The cold, inhospitable atmosphere of the hospital left goose bumps running down my arms. I could smell the unpleasant combination of disinfectant and disease seeping through the halls. My mother and I followed the nurse who was leading us to my Uncle’s room. The sound of crying babies and faint conversations between nurses pounded through my ears, though I had only paid attention to my Uncle, helplessly lying in the stiff hospital bed. The doctor came in and notified us that my uncle had suffered from a stroke and had lost consciousness. Weighing at over three hundred pounds, my uncle has suffered with obesity ever since he was a young boy. His eating habits were horrific, and he was also diagnosed with type II diabetes as a result of his obesity. A study in the American Psychologist Journal states that “the prevalence of obesity and its associated health problems have increased sharply in the past two decades” (Mann, 220). This growing issue is mainly caused by consistent overeating, diets high in simple carbohydrates, physical inactivity, and psychological factors (Balentine). Many people turn to desperate solutions, such as consulting their doctor to begin an extremely strict diet plan. However, no matter what diet plans patients are trying to uphold to cut down their weight, whether obese or simply aiming towards a certain weight, sustainability is a factor that seems to continuously fail with these strict diets each time (Goldman). Although it may shed a small layer of fat, a strict diet is simply not sustainable for the long run. Rather than such a rigorously constrained diet, a healthy lifestyle proves to be the key to long-term weight maintenance and overall health. In addition, the right amount of exercise contributes greatly to steady weight loss and fitness when maintained at a weekly routine (Miller, 945). Although there are many different approaches to losing weight, such as strict dieting, maintenance of a healthy lifestyle, and/or exercise, the most effective means is learning to find a specific lifestyle change that best suits the dieter, combined with a regular exercise routine. However, while researchers have noted that a healthy lifestyle does in fact result in more successful results rather than a strict diet, many have overlooked the importance of the power of motivation, determination, and thus the different approaches towards establishing a stronger willpower and mindset in order to effectively succeed in long-term weight loss, weight-maintenance, and well-being.Strict dieting never seems to be the answer when searching for the right approach to losing weight and staying in shape. As a society, we are conditioned to find the “quick fix”, like the typical miracle diet that claims to make a desperate individual drop 10 pounds in a week. However, these diets that sound too good to be true is exactly that, and can even lead to poorer health conditions as a result. A University of California research analysis reported that “Diets does not work in the long run, nor do they lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.” Researchers reviewed existing clinical data and determined that diets can help one lose an average of 5 to 10 percent of his body weight in the short term, and that nearly 70 percent of dieters regain all the weight they lost while dieting, plus more (Wolpert). In fact, another study, which examined 19,000 healthy older men on several lifestyle factors and their relationships to changes in weight, found that one of the best predictors of weight gain over the four years was having lost weight on a diet at some point during the years prior to the study. People in the control groups who did not diet were not that much worse off and in many cases were even better off that those who did diet (Wolpert). Though still unlikely to succeed in the long-run, there have been certain cases where strict diets have worked for a small number of individuals and have even contributed to positive metabolic effects as a result of the helpful diet. In a 2007 JAMA Journal study, researchers compared four of the most popular strict weight-loss diets, representing a spectrum of low to high carbohydrate intake for effects on weight loss and related metabolic factors. The study concluded that weight loss was greatest for participants in the Atkins diet group compared to the other diet groups (Gardner, 969). The Atkins diet involves a low carbohydrate intake and a high protein and fat intake. In addition, the group assigned to this diet had experienced more favorable metabolic effects than those assigned to the other three diets. While the Atkins diet may be considered a feasible high-protein, high-fat, and low-carbohydrate recommendation for weight loss, questions remain about long-term effects and mechanisms for this strict, exclusive diet (Gardner, 976). Despite the fact that a small percentage of individuals do succeed in these diets, for the rest of the dieting world, the likelihood of a relapse back into poor eating habits are high and not worth the risk (Wolpert). Moreover, strict diets can be unfavorable psychologically, as most individuals tend to cave in to their diets almost immediately and regain what they have lost, rather than eating in moderation while working towards a stronger mindset to healthy eating (Renee). In addition, restrictive diets with low-carbohydrate and low-fat content can also be mentally draining and have a harmful impact on hearth health. Following such diets may result in micronutrient deficiencies and increased inflammation throughout the body, which can make the dieter more susceptible to injury, especially during exercise (Leicht). What some may think is an effective way to lose weight, sustaining these stringent diets show to be detrimental and even counterproductive towards one’s goal of achieving ultimate weight loss and maintenance.
Even when combined with exercise, strict diets still do not benefit one’s goal to lose long-term weight and maintain a fit physique. A Daily Burn health article by Laurel Leicht argues that similar to a poor diet filled with high fat content such as sugar and junk food, a diet that is extremely low in carbohydrates and unfulfilling in the five major food groups also produces negative effects in weight loss and fitness. RDN Jennifer McDaniel states that “A very high restrictive eating plan, paired with hardcore exercise, could leave you leaning on muscle mass for energy”. Sustaining such harsh and restrictive diets to certain foods may result in a lack of necessary fat intake, such as fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and D, and essential fatty acids like omega-3s. As a result, the dieter is unable to produce enough energy and grow proper muscle mass while exercising due to the lack of fat intake that lowers levels of insulin and testosterone, which are crucial for building lean-body mass (Leicht). In addition, a study done by the international review journal Advances in Nutrition concluded that maintaining a strict diet for a prolonged period of time can lead to a reduction in muscle tissue and can even decrease the performance ability of the individual’s skeletal muscles, the muscles needed for standard exercises such as lifting and walking (Carbone). While the dieter may believe he or she is performing a proper workout, the exercise is really producing counterproductive effects as the individual’s muscles have become weakened from the rigorous diet. Furthermore, a University at Buffalo study found that not consuming an adequate amount of healthy fats may increase the dieter’s chances for overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and tendonitis, and deters the body from protecting itself in order to stay healthy. The study’s findings showed that trained runners who severely limit the amount of fat content in their diets may have suppressed their immune system and as a result may be increasing their susceptibility to infections and inflammation (University at Buffalo). Especially when paired with an adequate exercise routine, a strict diet plan can lower one’s immunity even further. Along with the many physical consequences that result from strict dieting and concurrent exercise, there are also problems that arise mentally. When eating a restricted diet, which usually requires consumption of a fairly low amount of calories, the dieter may feel physically slower and less motivated to exercise due to his or her lack of energy. With less carbohydrates consumed due to the diet’s requirements, energy levels become extremely low, and reduce the dieter’s drive to get up and perform any sort of exercise. The Atkin’s diet, for example, consists of such a low-carbohydrate and high-fat content, that it may lead to weakened training adaptations, hindered athletic performance, and as a result, a decreased motivating force to get to the gym. While some may think that when involving exercise to their strict eating habits, they will be further able to achieve weight loss and elevated fitness levels, this is clearly not the case, which dietitian and nutritionist McDaniel agrees with and concludes by stating that “exercise sustains weight loss— but a healthy lifestyle is what drives it” (Leicht).
Knowing that the more effective alternative to long-term weight loss, maintenance, and fitness is to achieve a healthy lifestyle rather than to endure a rigorous diet, it is also important to combine such healthy eating habits with a sustained exercise routine in order to achieve the most successful health results. Though not particularly recent, a 1997 experiment conducted by the International Journal of Obesity determined the effectiveness of diet, exercise, and diet plus exercise for weight loss in obesity. The subjects were mostly aged 40 years and were moderately obese. The weight change was reported numerically, and the results of the experiment showed that the weight lost through just dieting was 10.7 +/- .5 kg, weight lost through just exercise was 2.9 +/- .4 kg, and weight lost through both diet and exercise was 11.0 +/- .6 kg (Miller, 944). Despite the fact that the patients were obese, other studies, such as research done from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, show that the highest amount of weight is lost when combining a well-balanced nutrition with a sustainable exercise routine, even in non-obese adults (Renee). While it is clear that the eating habits the dieter chooses to abide by is the most vital factor in determining his or her weight loss, a routinely exercise subsequently follows in maximizing one’s weight loss, maintenance, and fitness.
Although true that a healthy lifestyle and exercise routine is the most effective way to lose weight, maintain weight, and stay in shape, scholars have underestimated the psychological aspects that must be considered and enacted upon for one to reach his greatest potential for long-term weight loss and fitness— motivation, determination, and the willpower to succeed. Maintaining one’s weight through well-balanced meals and routinely exercise is not only a physical undertaking, but it just as equally involves a mental procedure that the dieter must work towards. There are many reasons as to why people lack motivation. However, determining what establishes a strong willpower and sense of motivational drive can assist in helping the dieter to achieve long-term results regarding their goal to lose weight and become more fit. Though some may be born with a more motivationally driven trait than others simply due to genetics, there are other ways in which the dieter can obtain a stronger willpower. One way a powerful surge of motivation can be achieved is through partner, couple or group activities. Ph. D Art Markman states that “People tend to be more motivated as a group”. By knowing that individuals have others around them who share common goals and care about their progress, they tend to feel more secure with themselves and their surroundings (Markman). For instance, group-oriented behaviors such as fitness classes or diet groups provide a sense of comfort and security, which results in higher self-esteem and a stronger motive to achieve the dieter’s goals. The Department of Kinesiology at Indiana University discovered that couples who exercised separately had a 43% dropout rate from the gym, while couples who went to the gym together only had a 6.3% dropout rate. Additionally, the Kohler Effect, a phenomenon where no one wants to be the “weakest link” in a group or partnership, explains how working out with someone who is more fit than the other will, in turn, make the other individual more fit. An experiment was conducted in which individuals were told to hold themselves in the plank position as long as possible. When told they were working as a team, in which one person had to stop once the first person stops, participants exercised 200% longer than those working alone (Sophia). Whether it may be exercising or dieting, group or partner-oriented activities also promote healthy competition over individual endeavors as the members of the group or partnership can observe the physical results of one another and use that to further motivate their own goals in a positive and healthy way. Especially in younger people looking to lose or maintain their weight and stay fit, another way the dieter can increase his or her motivation is through positive role models, who can boost the dieter’s motivation by modeling a guide to achieving success. In defining a role model, he or she is likely to have an ability to inspire others, a clear set of goals and values, a sense of commitment to his or her supporters, an acceptance of others, and an ability to overcome obstacles (Price-Mitchell). Moreover, in certain cases where one may need further guidance or an extra boost of motivation, some may feel the need to obtain the aid of a professional figure such as a personal trainer or a nutritionist to assist them in achieving their desired results. “Trainers have the ability to believe in you even when you are feeling at your lowest and don’t believe in yourself,” says Correen Damers, a Back Bay personal trainer for women. Through this type of motivation, the personal trainer or nutritionist takes control of the individual in terms of holding him accountable for completing certain tasks. Trainers develop a routine at a paid appointment while nutritionists create a well-balanced meal plan for the dieter, which provides motivation as the dieter feels the set goals are both realistic and achievable (Demers). Individuals can also gain more motivation through one simple lifestyle alteration: the cheat meal. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. A healthy diet is also low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars. Though it may seem difficult to constantly abide by only healthy and nutritious foods, the inclusion of “cheat meals” into one’s healthy lifestyle is actually beneficial when working towards long-term weight loss and fitness, as they are able to boost the dieter’s metabolism and contribute to his or her weight loss. Scientifically looking at cheat meals, a protein produced by fat tissue called leptin is made to help regulate body weight and fat mass by affecting appetite and the body’s energy balance. If one is constantly dieting, this may lead to caloric deficits which cause our energy levels to rapidly decrease. By occasionally increasing the dieter’s calorie intake, his body becomes encouraged to burn calories faster rather than allowing it to adjust completely in the standard lower calorie intake, which will in turn help the body sustain energy levels needed to continue dieting and exercising (Caba). In terms of motivation, cheat meals can provide an incentive for the dieter to continue their way of healthy eating and weekly exercise routines. “There is a psychological component to the cheat day. Without rewards, it can become mundane to keep a healthy lifestyle… so knowing that a cheat day is coming can help keep up motivation,” explains Jillian Guinta, a professor in the Health and Physical Education Department at Seton Hall University. By indulging in an unhealthy meal once a week, the dieter develops a greater sense of self-control and acquires the motivation to continue working hard on his eating habits and physique as they proceed into the following week (Caba). And finally, the most natural way that aids in boosting one’s motivation, self-esteem, and drive, is exercise. Whether anaerobic or aerobic, any type of exercise releases chemicals called endorphins, which upsurges one’s mood and triggers a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. A weekly exercise routine is also known to improve self-esteem and drive, since the endorphins interacting with the receptors of the individual’s brain reduces the individual’s perception of pain (Exercise and Depression). With an increased sense of drive, the individual can therefore gain a greater sense of motivation which further advances his or her undertaking towards achieving a life of long-term weight loss and maintenance through healthy dietary choices and a regular exercise routine.
As the temporary depression from my Uncle Avi’s situation turned into strong-minded motivation, I began to change my lifestyle completely, indulging myself with health-conscious decisions and adapting to a more exercise-oriented lifestyle. Through my research, I was able to learn more about the goals I aspired to achieve which I could use to not only benefit myself but others in need of guidance to a healthier way of life as well. My goal is to impact the health and fitness realm of society by altering the dieter’s mindset by discovering the most effective way to ultimately lose weight and be satisfied with the most fit physique that he believes he can attain. Though little research has been done about the interaction between a healthy lifestyle and its association with the psychological aspect of losing and maintaining weight, the key to achieving ultimate weight loss and fitness proves to be a strong sense of motivation and self-determination. It is clear that strict dieting, even when combined with exercise, is highly unlikely to result in one maintaining his or her weight loss. Additionally, through eating well-balanced and nutritious foods along with a routinely exercise regime, a healthy lifestyle can be physically achieved. Finally, most importantly and often underestimated, motivation is a crucial component that will aid in leading to the most successful and noticeable results, both physically and mentally. Group-oriented activities for instance, which as mentioned before, produces more confidence, positive self-esteem, and determination to persist resulting in better mental health. It is said that knowledge is power, and by learning how to maintain a new lifestyle that best suits the individual, combined with exercise and a strong sense of motivation, one can achieve a lifetime of health, fitness, and happiness not only through their physical existence, but through their mental being as well.