A lot of people who come to me for training are "looking to lose a few pounds". This is a sensitive subject for many reasons. We often have a "golden standard" bodyweight that we think we should be weighing. We've likely all heard of the BMI (Body Mass Index) which tells you how heavy you should be depending on your height. Fun fact: my BMI is 30.1, labelling me as Obese.
In the fitness industry, money is often made attacking people's pain points. We're constantly berated with before/after photos of people who lost "30 pounds in 30 days!" It's important to view these metrics in context. Weight loss is an equation: calories in - calories out = energy balance. If you expend more calories out than you intake, your body is in a deficit and burns it's energy stores (fat) to compensate.
- Food Intake Absorbed
- Basal Metabolic Rate, (i.e. how many calories does it take to keep your heart beating, lungs breathing)
- Activity (walking, exercising, etc...)
- Environmental (keeping your body warm in the water, outdoors, etc...)
People will often view weight loss as a measure of success. As such, they go to quick and easy ways to drop weight. See if this sounds familiar:
Week 1: You drop your caloric intake by 50% and increase your exercise by 400% Surprise! You lost 5 pounds your first week.
Week 2: you're grumpy, sore, you can barely get out of bed in the morning but you keep going #GrindDontStop
Week 3: you figure you deserve a day off...then another day...
Week 4: You're back to where you started - the only thing lighter is your wallet from the $69.69 you paid for the transformation package.
If Not That, Then What?
The above section likely came across as pretty bitter, and I am. I have lots of friends, family, and clients who have fallen into this trap too many times. Like most things, if the solution was easy - everyone would do it and have success. The truth is, most people who crash diet are back to their pre-diet weight within a couple months. Why is this? Because crash dieting doesn't provide long term solutions.
To re-think the solution, we need to rethink the question. If the question is: "How can I lose weight?" the answer is above. Eat less, exercise more, the more extreme your approach the more extreme the results. If the question is "How do I look and feel better in a sustainable way?" then the answer is much more nuanced.
Most clients I have don't have drastic weight loss in the first few weeks. Why? Because I don't have clients pick up practices that are unsustainable. Likely the best example if one of my clients who I will call "Sean". In December of 2018 Sean was 230lbs. In November 2019 he was 198lbs. In July 2020 Sean hit his goal weight of 160lbs.
Our approach was simple and effective.
- He ate good food, focusing on high protein and veggies
- He exercised intensely 3-5 times/week
- He tried to move every day
There were ups and downs, but on average he lost 0.88 pounds/week. He just did it for 80 weeks. We're now at the point where not only is he happy with the way he looks and feels, he also is able to perform better, run faster and is stronger than he was at his heaviest.
As seen above, the important thing to consider before you begin looking for answers is refine your question. Do you actually care about what the scale says? Or do you just want to be happier with how you feel and look? If you loved the way you looked and your clothes fit the way you wanted but the number on the scale didn't budge - would that bother you? Most people want three things:
- Look Good
- Feel Good
- Perform Well
My advice? Focus on performing well and eating good food. If you train to perform and focus on keeping your nutrition 90% clean - you're going to have success. The great thing about this approach is that it is sustainable. If you're on a good program focusing on getting stronger and be fitter, you're going to burn the calories you would if you were training to lose weight, with the added benefit of improved performance! Then you end up stronger, leaner and more confident.
In conclusion: try and re-frame your thinking. Do you actually care how much you weigh? Or do you just want to look and feel good. If it's the latter - try and create a sustainable plan that works for your lifestyle. You've only got one body and one life - approach your training with that in mind!
If you need help putting that plan together, or have questions just shoot me a message on IG or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . I'm always happy to help!
Mylan Clairmont, MSc, CSCS