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Race Shape Ready?

  • By Matt Fitzgerald
  • Published Mar 5, 2014
Photo: Shutterstock.com

Many diets will help you shed pounds. The crucial ingredients in all of them? Motivation and readiness. Finally: a scalable strategy for getting leaner in 2013.

In the summer of 2004, Jon Smith was as lean and fit as he’d ever been. Then he became a father and stopped training for marathons and triathlons. At the same time the New Orleans resident began dining out and eating mostly fatty foods due largely to his work in the wine business. Over the next two and a half years he gained 100 pounds. On New Year’s Day 2008, Smith got fed up with his condition and decided to make a comeback. He signed up for a triathlon and cleaned up his diet by removing the worst junk food from it, including fried foods and soft drinks. But by the time race day came around, Smith had lost only 15 pounds and he was not much fitter than when he started.

Smith knew he needed to raise his game. So the lifelong meat lover took the radical step of becoming a vegetarian. Within several months he was back down to his old racing weight of 180 pounds and finishing Ironman 70.3 events with ease.

The lesson is clear: To manage weight successfully, every triathlete has to become a vegetarian.
Wait a minute—that’s not the lesson at all. Because for every Jon Smith there’s a Christian Peterson, a runner and duathlete from Maple Grove, Minn., who struggled to lose weight on what he describes as a “typical runner’s diet” that was low in fat, high in carbs, and almost meatless before switching to the popular and meat-heavy Paleo Diet and quickly losing more than 20 pounds. And for every Christian Peterson there’s another endurance athlete who has lost weight on a high-protein diet, a gluten-free diet, a low-fat diet—you name it.

Triathletes are never more focused on losing weight than around the new year. If you’re looking to shed a few pounds ahead of the 2012 racing season, you’re probably looking for the best diet for weight loss. But as the examples of Smith and Peterson suggest, and as science affirms, there is no clear “best” diet for weight loss. There are many effective ways to lose weight.

In fact, real-world and scientific evidence indicate that the specific diet that a person uses to shed fat is not especially important to success in the effort to lose weight. What’s far more important, it seems, is the motivation level and attitude of the person seeking weight loss. Men and women who are truly ready to commit to a particular weight-loss strategy are almost certain to succeed, regardless of the diet they choose (provided it’s healthy and realistic). By the same token, those who are not prepared to fully embrace their diet are bound to fail, no matter which diet they’ve chosen.

Follow The Losers

Ever heard of the National Weight Control Registry? It’s basically a national database of men and women who have succeeded in losing at least 30 pounds and maintaining at least 30 pounds of weight loss for one year or more. Whatever these people do, it works. It’s not theory, but practice. So what do members of the NWCR do?

For starters, their diets are all over the place. Some are on low-fat diets; others are on low-carb diets; still others do Weight Watchers; some are vegetarians, and so forth. Another interesting characteristic of NWCR members is that the vast majority failed with weight-loss diets a few times before finally succeeding. The combination of these two characteristics—variety in successful diet approaches and failures preceding success—suggests that people succeed in losing weight when they are psychologically ready, and fail when they are not ready.

Other studies support this idea directly. For example, researchers at Italy’s University of Florence recently used a standardized scientific questionnaire to evaluate the “motivation and readiness” of 129 obese individuals starting a six-month outpatient weight-loss program. Weight-loss results at the end of six months were significantly greater for those subjects who earned the highest scores for motivation and readiness.

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FILED UNDER: Nutrition / Weight Loss

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