From time to time, I’m asked about the weight loss “jump-start”. And what is this? When people use this term, they’re usually thinking something like this: “It’s so had to lose weight….I want to go away to some program (or start a severe liquid diet, or something else removed from normal routine) and then lose the weight. Then I’ll just have to work to maintain it.”
It’s a very appealing idea. Is it realistic? Well, sort of. But not necessarily. Here are two major problems to consider. First, as many studies have shown, when we reduce calories—which we certainly do in a two-week weight loss program or on any fast-loss diet—our bodies compensate by lowering metabolic rate. That is, eat less, and then the body uses less. Now you’ve got to work even harder to lose or maintain. It’s hard to take this into account when thinking, “Then I’ll learn how to maintain.”
Next—and this is at least as big a challenge—you must remember those stresses and habits and routines and cravings and temptations that cause trouble in the first place. Whether you have weight to lose or are “just maintaining”, it takes time, effort, and practice to deal with these effectively. There’s no way around that. If your own experience has not shown you how easily you can regain after a jump-start, just ask someone else. Regain will happen without new behaviors and coping skills. And they do take time and effort and practice to solidify.
So where does the “Well, sort of” come in? How can a weight loss jump-start work? I don’t think a severe calorie restriction diet can work unless you can somehow stay on that small number of calories forever. On the other hand, programs like weight loss “boot camps”, if done right, can help. That’s because they usually do stress the new learning you’ll need for afterward. With an ongoing plan of support, including the support of other people, a life of maintaining a better weight can indeed follow.
Another “jump-starting” idea to consider is that of creating a home jump-start. This involves adding or changing a significant routine in your life. For example, start by adding an exercise routine to your schedule, or getting your family on board to start planning dinners at home for multiple days of the week. If you already exercise, bump up the intensity. If you eat at home often, try an across-the-board increase in vegetable servings, or a portion-size decrease. These kinds of changes often lead to weight loss, or interrupt a weight loss plateau.
While you’re planning, consider how you’ll keep your new routine in place. Ask yourself what challenges you’ll face, what could mess up the plan. Brainstorm some solutions to these challenges. Write everything down. Talk to others about your plan. See how the first week goes, then the second, and make adjustments as you review how things have worked. These steps will increase the chances of your jump-starting something that can keep on running for a long time.