James gave me 90 days.
That was when the contest would be over and, given that he worked in a high-powered, highly competitive financial institution, winning was very important to him.
The game was simple. Whoever lost the greatest percentage of body weight in three months won the cash prize. Before you ask, I don’t remember how much it was. But it was both a lot and also irrelevant to people whose take-home salary could allow them to purchase a small island if they are having a good year.
Lucky for me, losing weight is actually pretty simple as long as there are no curve balls thrown in the mix (the need to maintain maximal levels of strength or an underlying health condition, for example). If you want to simply see the number on the scale go down without any regard for performance or aesthetics (contrary to popular belief, you will not automatically look better if you just lose weight) it’s primarily a two-step math problem:
Make sure you are eating at a caloric deficit.
Put a plan in place that allows for adherence to that deficit and adjusts down over time.
Now, most smart trainers will rail against this method. And for good reason. First off, it’s not the healthiest way to go about losing weight and, secondly, it’s not sustainable over the long haul.
But the task I was given did not require healthy nor sustainable. It was to lose the most body weight over the given period of time.
For as many Instagram posts that you will find promoting the latest diet trends or detox teas you will also find nutrition and fitness professionals warning you of the dark side of these tactics.
And, to reiterate, those pros are right. Except when they are not.
Because while radical diets can be unsustainable, lead to rebound weight gain and set you up for disordered eating they can also help you reach a target and, believe it or not, set you up for long term success.
There are a couple of keys to managing this but let’s look first at why it works.
The first should be obvious. Dramatic tactics do result in acute progress. If you go on a very calorie restricted diet, you will start to burn fat. If you work on your business 14 hours a day, 7 days per week, chances are you are going to acquire a lot more skill and knowledge than you would working 4 hours per week (sorry, Tim Ferris!). So while these tactics require a lot of effort – it’s difficult to be hungry, it’s hard to grind with no end in sight – they do tend to yield results.
The second is that it gives you belief.
If you see the number on the scale go down, more customers standing in line to purchase your products or the amount of money in your business checking account go up, you are going to be motivated by this success and want to keep things going.
Slow, steady delayed gratification is a very challenging thing for most people to maintain. We want the thing we want and we want it now. The sensible approach still requires some sacrifice and, if the results are slow to come, even that minimal amount of effort might not seem worth it. So we give up and end up exactly where we started.
Finally, the big effort/big reward method can give you a lot of perspective and, when you do finally reach Oz, your beliefs about your limits and what you can actually accomplish will shift. So when you do fallback to a more sensible approach it will seem way more easy and accomplishable by comparison.
You’ve climbed Everest. A few hills aren’t going to stop you.
So how do you utilize this aggressive approach without spiraling into the pitfalls described earlier?
The first is to realize that you are playing with fire. Are you really willing to walk this tightrope and face all the risks that come along with it? I can’t answer this for you but it is something you should truly and deeply think about.
Next is to place a firm timeline on how long you are going to engage in this behavior. Go into it with the firm understanding that this isn’t something to be done forever and hold yourself accountable to the end date. And the more extreme the behavior, the shorter the timeline should be.
Lastly, have a support system in place. You need observers at least and experts at best in your corner who can help you develop your plan, give you advice along the way and maintain emotional neutrality so they can act in your best interest if you take things too far.
Find people you trust and listen to them.
Playing professional sports, losing body weight quickly, making a billion dollars – none of these activities are healthy. There is a hefty price to pay. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be smarter about it and mitigate the fallout.
James lost 50lbs in 90 days on my plan and won the competition. He went from 210lbs down to 160lbs. He had the weight to lose, although, in my opinion, 160 was probably further than he need to go. He did what I said, ate like a robot and got what he was after.
After the contest James and I continued to work together. We brought his weight slowly back up to 180 which is where he still sits to this day.
But he is the rare success story in a sea of chasing the extremes. He had the right mindset, the right support system and was fortunate enough to have the means to make this all happen.
Not everyone is so lucky.