The Biggest Loser, which ran on NBC from 2004 to 2016, was a reality-TV hit for a number of reasons. It dealt with a concern of many Americans (losing weight). It revealed the personal struggles of the contestants who were often overcoming lifelong challenges with food. And it delivered the results everyone wanted to see. The contestants lost considerable amounts of weight (100 lbs. on average) in a relatively short period of time (30 weeks).
Each season, the finale would reveal who had lost the most weight. But all the contestants, with their more slender bodies and better hair styles, looked like new people. It seemed that, with their weight problems now solved, they were going to live happily ever after.
But sadly, that was not the case.
Scientists conducted a study of Biggest Loser contestants six years after they had appeared on the show. Nearly all of them had gained back significant weight. And even more disappointing, they were all suffering from greatly reduced metabolisms—the amount of calories the body burns each day. And this was happening even to those who were spending more than an hour in the gym each day.
Years after their weight loss, their bodies were still conspiring to put it all back on.
While experts are still analyzing this and similar studies, the lesson seems to be that dramatic, short-term weight loss is likely to trigger a metabolic response that makes it difficult to keep the weight off. However, slower weight loss does not appear to trigger the same effect. Evidence suggests you may do much better if you lose 20 lbs. this year through gradual change, rather than trying to starve it off in a month.
The same is true when it comes to saving for retirement.
While stories of people becoming overnight millionaires by investing heavily in an IPO on its first day or through speculation are exciting, these investors rarely achieve the “set for life” status that everyone assumes they’ve achieved. Especially if they continue making bets on the market.
Saving consistently over thirty years makes for a pretty boring story. But along with harnessing the power of compounding returns, this long-term process teaches you how to gain control of your money. When it comes time to spend it, you’ll have a plan for each dollar and be less likely to overspend on things that will be ultimately unfulfilling.
The other reason to plan on getting rich slowly is because it’s got the best chance of working.
“The slow, boring, ‘get rich slowly’ path is still probably the right path for the majority of people,” says Ben Carlson, director of institutional wealth management at Ritholtz Wealth Management. “People who spend more time messing with their investments, playing and moving around in trading and potentially overtrading, eventually that catches up with you.”
While unexpected windfalls like an inheritance or bonus can help you leapfrog toward your retirement goal, it’s best to have a plan that doesn’t rely on a large, lump sum falling into your lap.
As Shakespeare aptly put it, “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.”
For the prudent investor that means a long-term plan, a diverse portfolio, and disciplined investing aided by us.