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Buff(ing) For BlizzCon: Choose your quests wisely

Buff(ing) for BlizzCon is a bi-weekly fitness series written by ShrinkGeek authors Rafe Brox and Michael McGreevy. Join the team in getting in shape for the ultimate WoW geek event: BlizzCon.

I had serious health issues from being way too heavy not that long ago. Without going into the whole story (you can read it all here if you're so inclined), it was imperative that I lose weight and keep it off. I'm still trying to reach my overall goal, 10 years later, but I'm a lot closer now. I won't kid you – it hasn't been easy, but no epic quest with an awesome reward ever is (and, unfortunately, there isn't a development team that is going to nerf the Getting In Shape quest once the elite raiders have beaten it).

I'm about to state something that nobody in the diet and fitness industries really wants to admit, because doing so might make a potential customer take their particular approach to getting healthier less seriously. The fact of the matter is, though, that it's 100% true, and if they were to deny it, they would be lying.

All diets and exercise programs work.

Every. Single. One.

From the Atkins plan to the grapefruit diet to subsisting on twigs and berries, from Couch to 5K to P90X (and every possible combination in between), if you follow an exercise and/or weight loss program to the letter, you will, with very few exceptions, lose weight. In some cases, you will lose a great deal of weight in a very short amount of time. The question at that point, however, becomes whether or not you will keep the weight off and maintain the improved fitness level you've achieved. In the game, if you stop raiding or don't take on new dungeons, you don't improve your gear, so you get left behind as new content and more powerful gear rolls out. Here in the big blue room, we have to keep working just to maintain the gains we've made. Can you imagine the epic QQ that would happen if Blizzard implemented a requirement for everyone to do Activity X, or their gear would lose one iLevel a day? But that's what real life is like, so we've got to work to get where we want to be and then keep working to stay there.

There is a reason why so many people get caught in a perpetual cycle of losing and gaining weight. When the decision has been made to finally "get serious" about dropping extra pounds, the general response is to immediately give up all the food that is bad for you and start eating healthy. Chips, soft drinks, cheeseburgers, pizza and chocolate are all tossed aside completely for celery, carrots, baked chicken breasts, fat-free salad dressing and sugar-free Jell-O. The problem with this approach, though, is that those foods that get tossed aside taste good. That's why they get eaten in the first place. After a few weeks of complete isolation from the foods that they enjoy, many people throw their hands up in defeat and end up binge eating. After they have pigged out by "breaking their diet," they feel defeated, which makes them depressed, which makes them eat more bad food. In very short order, healthy eating gets thrown completely out the window, along with any chance of maintaining the good habits they were starting to develop.

If you've finally decided it's time to do something about your body -- whether it's losing weight, getting stronger or correcting something like hypertension or high cholesterol -- we urge you to look around at some of the programs that are available. Find one that not only works for you, but that you can see yourself following for the rest of your life. While you may be successful in the short term on a crash diet, once you go back to eating the way you did before you lost the weight, it will come back (and, in some cases, it might bring friends and reinforcements). Real, sustained weight loss is not the result of a temporary change. The key is not to change your habits for a short time in order to lose weight, but to change your overall relationship with food and exercise so that you'll never gain it back.

You don't give up and swear off raiding forever just because you spend all night wiping on one boss, do you? (Okay, other than that one guy in the back, who C'thun touched in a no-no place.) You go back the next night, or the next week, and you keep trying until you succeed and then move on to the next challenge.

Another common mistake that many people make when starting a diet is instantly jumping head first into the deep end of some kind of intense exercise routine after having gone through long periods of inactivity. You're not going to hit Icecrown Citadel the instant you ding 80 -- you need to gear up first. Many studies have shown that this kind of extreme workout is not necessary in order to lose weight. For most adults, 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as walking) every day can make a significant impact on your overall health. Again, this boils down to the difference between short- and long-term success. You aren't going to go from a sedentary lifestyle to running marathons in two weeks; you need to build up your muscles and endurance before you really start putting the screws to yourself physically. You can risk injuring yourself if you push too hard too soon, and that will generally put the brakes on all of your fitness efforts. Also, being hurt kind of sucks.

An important thing to remember is that when you change your eating and exercise habits, you should expect to lose no more than one to two pounds a week on average. If you're extremely overweight, this is not going to be the case -- at first. (In my first week on Weight Watchers, I lost 12 pounds.) The closer you get to reaching your weight goals, though, the slower the weight is going to come off. This is good, and this is normal. If you're losing weight faster than this, chances are you're actually losing muscle mass. If you deprive your body of too much food, your brain will switch you into starvation mode and actually go to great lengths to burn anything but fat. We're not so far removed from the days of living in caves that our metabolism has had a chance to adapt; hanging on to those precious calories in super-efficient fat stores and getting rid of that calorie-hungry muscle means we could survive a famine that much longer.

Weight loss is hard, and if you have to lose a lot of weight, the thought of it taking years to do so can be overwhelming. That said, how long did it take you to go from 1 to 60 (or 70, or 80) the first time, especially before the changes to make leveling quicker and easier? It took a while, especially if you were going it alone. Nobody can make you healthier but you; even the most supportive friends, motivational workout partners or clever dietitians can't eat right and exercise for you. Fitness is a phased encounter, where it's just you and the other guy.

BlizzCon doesn't have to be the finish line, but it does make a handy nearby milestone. One pound a week between now and October is still 20 pounds, which is what some of the staffers have made their goal, whether that's as far as they want to go, or just part of the way to something more ambitious. Ask yourself this question, though -- if you've been slowly gaining weight for the last 10 years, how much more would you gain in the next 10 if you kept doing what you've been doing? Ten years from now, would you rather be 50 pounds lighter or 50 pounds heavier?

If the answer is what I think it is, the time to do something about it is now ... and then keep doing it.

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