I must tell you, as much as I love my field of work — I’ve been a fitness professional now for over 15 years, there are those pockets of my industry that make me crazy. One of them is the uber-abundance of products, services and resources that are only too willing to clamor aboard the “Fast and Easy Weight Loss!” bandwagon, presumably because of the money-making potential of such a claim. I imagine that for every person momentarily persuaded by a program or expert (both the good and the bad) promising an effective weight loss solution, there are handfuls rolling their eyes with a jaded “Yeah, RIGHT” reaction. And who can blame them? Unless you live in a cave, you’re only too aware that the world is obsessed with weight loss and saturated with the next great diet, research study, infomercial, reality show, guru, etc. that has the answer to this problem. It’s reached the point in which it’s difficult as a fitness professional to know how to put herself in a position in which she can be of genuine help in this regard, without being drowned out by the drone of much louder weight loss pundit megaphones, or without appearing to be “selling out” and adding to the weight loss cliche pile.
But of course, part of the reason for this dilemma in the first place is because losing weight — and keeping it off — IS very difficult. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be such a ginormous industry to help with the problem. And while there is a veritable haystack of half-truths and empty fixes to weed through, the needles of truly helpful advice are there if you keep digging. Here are four of them, relating to how to use stretching as a legitimate and effective tool for weight loss:
- Stretching can be an enjoyable, non-threatening, confidence-building first step towards other forms of exercise: Many people feel timid about going to the gym or adverse to the thought of exercise, either out of fear of looking awkward or hurting themselves, or not knowing what to do, or just plain not liking the idea of having to break a sweat and put themselves through an uncomfortable level of exertion. Yet, time and time again, exercise is proven to be an effective, if not outright essential, tool to long-term weight management success. What to do? Stretching workouts can be the answer. What’s unique about stretching versus other fitness activities is that it not only benefits a person long term (I won’t elaborate on the specifics here, you can find them in other entries at this blog and in the articles section of my website), it immediately feels good! What’s more, the range of options and modifications ensures that even the most basic of beginners can enjoy an effective workout for themselves. You start to realize how much you CAN do, which is a powerful motivator! And once you’ve become comfortable with a regular stretching routine, you can consider building from there, such as taking walks or signing up for a yoga class.
- Stretching can help “break the back” of a large appetite: Appetite, as no doubt you’re aware, is a complex animal. There is no one factor responsible for what we crave and what enables us to curtail certain food choices. Which is why no one action, pill, burst of knowledge, situation, etc. is going to have an absolute effect one way or the other. But we can certainly take steps to swing the pendulum further from the “Uncontrollable” end of the appetite spectrum, and closer to the “Very Manageable” end. One way to do this is to take a few minutes to unwind and stretch shortly before a meal, such as dinner. This accomplishes three things: Number one, it slows you down. Studies show that when we’re keyed up and in a hurry, we eat faster, which means we’re likely to have eaten more than we might have liked by the end of the meal. So slowing down helps to thwart that effect. Secondly, it relieves stress, allowing you to release emotions and tension that might have fueled certain food or eating choices, paving the way for you to opt for healthier, more nourishing foods instead. Thirdly, it helps to attune you to your senses, which will help you to eat more mindfully and derive better enjoyment from your meal — the taste of the food, texture of the food, fragrance, etc. Eating mindfully is one sure way to eat less, because you’re much more satisfied on less!
- Stretching can be a exercise routine “placeholder” when life gets hectic: Ask anyone who has experienced the joy of regular exercise and you’ll likely get reports of better energy, stronger muscles, less stress, improved sleep, weight loss, increased self esteem, lower blood pressure, and so on. But ask anyone for whom life has managed to interfere with their exercise routine (and somehow, life has a tendency to do that), and you’ll also get lamentations of how difficult it is to get back on track once the routine is disrupted, even with the knowledge of all those benefits they’d experienced! The lesson here is, it’s far better to cut back and do less (temporarily) than to stop altogether. So when things get crazy-busy, consider stretching as a quick and convenient stand-in. By swapping out your normal fitness workouts for even just 10-15 minutes of stretching, you’ll keep the momentum — the habit — of your exercise schedule intact until your time opens up again and allows you to add back those other activities (and hopefully keep up with the stretching, given its own unique benefits!). What’s especially useful about stretching for this purpose is that it truly can be done anywhere: your living room, your office, your bed, etc. So, do yourself a favor; avoid backsliding by allocating stretching as your steadfast “back-up plan.”
- Stretching is a contagious act of self-care: I am wholeheartedly convinced that one of the reasons people overeat is out of a (misplaced) attempt at self-care. Food is quick and easy to access, it tastes good, it’s cheap (or at least it can be), and it doesn’t talk back. It’s the one activity in which we get to choose exactly what WE want, what WE like, and not choose what we DON’T want, what we DON’T like. That’s tough to beat when you’ve just had a long, exhausting, stressful day. And it can become an even tougher habit to break. But there’s a saying that a habit can be displace by….another habit. If you’re hoping to loosen your grip on turning to unhealthy foods, consider regular stretching. Will it magically remove the draw of certain foods? Probably not. But you’ll feel much better, which can lead to your looking for other ways to enhance that good feeling (junk food, for all its instant gratification, is obviously not compatible with this objective). And by engaging in an activity that is truly healthful and caring for your mind and body, you send a powerful messsage to yourself that you’re worth the trouble of doing so. And bit by bit, the seed of change starts to grow. Maybe you start drinking more water today, maybe you start switching out one food for another tomorrow. THIS is the path to long-term weight loss: one foot in front of the other, one healthful addition here, one unhealthful subtraction there. It all adds up!
Now, can I give you hard numbers? You’ll lose X pounds in Y days if you do the above? Is there a guarantee attached to these steps? Obviously not. But I’m of the firm belief that successful, long-term weight loss is dependent on two key essentials: honesty (as opposed to hype), and orienting one’s life around weight-loss supporting behaviors from as many different angles as possible. You can probably name a number of actions you already take to either keep your weight down or begin losing, such as opting for low-calorie beverages or eating more fruits and vegetables. Why not add stretching to your weight loss arsenal, and move yourself that much closer to your goals?