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Articles Health Pros and cons of weight loss programs
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Pros and cons of weight loss programs

pros and cons of weight loss programs

Let’s be honest, most of us, at one point in our life, have tried to lose a few kilograms, quickly. Kind of like cramming for an exam. We left it to the last minute with the old, “I’ll start Monday” mentality catching up on us. When we look back on these times, the idea of a health program for example a 12 week program sounds surprisingly good. But are 12 week programs or other similar plans all they are cracked up to be?

Themis Chryssidis, Accredited Practising Dietitian at Sprout Health Studio, breaks down the pros and cons of a health kick so that next time you contemplate a weight loss program or challenge you can make an informed decision.

The Pros

1. Accountability

Let’s face it, if losing weight was easy, as a nation we wouldn’t have a weight problem. Weight loss requires changing our habits, which for most people leaves us feeling uncomfortable. We often need a little external accountability to remain motivated and persist with the discomfort. Eventually these uncomfortable behaviours become normal and we don’t need someone looking over our shoulder but it can be a helpful start.

2. Establish habits

The key to good health is healthy habits. Provided your program is long enough (at least 12 weeks) and the advice is credible, a structured program can assist with the development of healthy habits. Within 12 weeks behaviours can become second nature and this is also sufficient time for you to feel the benefit of your changes which increases your motivation.

3. Support

People who take part in exercise or a nutrition plan with others are more likely to remain engaged. Think about social sport, your gym buddy or a partner supporting your new nutrition habits at home. It’s much easier when someone has your back but similarly when you have theirs too. Some health kick programs establish a great community and network of support.

4. A positive personal challenge

A health program can really test your commitment and allow you to realise you can do more than you thought. Well-structured programs can leave us proud (and a little surprised) with how far we have come, particularly programs ending in the accomplishment of a major physical feat such as a hike or fun run.

The Cons

1. Not personal

Health programs are not personalised. They don’t consider your personal needs, your lifestyle and personal barriers and most importantly your medical history. If you have a medical condition or require any sort of additional support aside from a basic healthy eating and exercise program, then a strict “diet”, health kick or 12 week program is not for you.

2. Establish bad habits

If the program is too strict and the advice is not supported by scientific evidence with clinical counselling principles it’s very easy to establish bad habits, which at the time, while you are losing weight don’t appear threatening, but over time may lead to nutrient deficiencies causing serious health problems and an unhealthy relationship with food.

3. Unsustainable

What’s the point of doing something for 12 weeks if you can’t do it forever and immediately revert back to old habits? What are you actually learning? You’re only facilitating a diet and weight loss cycle which ultimately leaves you feeling more frustrated with yourself and makes it harder to lose weight. Most health kicks and structured programs are designed for quick weight loss because this keeps you motivated and talking about the program positively to others. Gradual weight loss is sensible and sustainable but it’s not sexy or “life-changing”.

4. Inaccurate, not scientifically supported, anecdotal advice

Unfortunately one of the benefits of health programs, peer support, leads to participants offering advice to others based on their personal experience, which usually isn’t supported by scientific evidence and again doesn’t consider the needs of the person receiving the advice. Personal strategies get passed from one person to another with little regard for the potential negative effect they could have on another person’s health and lifestyle.

5. Motivation drop

What happens when the challenge ends, when you reach your goal or the event you trained for finally comes and goes? Where to next? The maintenance phase is just as important as the action phase, otherwise what’s the point of acting? We need to question our motivation if we require a fun run or a special event like a wedding to get healthy or lose weight. Intrinsic motivation that runs deep inside us based on our values and ambitions is much greater, ongoing and long lasting than a fun run. Find your real motivation, one that does not end on a certain date.

What to do

Find a balance. Sure a program could kick start your weight loss or health journey, but don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Think long term and think sustainable change.

If you have a health condition or a unique personal situation then a generic health program or diet is not for you. Speak to your doctor or a dietitian for a more personalised and considered approach.

My advice. Be patient. Try to establish sustainable behaviour changes and understand:

  • What you have changed
  • How you changed it
  • Why it worked for you

This will ensure you maintain your habits or when you don’t, you will know how to get back on track. Finally, be realistic. A weight loss of 1-2kg per week is not realistic. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. A weight loss of 0.5kg per week is achievable as part of a healthy lifestyle, and this adds up to 25kg in one year! Now that is life-changing!

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Themis Chryssidis is an Accredited Practising Dietitian at Sprout Health Studio – a multidisciplinary health care studio in Adelaide. He has a Bachelor of Psychology, a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Cert IV in Fitness.

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