Sally Symonds is an inspiration to people struggling with their weight, she has gone from being overweight to working in the fitness industry and writing books to help inspire and motivate other people with her success.
The latest of Sally’s books, 50 Ways to Weight-Loss Motivation, was released recently and I got to find out a little more about Sally’s book, her journey and some of her tips in this recent interview.
What made you decide to start writing books?
I actually have two degrees in English literature (BA (with Honours) and a MA) plus two degrees in Speech and Drama (ASDA & LSDA) so writing comes a lot more naturally to me than exercising!
Your new book ’50 Ways to Weight-Loss Motivation’ was released recently, can you tell us a bit about the book?
Well first of all, it’s a smaller book than my first two. I designed it so that it could be easily popped into your handbag or briefcase, carried around with you throughout the day, and quickly consulted whenever you were feeling a moment of weakness! But so many people say to me “if I could just get my head into gear I’d be right”. And it’s true. If you can get your head into gear, your butt will
soon follow! This book helps people discover their weight loss why. Once you’ve done that, you’ll easily discover your weight loss how. The key to weight loss success is consistency, and the key to consistency is motivation. This book teaches you how to motivate your way to success.
Where did the 50 Ways come from, are these all things you did during your inspirational weight-loss journey?
Yes the motivational tips are based on what I did during my own weight loss journey as well as the methods that I use with my clients.
10-12 week challenges seem to be quite popular at the moment, what are your thoughts on them?
12 week challenges are really just a revenue-raising exercise for the company involved. They don’t teach you how to lose weight – and keep it off – and so you have to do them again and again and again! What’s really interesting is that the trend is now for 8 week, 6 week and 4 week challenges: that’s because companies can run many more of these in a year. You can only fit 4 x 12 week challenges in a year, but you can fit 13 x 4 week ones – that means charging 13 x joining fees, rather than only charging 4 x joining fees. Even if the joining fees are slightly lower for a 4 week block rather than a 12 week one there’s no way that companies only charge a third as much for a third as much time. They simply don’t!
More importantly, however, anyone who tells you that you can undo years, or even decades, of unhealthy habits in a mere 12 weeks is just plain lying and undoubtedly has no real-life experience in what it’s like to struggle with their weight. Twelve-week challenges are most effective for people who are already living a healthy lifestyle and just want to amp up their regime a bit in order to win a competition. These types of people already think like a “naturally slim, fit and healthy” person, but for those who don’t (ie the majority of people who actually enter twelve-week challenges), the situation isn’t so straightforward. There’s nothing particularly magical about twelve weeks (or eight weeks or six weeks). Successful weight loss isn’t about twelve weeks; it’s about your whole lifetime! Who are you trying to kid here? Consider how long it took to put that weight on – do you really think that twelve weeks is going to be the magic number that makes it all come off? Successful weight loss is about 12 x 12 x 12 x 2.5 weeks (or about 4320 weeks or 359 twelve-week challenges, eg a whole life!) It doesn’t matter how many calories you burn in twelve weeks – it matters how many calories you burn in your entire lifetime. Indeed, in many twelve-week challenges there are far more people who talk about how much they’re looking forward to some mega-partying, drinking and desserts as “rewards” at the end than there are people treating it like a more permanent situation without an end.
For most overweight people (but especially those who have struggled for many years with weight issues), plans and programs help relieve the symptoms of being overweight for a while, but rarely cure them. It’s a bit like taking a paracetamol when you’ve got pneumonia—you’ll only get short-term relief.
Of course, the very notion of a twelve-week challenge means that it’s unsustainable. I mean can you really only eat 1200 calories a day and exercise six times a week for the rest of your life? I don’t think so! In fact, the head of a major fitness company actually admitted to me that contestants in some twelve-week challenges couldn’t even eat out while they were on the program if they wanted any hope of doing well in it. In some cases, contestants who had done well (for example, by having a defined six-pack on “after” photo day) actually managed to undo most – if not all – of their good work by the awards dinner a mere three weeks later! Consider this: if you lose 1 kg per week for twelve weeks, that equates to roughly 90 000 calories. Consider how little you need to eat to regain all that weight. Just 9 hamburgers with fries and onion rings, 8 pizzas, 12 mai tais, 10 handfuls of macadamia nuts, 9 servings of chorizo sausage, 4 blocks of dark chocolate and 4 bowls of peanut butter ice cream, and you’re up 12 kilos again. It’s not that much when you really stop and think about it. You might easily go through that in a week!
People are promised that twelve-week challenges will change their lives, but rarely, if ever, is this the case. The focus is very much on “one-size-fits all”, but it’s often more like “one-size-fits-none” and the drop-out rates are often extraordinary.
But, in the end, all weight loss programs fail because they expect you to do something which psychologically, human beings aren’t designed to do: be 100% obedient nearly 100% of the time. They give you little or not control over your own weight loss, or indeed your own life.
Even “personalized” programs offer you only a limited number of choices . . . but psychologically human beings aren’t designed to follow orders and we can only do so for so long before we think, “That’s it – I’m done. I’m sick of that diet or exercise program controlling my life and telling me what to do all the time” and we rebel. So instead of having a tiny piece of chocolate cake – we have the whole cake – and instead of a week of no exercise – we have a month or year or even ten years! Psychologists call this “counter-regulation” – most people just call it the “what the hell” effect. It all just becomes too hard and so you can’t be bothered? Sound familiar?
Do you think meal replacements (shakes particularly) can be beneficial as part of a long term weight loss program?
I think supplements can be a valuable addition to anyone’s busy lifestyle. The important thing to remember is that they are a supplement – they are not a long term replacement for real food. Personally I might go three weeks and not have any kind of supplement and then have a really busy day and have two in one day. However, if you try to lose weight just using supplements (e.g. two or three shakes a day + one real food meal) then the moment that you stop following this regime you will inevitably regain weight. And, of course, you can’t follow this regime forever. Statistics show that 96 % of people who lose weight will put it all back on again – and more – within two years. Shakes are just one of the “lose fat fast” schemes that promote this kind of reaction.
You also need to be really careful as to what shakes & bars you partake in. 95% of those that I see in the supermarket aisle I simply wouldn’t eat. Their marketing is much better than their nutritional composition! Similarly, there are many supplements that I would exclude purely on taste.
Can you tell us a bit about NLP, what is it and how can it help?
NLP stands for NeuroLinguistic Programming. It’s quite a complex phenomenon but it’s a handy tool to help people see the world differently and explore options for weight loss (among other things). It’s great for helping you overcome learned limitations and focus on solutions, rather than problems. Of course you still need to eat better and move move to lose weight – but NLP can help people feel differently about how to do these things thus making weight loss easier.
What would you say is THE most important tip for not putting the weight back on?
The two most common questions I am asked are:
1. How did you lose so much weight so quickly? (initially I lost 45kg in 33 weeks, kept that off for five years and then lost another 8.5kg after that)
2. How do you manage to keep it off?
Now the reason I was so successful at weight loss really boils down to just one thing – I didn’t follow any of the usually prescribed weight loss rules, which clearly don’t work for most people because everyone’s getting fatter and fatter. So I didn’t follow a specific diet or exercise plan, I didn’t set a goal weight, I didn’t announce to the world I was going to lose weight, I didn’t get an exercise
buddy, and I also lost weight faster than most experts at the time recommend that you can lose weight – and keep it off.
And in terms of how to successfully keep the weight off – the secret to keeping the weight off is in how you lose it in the first place.
Now when most people reflect upon losing weight they think of the actual process itself in really negative – torture, hell, more pain than simultaneous labour and passing a kidney store, but it doesn’t have to be like that. And, in fact, for me, it wasn’t. I remember when I’d almost reached the end of my first 45k weight loss stint and someone asked me what I was going to do next and I actually said,
“I wish I could do it all again – it’s been so much fun”. And even today, I look back on those 33 weeks in which I lost 45 kg as one of the fulfilling times of my whole entire life.
Similarly, when coaching clients through my weight loss system they feel the same. They can’t believe how easy it is, how enjoyable it is – and that’s why they don’t regain the weight once they’ve lost it!
I’m on a weight-loss mission at the moment and you certainly have me intrigued. How do you turn an exercise loather into an exercise lover?
Most exercise programs are designed BY people who are already regular exercisers FOR people who are already regular exercisers – that’s only a very small minority of the population. If you want to transform yourself into someone who loves exercise then there’s no point in trying to learn off someone who has always loved it – they just can’t comprehend what’s it’s like. Clearly there are two different
mindsets when it comes to healthy living and the gap between them is vast. This isn’t exactly news to most people. But I was shocked to discover just how vast the chasm was when I attended my first national fitness convention in 2011. I was stunned to hear remarks such as this:
Comment: “I hate obese clients. They lie to you. They cancel at the last minute. They just must be so terrified of coming for the first time.”
My reaction: “Yes, we/they are!”
(What’s even scarier is that this woman had actually been working in the industry for over 20 years – not five minutes like me. How could she not have understood this after so long?)
Comment: “Imagine hating exercise? I don’t get it. I can’t process it”
My reaction: “Have you ever thought that exercise to some people is like studying mathematics (or something similar that you find difficult or don’t enjoy) is to you?”
Comment: “Can you believe that most women’s biggest fear is getting into a bathing suit?”
My reaction: Duh!
These comments weren’t just from other delegates, they were also from invited speakers during their presentations – and these were just a few of the negative remarks I heard. Clearly this near complete lack of understanding of the mindset of obese/overweight clients is something that permeates a large proportion of the fitness industry. Most people who go into the fitness industry are people who LIKE exercise. They’ve been happily doing it for their entire lives, and go into the industry because they want to share their LOVE for exercise with those less fortunate. Of course they can’t comprehend people who aren’t as “fortunate” as they are! You need to forget all the traditional approaches to exercise if you hate it and you want to learn to love it. Even though I’m a qualified personal trainer, I rarely – if ever – train myself or my clients the way you are “supposed” to do it. And, indeed, every time I go back and try to train myself this way I end up feeling like I hate exercise again.
What is the Goldilocks approach?
Goldilocks is one of the best role models you can have if you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off. Why? Because she was a master of the “just right” principle. If you’re trying to make any kind of change in your life and it’s too easy, you soon become disengaged and de-motivated—not only does the change become boring, but you can’t see any real progress towards achieving what you want to
achieve. On the other hand, try to make a change that’s too difficult and you become de-motivated even faster. If something is too hard for you to do at the time, and you aren’t even coming close to achieving it, you’re likely to give up in despair. Goldilocks, on the other hand, knew that if something was “too soft” or “too hard” or “too hot” or “too cold” then she just had to keep looking until she found something that was “just right” for her at the time. Another way to think of this is as making changes that are “comfortably challenging”.
The other valuable lesson that Goldilocks teaches us is that we have to keep moving because our needs change. First, Goldilocks was hungry, and then she was tired. Similarly, once you do something often enough, even though at the start it might be comfortably challenging, it’s not long before it’s hard-wired into your brain. In terms of food, once you’ve mastered one healthy habit, it’s important to keep reinforcing it (which won’t be hard because it’s no longer challenging, it’s just a part of your everyday life) as well as taking the next step and choosing another healthy food habit that is “comfortably challenging.” Similarly, in terms of exercise, it’s not only a matter of constantly challenging your mind, it’s also important that you constantly challenge your body. Then, once you’ve reprogrammed both your mind and your body again, you repeat the process and move on to something else that’s comfortably challenging.
October will see you launch a new online weight loss system, can you tell us a little about that please?
It’ all top secret at the moment but I can tell you that it certainly doesn’t only run for 12 weeks!
It’s not a stop/start, all or nothing approach. You don’t have to give 100% (or 110% as some weight loss plans and programs demand). Consider this rough mathematical equation. If you begin a weight loss program with 100% effort, you might be able to last maybe 3 weeks (if you’re lucky). Thus, your total effort for that time period would equate to 300%. However, give just 80% effort over 5 weeks
and you’re going to get 400% results. Even more startling: a mere 25% effort over 20 weeks is going to give you 500% results. Do something for 25 weeks (that’s 5 months of the year) and you’re much more likely to want keep doing it forever. You’ve made a lifestyle change – and you’ve barely even noticed!
The weight-loss industry is full of cliches about how “new” and “different” and “revolutionary” their new products are so I won’t add to the hype further. I don’t need to. People who have seen my books and the various articles etc that I have written will know that I approach weight loss extremely differently to most people – that’s why my methods are so successful. The weight loss industry is the
only industry that thrives on failure. I want to change that.
Thank you so much for talking with us Sally, your story is certainly inspiring and hopefully it’s enough to keep me on track.