It has been 15 years since Jared Fogle first appeared in ads for Subway. His remarkable weight loss, attributed in part to eating at Subway, is credited with increasing sales and creating a health “halo” around the restaurant and its food. Jared lost nearly 250 pounds by drastically changing his diet and becoming much more active.
Jared’s initial motivation was his poor health, a common reason people want to lose weight. And most people do lose weight, at least in the short term. What sets Jared apart is the fact that he has maintained his weight loss for so long. Why was he able to do this when so many others gain weight back? The answer has to do with motivation and accountability.
Having a personal motivation to lose weight is important for making healthy eating and activity behavior changes. These changes are not easy to make, so motivation and support from others is critical. It is easy to stay motivated early on, when weight loss is typically rapid and people provide positive feedback. A simple comment like, “have you lost weight?” can be more encouraging than the number on the scale. But this feedback tends to become less common over time, coinciding with a natural decrease in the rate of weight loss. It’s no surprise that many people lack the motivation to continue the behaviors necessary to keep the weight off.
It’s different for Jared. After he lost the weight, he had the benefit of powerful external motivators. Once his story was told in Subway commercials, Jared was recognized and respected as an example of successful weight loss. He speaks regularly about his story, including showing off his pants with the 58-inch waist made famous in the commercials. Would his message be as compelling if he had gained the weight back?
Since we are all aware of his goal, Jared is accountable to millions of people. Additionally, he is paid very well as a Subway spokesperson to maintain his weight loss. His livelihood is based on keeping the weight off – it’s his job! Imagine if you were paid millions of dollars not to gain weight or to stay in shape. That is a motivator most of us will never have.
Even though you aren’t likely to get paid to improve your health through weight loss or participating in regular exercise, you can still benefit by finding something to motivate you and being accountable to others. Telling family, friends and coworkers about your health goals makes you accountable to them. Better yet, join with others to create a weight loss, exercise or smoking cessation “team.”
Find long-term motivation by setting a goal for yourself. Losing weight for a wedding or class reunion or getting in shape for an active vacation are common goals. The key is to find something that will drive you to adopt healthy behaviors for years to come.
By the way, there is nothing magical about how Jared lost weight. His Subway diet added up to fewer than 2,000 calories per day, a large enough change from his typical intake of well over 10,000 calories to generate rapid weight loss. Add to that the fact that he went from being almost totally sedentary to walking every day. This is exactly the way everyone else can lose weight and keep it off: eat less and move more. The trick is to keep doing it!
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior. He is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and is an ACSM certified clinical exercise specialist.