time you achieve a goal, you must set another one. Having daily and weekly short term goals means that you are literally setting goals continuously and never stopping.

6) Allow a reasonable time frame to reach your goal. It's important to set deadlines for your fitness and weight loss goals. It's also important to set ambitious goals, but you must allow a reasonable time frame for achieving them. Time pressure is often the motivating force that helps people get in the best shape of their lives. But when the deadline is unrealistic for a particular goal (like 30 pounds in 30 days), then crash dieting or other extreme measures are often taken to get there before the bell. The more rapidly you lose weight, the more likely you are to lose muscle and the faster the weight will come right back on afterwards. Start sooner. Don't wait until mid-May to think about looking good for summer.

7) Extend your time perspective. Successful people in every field always share one common character trait: Long term time perspective. Some of the most successful Japanese technology and manufacturing companies have 100 year and even 250-year business plans. If you want to be successful in maintaining high levels of fitness, you must set long term goals: One year, Ten years, Even fifty years! You also must consider what the long term consequences might be as a result of using any "radical" diet, training method or ergogenic aid. The people who had it but lost it are usually the ones who failed to think long term or acknowledge future consequences. It's easy for a 21 year old to live only for today, and it may even seem ridiculous to set 25 year goals, but consider this: I've never met a 40 or 60 year old who didn't care about his or her health and appearance, but I have met 40 or 60 year olds who regretted not caring 25 years ago.

Warmly, your friend and coach,

Tom Venuto
Re-reading this, I recall a couple of years ago when I went on a couple of "customized, specialized 12 week programs". Sure I lost weight - because I was really eating very little food - the portions LOOKED big, but if you add enough salad greens, 2 1/2 oz of chicken breast looks like a lot of food. And during both programs the recommended exercise regimen included doing LOTS of VERY high-intensity cardio - sometimes twice a day - along with a very strenous weight training split. (whew!) Of course, once the 'program' was over, there was no freakin' WAY I could spend three hours a day in the gym and live on chicken, vegetables, eggwhites, and protein powder (with an occasional 1/2 cup of oatmeal or 2 oz sweet potato thrown in every week or two) for the rest of my life. And THAT's what it's all about - maintaining means LIVING - finding something YOU can live with happily!
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Old 09-02-2004, 01:28 PM   #2
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Fabulous!

I do think that deadlines (and challenges, and contests) are things to be wary about. I've seen more people (myself included) become discouraged and give up when a self-imposed deadline came and the goal wasn't met, even if the goal was reasonable. the timetable on which one loses weight can be subject to a lot of things beyond the person's control. One way I finally succeeded in sticking to a program was by deliberately NOT letting myself think in terms of "I want to lose x pounds by y date." As I've said to other people, those aren't goals they're wishes. I try to have goals that are either behavioral ("This week I'm going to journal every day" or "Today I will focus on getting in all my vegetables") OR ones based on accomplishments but have no time criteria ("My next weight milestone is to get under 190" or "I want to be able to walk 4 miles in my target heart zone").

So, if deadlines work for you, GREAT. But, if they discourage you because you're still stuck in a compulsive all-or-nothing, I-failed-so-what's-the-point mindset, then file that idea in the round file on the floor by your desk.

P.S. How can one subscribe to this newsletter?
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Old 09-02-2004, 02:21 PM   #3
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Great article, Karen! You're both so right about how deadlines and time frames for "diets" can backfire. Limited time "challenges" and contests certainly are popular in the bodybuilding and diet worlds, but you have to ask yourself why? Perhaps the reason is that people are willing to make short-term changes that they'd never be able to sustain for the long run (like Karen described with the extreme dieting). But what do you ultimately gain from drastic diet measures? A short-lived, unsustainable weight loss (that sometimes is partly or mostly water weight). Sure, you might get that moment of glory when you stand on the scales and it reads that "magic number" for a day. But you better take a picture of it because it probably isn't going to last.

My time frame for keeping the fat off is for the rest of my life so my perspective has to be a whole lot broader than mere weeks or months. My mantra has always been that the way that I'm going to keep the weight off is to do the same things that I did to lose it in the first place. But what if the actions that I took to lose the weight were things that I just couldn't sustain on an everyday basis? I daresay that I wouldn't be sitting here wearing size 4 jeans today!

So, two + years after reaching goal, I still plan, journal, weigh and measure, eat the same foods, and exercise the same way as I did for the year that I was losing -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year (and so far it's working ). Of course, I have planned vacations and meals out at times -- but never days or weeks in which I say I'm off my "diet" but will start again on X date. Really. I promise.

Just like Karen says — think about what you can live with for the rest of your life. Be honest in your self-appraisal — look at your lifestyle and time constraints. If you’ve never stuck to a diet for more than a week at a time, maybe you need to find a way of eating that isn’t such a drastic change from what you do now. If you have a gym membership that you never use, perhaps you need to find another kind of exercise that you enjoy. If you’re a night owl, don’t tell yourself that you’re going to get up and work out at 4:00 AM every day. The goal is to integrate weight loss and maintenance into the rest of your life so that eventually it becomes part of the background and doesn't take much thought and effort.

BTW, you can subscribe to Tom Venuto’s newsletter here: http://www.fitren.com/listserv.cfm. Take some time and look around his site — it’s excellent!
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Old 09-02-2004, 03:46 PM   #4
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Meg, we're of a mind on this.

And thanks for the tip on the newsletter, sounds cool.
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Old 09-02-2004, 07:23 PM   #5
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Great article Karen... I had received it but I hadn't read it yet... Thanks for posting it because I probably would have skipped it...

My mentality has certainly changed in the last year and a half or so. I also think more along the lines of "lifestyle" than "die" with a "t" ... My g/f's are always saying, I'll start after the summer, I'll start ___ (add excuse # 1,000,000,000 here)________ ... I can only sit and smile, once in a while I will say "....but it has to be a lifestyle..." But until they realise this on their own when that "ah ha" moment happens they will continute to be overweight...But I most certainly enjoy being me rather than them.
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Old 09-04-2004, 03:11 AM   #6
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I'm a long way from maintenance, but I check this part of the forum for inspiration, and living proof that it is possible to lose a large amount of weight and keep it off!

I'm interested in this discussion, because ever since I decided to change my lifestyle I have promised myself that I will only make changes that I feel are permanently sustainable. This means that I have a slow rate of weight loss, but I am reasonably confident that its sustainable.

However, one think I have been thinking about lately is the "What difference will it make, reaching 'goal'??" Not that I'm planning to stop losing weight, but I have already had huge health, energy, confidence benefits.....and in a way I think I have begun to adjust, or take for granted, all of those, as I get used to this healthy lifestyle. So I'm having to think very hard about what is motivating me long-term.......health, definitely; appearance/self-confidence/feeling good, a bit harder to measure, but pretty important. But a number on a scale? BMI? etc Seems a bit meaningless, really......Life won't suddenly be different when I hit that somewhat-arbitrarily-chosen magic number. So I'm trying to wean myself off the scale a bit, and focus more on quality of life type goals (some of my ambitions when I am fitter include water-skiing.....surfing......walking in the mountains)...

And just one comment on that article......if that guy is a responsible fitness trainer, why did he encourage this woman to go on such a short-term/unsustainable programme? Why wasn't he talking to her about sustainability, maintenance, long-term approaches? That's not meant to be a dig.....its just that the entire 'diet' industry, and the little of what I see of the 'fitness' industry, is driven by the short term approach/quick fix solution....what we need (IMHO) is a lot more talk, research, help on making sustainable, long term changes....
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Old 09-04-2004, 12:15 PM   #7
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I think Venuto made it pretty clear in the article that he didn't put her on an unsustainable program, but that this woman took it upon herself to go beyond what he recommended in order to win the transformation contest. That's one of my biggest beefs with the transformation contests and competition (figure, fitness, or bodybuilding). Most novice competitors and those who enter contests sponsored by gyms or supplement companies, fall off big-time when the competition is over.

I've done competition diets too, and they aren't maintainable, and usually there is no guidance for how to ease out of it.

As for why go on once you've achieved a level of comfort, there are a lot of reasons to look at numbers. Someone starting with a BMI of 35 will feel and look incredibly better with a BMI of 30, but that's still considered clinically obese and there are still much higher incidences of type II diabetes, high cholesterol and triglygerides, various cancers, joint problems, and other health issues associated. I'm not trying to minimize the great impact of losing some or any excess fat, but there are health issues assiciated with those goal numbers, not just vanity. Sure, when some of us agonize about the last 5 pounds- that's usually a vanity issue. Winning contests is a vanity issue unless you need that carrot to keep you motivated and can handle the post-contest let-down. But getting yourself into a healthy range is very possible without extreme measures, spending your life in the gym, ir living on eggwhites and broccoli. And There is so much more going on INSIDE your body than can be reflected by the size tag on your clothes or the "after" pictures from a 12 week transformation.

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