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Facts About Weight Loss Challenges

Weight loss challenges,“beach body by summer” or flat stomach promotions or whatever else they get called, are more harmful than helpful, but gyms and trainers love them because of their effectiveness in convincing new customers stampede through their doors. What makes these promotions so effective is that they feed right into the public’s desire to get instant results, but the reality is that these results almost never last.

I am by no means a fan of weight loss challenges, but there is a bit of a catch-22. For instance, if a challenge can inspire a person to not only join a gym, but also continue working out months and years after their challenge has concluded, then that’s a great thing. But I digress, here’s what you need to know about weight loss challenges before you sign up for one.

Potential Dangers

Weight loss challenges have one main priority, which is to ensure that members lose a lot of weight in a short period. With this in mind, you must remember that caloric deficit must be achieved on a consistent basis, and for this to happen, participants are put on highly restrictive diets, many of which require supplementation to make up for nutrient shortcomings within the meal plans, and they must also partake in high intensity workouts. This combination can be very dangerous for beginners and those who have been sedentary for a while.

In Aune & Powers (2017), a study that looked at injury prevalence in high-intensity training programs, researchers discovered that shoulder and knee injuries were the most common. Of the 247 participants in the study, 132 injuries were reported, but it should be noted that some participants suffered more than one injury. Moreover, 35% of the participants that suffered an injury cited overexertion as the cause of the injury. Overexertion comes from fatigue, which is often coupled with a deterioration of exercise technique.

Workout novices are at most risk of suffering an injury. Much of this has to do with their inexperience of exercise technique, meaning a potential lack of familiarity of warning signs that something may be wrong, and hesitation to inform trainer that something is wrong out of a fear of embarrassment in front of the training group. For these reasons, I am most adamant about suggesting every novice to invest working one-on-one with a qualified and experienced personal trainer.

The Diet

Good nutrition is a tricky thing; on paper, it’s really quite simple, but the practice can be a bit of a challenge. Most adults have a good understanding of what foods are healthy and which ones are unhealthy; even when they know what’s “healthy”, then why do so many people struggle so much? This depends on the individual, which means adopting a new diet can be much harder or much easier for one person compared to another.

When weight loss challenges are short, such as 4-8 weeks, a person isn’t so much adapting to new, healthier eating habits, but, rather, the new style of eating is merely being endured until the challenge is over. Health and fitness should be viewed as a journey, instead of thinking of it as a destination. While setting mini goals is perfectly fine, that doesn’t mean that the journey is over. For most weight loss challenge participants, many return to their old eating habits; most of the time, this is so gradual that it often goes unnoticed.

Are weight loss challenge diets safe for the long-term? In most cases, they are not. You must remember that the purpose of the weight loss challenge is to reduce as much weight as possible within a short, hard set timeframe, meaning that the diet is designed to contain fewer calories than you will burn in a day for maximal weight loss. This can mean that at the conclusion of the challenge, you may be deficient with protein, vitamins, and minerals. When diets are overly restrictive, supplements can serve as band aid, but this can lead to significant deficiency problems if you continue down this path.

Inflated Expectations

Weight loss does not happen linearly and its rate of decline is going to slow down. Just because one managed to lose 20 pounds in a 6-week period does not mean she is going to lose 20 pounds every 6 weeks, but challenges can easily mislead people into that kind of thinking. The body eventually adjusts to the caloric shortage, thereby slowing down the metabolic rate to save the body from further depletion.

Why does weight loss slow down? An overweight or obese person can lose fat faster than a normal weight person because the additional weight they are carrying means more energy must be expended during workouts and muscle recovery. When a lot of weight is lost, fewer calories from fat and carbohydrates are needed for activity and regular functions, so the metabolic rate will decrease.

The diets and training intensity during weight loss challenges are unsustainable for the long term. Eventually, the body begins to break down from the constant stress of the high-intensity workouts and because it’s not getting sufficient energy (calories) to properly recover, this can lead to a loss in muscle mass. Since muscle is more metabolically demanding than fat mass, this means that less muscle will lead to fewer calories burned— those calories came from fat and carbohydrates. In other words, fewer calories burned means that more is being stored in the form of fat mass, hence, weight gain.


One of the most disappointing things about the fitness industry is how so many gyms and trainers are willing to ignore potential hazards in their pursuit of getting more dollars. Weight loss challenges can put individuals in situations that can severely hurt them, and, just as bad, they can feed the false narrative that the only way to lose weight is training really, really hard at all times. Be patient with your weight loss journey. There are going to be some ups and downs, which happens, but don’t let it devastate you. Remember, maximizing your health and wellbeing is always going to be more important that the number you see on the scale.

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