There Is No Magic Wand

(Originally published in the Today’s News-Herald on Thursday, June 2, 2022)

Last week I started discussing how to niche into the area of movement that you enjoy to build long term sustainability and consistency, and as we continue this topic over the several weeks, today I want to back up and look at fitness, nutrition, or any wellness pursuit and the “magic wand” effect.

You’ve seen it before–a great testimonial on how someone’s life has been changed by a program or product, and you can have the same results (or better) if you sign up for this short-term challenge or program.

In many cases, we have arrived at our desire to change through years of habits contrary to the ones we want to cultivate in our lives.  Studies show that not only does it take longer than these short-term challenges to create long term change, but the results also you might or might not achieve during these challenges tend not to be sustainable.

There are many examples of the magic wand effect under all umbrellas of wellness programs and products, but one of the easiest to breakdown is weight loss.  A 21-day program might promise that if you follow their diet and exercise program fully, that you will experience a certain level of success toward a weight loss goal.

You participate in the program, and not only does it have a restrictive diet where you find yourself maybe preparing foods that aren’t your fancy, you also have to purchase proprietary supplement products, and participate in an exercise program that some days you enjoy, other days you have to force yourself because it doesn’t fit your schedule/ability/energy/etc., and at the end of the challenge you might see some changes.

What happens at the end of the challenge to maintain your results?  Do you continue with something that you’re not fully enjoying and doesn’t integrate fully into your schedule, lifestyle, or budget?  Do you modify it?  Or do you stop the program?

The overwhelming majority tend to do the latter—abandon the program.  You achieve some success and live under the assumption that without the structure you’ve been under to attain it that you will sustain the change.  Others leave because the scheduling, cost, or other commitments involved don’t align with their needs.  There is a small group that do continue and maintain their success over the long term—about 5% in these instances.

Let me be VERY clear: you are not a failure for leaving a program or abandoning a product after a short-term challenge.  The program or product have failed you, and that is the very nature of the diet industry and its marketing. You are not weak, lacking willpower, or undisciplined.  It just wasn’t right for you.

Change takes time, consistency, and flexibility.  I’m not knocking the concept of the challenge in and of itself, but simply as a stand-alone solution to reach our goals, it falls flat.  It can be a motivator, a jump start, an education tool, and more—but a short-term challenge is just a start.  For any type of challenge or short-term program to be successful, you need to start at the end first and ask a few important questions: what is the end point of the program?  How does it help me transition habits from the rigidity of the challenge or programmed lifestyle into MY daily life?  Where does continued support come from?  Is this financially feasible for me to continue for the long term?  Does the nature of this program align with my values and goals?

All these questions help us to make the choice to move forward with something that might be the springboard to our long-term success or fall into the continual stop and start of looking for the overnight transformation to look and/or feel how we want to feel—which doesn’t exist.  When it comes to habits and our wellness, there’s no easy button, but as we’ll continue to explore, we can make the journey enjoyable.

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