The last time I took place in a body transformation challenge was back in 2017 or 18. The entire features team at the publication where I worked at the time participated in that one. We pooled in money and agreed to have our changing weight on display on a big whiteboard in the office for a month.
A weighing scale was snuck into the features editor’s room, and once a week, we all dutifully stepped on it, mapping our progress on the whiteboard. The stakes were high; the winner—the biggest loser, rather (it wasn’t me)—got to keep all the money. We all lost a few kilos, I think, by the end of that challenge. However, once shed, no one bothered to keep the kilos off.
If you’ve been working out in a gym or even been following a fitness influencer, I’m sure you’ve encountered this at some point of your life: a ‘Biggest Loser’ sort of challenge conducted over a specific duration where you’re expected to emerge at the other end a physically transformed person.
While for some people, it may be the catalyst they need to embark on a healthy lifestyle, for the most part, these aren’t very good for you. For example, a 2017 article published in Huffington Post compares constant fitness challenges to an emotionally abusive relationship that will keep you coming back for more. “That leads to a cycle where you are constantly taking up the challenge, after challenge, yet you are not going anywhere,” it states, adding that these are often simply a waste of time.
Pune-based fitness trainer and wellness entrepreneur Chirag Barjatya agrees. “Though the number is less, I have seen people changing their lifestyle completely after taking part in such challenges,” he admits. However, for the most part, they end up creating false expectations in your mind about your body, he points out. “Everybody is different,” he says, adding that muscle mass, stress, environment, and genetics play a huge role in shaping human bodies. “This comparison will result in obvious self-image issues and the mindset that you are not good or you are not fit enough,” he says.
Body transformation challenges often end up propagating distinctly unhealthy behaviour. People can be so focused on the end goal—which could be money, a six-pack or simply the feeling of satisfaction at having won something—that they turn to starving or over-exercising to get there. “People going on a complete juice diet or quitting carbs completely to get ahead in such challenges is the biggest risk right now in the fitness industry. Can you imagine yourself surviving on 8 whole eggs for your entire life? Can you survive on a juice-only diet?” asks Barjatya. He points out that this has both physical and mental repercussions. “If you are doing it temporarily for a challenge or for a social media likes, most likely you will end up losing the track and you will come back to zero,” he says.
Clearly, fitness is a long journey with absolutely no shortcuts. As research has proved, over and over again, most people—80-90%, in fact—will regain the weight they have lost through some diet or challenge. Unless you completely overhaul your lifestyle, the chances of becoming fit and staying fit are pretty low. And a challenge probably isn’t going to help much with that.
“The best way to lose weight and get fit over a period of time is to fix your food habits and the relationship with food,” says Barjatya. Staying consistent with exercise also helps. “Develop the habit of hitting the gym daily, playing a sport or going for a walk,” he says Barjatya, who firmly believes that slow and consistent is the way to go. So yes, in general, avoid challenges. Your body—and purse—will thank you for it.