Let’s be honest, one of the primary reasons many decide to get active and sign up for a gym membership is to lose a bit of weight. A goal of weight loss is one of the most common things we hear from new members coming into the gym and joining one of our programs. Over the last 10 years I have been involved in the health and fitness industry, one of the biggest issues or topics of discussion that have come up most commonly is along the lines of, “Why aren’t I losing weight?”
To answer this question and dive a little deeper into this topic, let’s start from the top:
Your body is made up of a myriad of substances, all of which contribute to your overall weight. We can classify your body composition into 4 main categories; fat, water, mineral, and protein.
Fat should be relatively straight forward, as this is the stuff most people want to get rid of. Body fat is necessary for survival and is actually important for a number of bodily needs and functions. But for the most part, keeping body fat percentage low is ideal. This is the primary concern when it comes to weight loss for most.
Our bodies are made up of nearly 60% water. This is a very important piece of information to note when it comes to weight loss as this can influence the scale drastically.
We can keep things simple and succinct when it comes to mineral content, just think of your bones for this one. We certainly don’t want to reduce bone mass when it comes to losing weight as that can lead to other issues.
Lastly is protein. Protein refers to our muscle mass. Protein is very dense and can lead to weight gain, although that can be far more difficult than you think.
Let’s move on.
How to lose weight
Well, research has shown us time and time again that calories in vs. calories out is paramount for weight loss. This can be a much larger discussion regarding insulin and other hormones, but for the most part, assuming you are consuming a mostly somewhat healthy diet, it comes down to whether or not you are burning more calories than you are consuming.
Why lose weight?
Well, the likely reasons here stem from both health consequences and vanity. Some individuals want to lose weight because they were either told to by a doctor or other health practitioner that their body weight is detrimental to their health. Others wish to lose weight for vane reasons, as they want to look a certain way or at least feel better about themselves when looking in a mirror. This certainly isn’t wrong, or misguided, but just realize that how you look is largely determined by your genetics as well as your lifestyle, so becoming too obsessed with how you look can, at times, lead to frustration and despair.
Weight Loss is Easy!
This always turns heads or causes some confusion when someone hears me say this. It is very easy to lose weight! I could have you run until you puke, or put you in a sauna for hours until you sweat yourself thin, or could even have you stop eating altogether so that you drop weight quickly.
Take a look at any weight-class athlete or figure competitor (fitness model, bodybuilder, etc.). These athletes know exactly how to drop weight prior to an event or competition. Cut out most of, if not all carbohydrates, dehydrate your body to remove as much water as possible, and make yourself miserable. On top of that, after their event or competition, they put most of their lost weight right back on again.
On top of that, without an effective plan, your weight loss will result in not only a loss in water (dehydration), a potential loss of body fat, some protein (muscle) loss, as well as mineral loss (bone density).
That ultimately isn’t really the goal is it?
If all you are doing is altering the number on your scale to give you a number that feels more satisfying, then you aren’t setting yourself up for success long-term. As we already discussed above, your weight is comprised of 4 categories: fat, water, mineral, and protein. Just because you dehydrate yourself, doesn’t mean you have lost any body “mass” such as fat, which is more than likely your ultimate goal.
Hold up a second, why on earth would I want to gain weight from exercise? Well, putting aside the desire for some individuals wishing to put on weight through muscle mass from strength training, weight gain can actually be a “necessary evil” when it comes to starting a well-structured strength program.
Your muscle cells are, for the lack of a better term, sugar sponges. Due to high use, via strength training, your muscle cells will actually begin to absorb and store more blood glucose known as glycogen. When your cells absorb blood glucose and store it, they also bring along some water molecules too. This tends to “plump” the muscle cells a bit. This also leads to me needing to keep my eye balls in my head rather than letting them roll right out of my skull when I hear someone say, “I don’t want to lift weights, I don’t want to get too bulky…”
Strength training can cause some muscle water retention, sure, but if it was that easy to gain measurable amounts of muscle just from lifting weights, everyone would look like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Your slight muscle plumping from strength training will plateau, and is also temporary. If you were to stop strength training, your body would dump that retained water faster than a bad habit.
Body Composition Revisited
So ultimately, what most are aiming to do is this: lose body fat, maintain or gain protein (muscle), maintain or gain mineral (bone), and maintain hydration – you know, to stay alive…
How is this accomplished? Certainly not by dehydrating yourself, or removing all carbs from your diet, or avoiding weightlifting because you are afraid of somehow becoming “too bulky.”
Instead, you want to aim to turn your body into a well-oiled, calorie-burning, juggernaut along with consuming a sensible diet rich in meat and animal proteins (or alternatives), lots of vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, a little starch, and little to no sugar.
Your exercise regimen should have some cardiovascular exercise to keep your heart, lungs, and internal plumbing (arteries/veins) functioning optimally, along with a wide gamut of strength training exercises to properly train your body how to squat, lunge, lift, press, and carry your own body weight as well as external objects (weightlifting).
Stop worrying about short-term ups and downs on the scale – that number doesn’t paint the whole picture. Instead, set your sights on improving your life over weeks, months, and years, and you will see your body composition fall into place!
B.Sc., CSCS, CCFT