Everyone knows of the obesity epidemic in the U.S., and increasingly, around the world. It's no secret. Each generation has increasingly become heavier and heavier over the past 70 years. It's snuck up on everyone and most people hold more body fat than they should, even people who appear "in shape" (i.e. skinny fat). So it makes sense that everyone should be working out and eating right for the goal of weight loss. That's the ultimate goal that we should all be shooting for, right?
"Wait, what?! But I thought that was the most important thing? We're all fatter than we should be so that's what we need to workout for, right?"
Before you get your mental panties in a twist, allow me to explain.
The Fallacy of Weight Loss as a Goal
Even though it seems to make sense to focus on weight loss -- especially if you have some weight to lose -- it is not the measure that you should be most focused on. While on a weight loss plan, most people will obsessively check the scale every day (sometimes more often) and lament that they aren't losing weight in a linear fashion.
If you're doing it right, weight loss isn't linear.
Let me repeat that again. If you're doing it right, weight loss isn't linear. Unless you have more than 50 pounds to lose (in that case, weight tends to come off in a quite linear fashion, if you have your nutrition right), you aren't going to lose weight at a steady rate each and every week until -- voila -- you're suddenly at your perfect weight.
"Well, I'm doing that! I've lost six to eight pounds every week for the past three months!"
Well, I hate to break it to you, but you've lost a substantial amount of muscle. And muscle is your main metabolic firepower. That's not worth sacrificing if you're trying to boost your metabolism. "I've got to decrease my metabolism to increase my metabolism" just never made any darn sense to me.
The one advantage to being overweight is that you're also carrying around quite a bit more muscle than someone who is very skinny. You've developed it order to be able to carry around the extra weight. This is the one physical advantage you currently have. Don't let the extra muscle go to waste.
The Pitfalls of Typical Fast Weight Loss Diets
Over the years, we've all seen lots of rapid weight loss diets recommended through books, documentaries, reality TV shows, and the like. The pitch is so tempting- ditch 25 pounds in 15 days, 80 pounds in 60 days, all from a special fast/cleanse/no meat/no taste/no nothing diet. Don't worry! You'll only have to stick with it for 10 days/25 days/60 days and then will be home free for the rest of your life. This approach has worked for some people. But, outside of the obvious lack of behavioral change behind most of these programs, there is one other major pitfall. Let me explain.
Several years ago, I watched a documentary of a man who went on a quest to shed a significant amount of weight through juice fasting. No food at all, just fasting, for 60 days.
Guess what? He lost weight.
"Gasp! He didn't eat anything for 60 days and lost weight? You don't say!"
But he didn't just lose any old weight. He lost over 80 pounds in this short time frame and looked like a completely different person.
During this fast, he (smartly) received frequent medical assistance to make sure he wouldn't die. He also had his body composition examined at frequent intervals. At the end of the fast, they calculated just how much fat and muscle he lost during the 60 days. The results: 45 pounds of fat lost, 35 pounds of muscle.
My ever-so-calm reaction: "35 FREAKING POUNDS OF FREAKING MUSCLE LOST!?!?!?!"
They very quickly glanced through these statistics in the documentary as if to just say "oh and 35 pounds of muscle lost, whoopsy...but oh look, 45 pounds of fat lost!"
I'm sorry (well, maybe not), but 35 pounds of muscle loss is not a success in my book. I've personally lost 40 pounds of fat before and did NOT lose 35 pounds of muscle to go with it. I've actually gained muscle while losing fat. But was the weight loss linear? At first, yes. Then after a month, no.
I'm by no means trying to discredit the documentary or what the people in it accomplished. Everyone's got a different method to accomplish a goal and all methods will work for some subset of people. But in my professional experience, the methods are extreme and the muscle loss is extreme as well, which is something very few people even think about when embarking on a weight loss program. It's considered expendable- collateral damage.
This is also what happens when you only focus on nutrition and neglect strength training throughout your weight loss efforts. Weight disappears, that's great! Man boobs and bat wings don't. That's not great.
"But can't I just gain the muscle back after I've lost the weight?"
Oh sure, if you feel like strength training for a solid year afterwards to gain it all back. That's right, the muscle you can lose in two months of juice fasting can take a solid year to regain, depending on genetics, the effectiveness of your strength training program, and your strength training history. Have fun with that.
But weight loss shouldn't be the overall goal.
So what should be the goal? Glad you asked. To find out, read Part II of this series on my blog, Green Machine Strong.
Like this article? Get more free fitness and strength training tips at Courtney's blog, Green Machine Strong.