I want to start this off by saying there is nothing wrong with challenging yourself in the gym – you should be. However, making diet bets and challenges often do not set you up long term success for a few reasons.
So why aren’t gym fitness challenges that great for helping with those fitness goals? Well first off, these are more about marketing than motivation. People will join a challenge to win the prizes and the gym gets to show off the before & after pictures. This entices more members to sign up for future challenges and/or training sessions with their staff. The problem is that the time period for these challenges is usually only 30-60 days. This means the participants are usually put on pretty restrictive diets with extra cardio in order to achieve rapid results. Let’s get real it’s hard to promote future challenges & sell training sessions if the results aren’t big and noticeable.
But who wants to follow a very restrictive diet for the rest of their life? Let alone do hours and hours of cardio each week to maintain their results post-challenge? These challenges do not teach clients balance and sustainable approaches to weight loss and fat loss which is key to long term success. Any good fitness trainer will tell you one of the biggest factors coming off a cut is learning how to reverse diet back up to maintenance mode. You rarely see this applied to post-fitness challenges.
Another big issue with diet bets and challenges is and let’s be honest- you want to win! You have to have a bit of a competitive side to sign up for any challenge or competition. This often pushes people to resort to methods that are not healthy in order to lose as much weight as possible and win, as seen all too often by contestants of weight loss shows, such as dropping calories extremely low, doing excessive amounts of cardio, and taking substances like fat burners, diuretics, and laxatives.
The restrictive diets people are often encouraged to follow for these challenges are usually fad or low-carb diets. They are often told to cut out alcohol, sugar, bread, and processed foods. Reducing your amount of sugar, alcohol, and ultra processed foods are generally good options when it comes to weight loss. However you do not need to eliminate them all together to see progress. One of the main reasons low carb diets are utilized for weight loss challenges is how they affect water weight. Carbohydrates store more water than the other macronutrients which is why when people first start a low carb diet they drop weight fairly fast.
The weight though is water weight, not body fat and will reappear as soon as you begin eating carbs again. Water weight fluctuates day to day depending on several factors such as sodium and carbohydrate intake, hormones, medications, the amount of water you drink ect. Many sports from wrestling to MMA to bodybuilding utilize water weight manipulation methods for athletes to make weight.
But water weight is not fat loss. This is why after the first week or so on a low carb diet, weight starts to come off slower. You body shifts from losing water weight to losing primarily body fat. This is a slower process and requires a caloric deficit maintained over several weeks. Unfortunately, if you are doing a challenge you may see the slowing of the drop on the scale as a need to step it up and cut calories lower or adding in more cardio.
When clients come to work with me after following these types of fitness challenges they usually are eating far too low of calories. They are following far too restrictive of a diet, and doing way too much cardio. Some have been given generic broscience advice and most are afraid if they start eating carbohydrates again they will gain all the weight back. My goal is to help them find a fit lifestyle that works for them and that they can maintain.
As a fitness professional the end goal should ALWAYS be to help your clients get to a point where they no longer need you. This is one of the main ways fitness challenges fall short by focusing on quick fixes and instant gratification. People will often jump from one challenge to another, one fad diet to another, because they’ve never been taught how to reach their goals in a way that can be maintained long term.
When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle there’s a lot more than just a number on the scale. Strength, flexibility, training to prevent injuries and improve athlete performance, mental health, body fat to muscle ratio, blood pressure, a balanced relationship with food and your body. These are all just as important, if not more, than the number on the scale. These are what we refer to as non-scale victories. Often due to the chokehold diet culture has had on society for the last few decades. People neglect to recognize the improvements they have made in these areas because it is not reflected on the scale.
If you want to challenge yourself I’m all for it. You should be challenging yourself! But don’t get so caught up in your fitness journey that you overlook the progress you have made!