Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Knock that crap off!

As I work with more and more clients and interact with more people on social media regarding fitness, I come across some interesting ideas and beliefs about weight loss. Some are pretty sound, some make total sense, and some....well, frankly, some just make me cringe. While I suppose I could correct some misinformation, I tend to hold back. I don't want to be "that person."

So instead....I'll write a blog post! I'm here to bust some myths about weight loss and get you to think differently about how to achieve your goals. I bet I'll even give you a goal or two you didn't even think you had.

Over the decades we've been bombarded with various weight loss secrets, diets, fads, fitness crazes, and everything in between, that guarantee quick weight loss. They focus solely on WEIGHT LOSS, but as we gain more and more knowledge, fitness professionals know that the number on the scale is only part of the picture.


There are so many times when I wish we could just throw out the scale. I understand it's importance when you are very overweight or obese, but there comes a point where the number becomes very unimportant. I weigh about 10 pounds more than I did in high school. But I'll take that 10 pounds because I'm in far better shape now than I was then....and I can still fit into my cheerleading skirt. You know why? 


A pound of muscle takes up less space than a pound of fat. So as you lose body fat and gain lean muscle, you are becoming slimmer, even when you don't see the number on the scale drop. But you're still reaching your goal of becoming slimmer and looking better, right? YES! So who cares about the number of the scale, your BMI, all that crap. BMI does not take into consideration someone who is muscular and athletic, and will shift towards the "overweight" category even though that's ludicrous. It's especially unfair to men, who will typically weigh more at the same height as women because they tend to have more muscle mass.

Is your body hanging onto that last 5 pounds? So what! It probably wants to hold onto it. 


So I basically just told you to gain more muscle to be leaner, and you're wondering what the heck??

If you want to boost your metabolism and look better and leaner, then you must do resistance training. For every pound you lose through diet changes alone, 69% of that pound is fat, while 31% is muscle loss. Add cardio to your diet changes, and you've improved that fat/muscle loss ratio to 78%/22%. If you add in resistance training, that ratio changes to 97% fat loss/3% muscle loss. You've just vastly improved your body's ability to burn fat. Fat is metabolized in muscle, so it makes sense that muscle gain will boost your metabolism. 

Throw out the assumption that heavy weights will make women bulky. Because of the hormonal differences in men and women, specifically testosterone levels, an increase in muscle mass is less in women than in men. You will get STRONGER, but not necessarily bulkier. 

As a side note, in addition to an increase in your metabolic rate, other benefits of resistance training include the following:
  • Increase in functional strength
  • More power and strength for cardiovascular exercise
  • Helps protect joints by taking pressure off of them, which in turn will decrease your risk of degeneration
  • Strengthens the tendons and ligaments, allowing us to perform everyday activities and sports with a decreased risk of injury

As much as we wish it was so simple, it's not about "calories in/calories out" only. Sure, if we consume way too many calories, our body is going to convert that to fat. But if it was only about maintaining a deficit, weight loss wouldn't be so tricky. Way too many people think that in order to boost our weight loss, we need to JUST DO MORE CARDIO! 

First of all, hours upon hours of repetitive cardio will not give you awesome muscle. As a matter of fact, you're going to start burning some of your muscle. Your body will start to adapt to the repetition of the exercise and your metabolism will suffer because of it.

You've seen the "fat burning zone" on cardio machines, right? Ignore it. While it's true that at lower intensities in an aerobic training zone your body will burn a higher percentage of fat versus carbohydrates, if instead you increase the intensity of the exercise, you are actually going to burn far more calories overall (and therefore far more fat). For example, let's say you speed walk for an hour, keeping your heartrate in that "fat burning zone" and burn 400 calories. You may burn about 60% from fat, so 240 fat calories. If you pushed your exercise into a higher intensity and burned 800 calories in that hour, at a 40% fat burn rate, you've just torched 320 fat calories.

When you push your body into bursts of anaerobic activity, you can achieve what is called Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. In this state, your metabolism remains elevated AFTER exercise, something that strictly aerobic exercise won't do.

Think QUALITY over QUANTITY. An hour of interval-type training, with bursts of higher intensity, will benefit you more in the long run than two hours of lower intensity cardio. If you incorporate high intensity cardio bursts into a resistance training workout, you've just killed two birds with one stone.

Another downfall of too much cardio is the tendency to overcompensate when you refuel. You may end up overeating after a good workout. This is a big problem with endurance athletes. And it leads me to my next myth.


It doesn't matter if you burn off the calories. If you put crap into your body, it's still crap that is in your body. Food processed with God-knows-what is basically poison. If you don't put the right mix of REAL food into your body, you will never experience what your body is truly capable of. We still need the correct ratio of calories from macronutrients - 45-65% carbohydrates, 10-35% protein, and 20-35% fats. Additionally, we need nutrient dense foods - foods that are rich in micronutrients like essential vitamins and minerals.

Imagine how you would feel trying to run for an hour after consuming 800 calories from donuts vs 800 calories from chicken, rice, and vegetables. Still the same number of calories with far different effects on our performance.

Additionally, it's very easy to overestimate how much food we should refuel with after intense exercise. We all need to be prudent in monitoring our input in order to keep the energy balance moving the right direction.

And remember, it's possible to eat more quantity of food and feel full, yet consume a small amount of calories...imagine 200 calories of watermelon versus 200 calories of chocolate. That's a lot of watermelon and will fill you up whereas that small amount of chocolate will likely just leave your hungrier. Quality of Quantity!!


The Atkins Diet really screwed up how we feel about we feel about carbohydrates. Additionally, the introduction of the "fat free" craze screwed up our thoughts on the benefits of fat in our diet.


Keep repeating that to yourself.

A severe restriction of carbohydrates does typically result in early weight loss, mainly due to the excretion of water from our bodies and the suppression of our appetite, leading to fewer calories consumed. But this is not a state that can be maintained over the long term and can have harmful effects on our bodies.

Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for our bodies. Take away that source, and you will find your energy will be depleted quickly. You will feel sluggish and not have the ability to perform to your potential. Carbs are also necessary for tissue repair.

If you are concerned about insulin levels, it's important that the majority of your carbohydrate-rich foods are on the low end of the glycemic index. The glycemic index classifies foods on their potential to raise blood glucose. Certain carbohydrates will cause blood glucose to rise and fall more rapidly than others. A more rapid rise and fall may make us feel hungrier more quickly than those foods that fall on the low end of index.

Regarding fats, our bodies absolutely need healthy fats. They are essential for micronutrient absorption, organ and joint protection, and growth and development. You can also derive energy from fats when your glycogen stores have been depleted.

Ignore most "fat-free", "low-fat", "sugar-free" stuff you find in stores. Chances are it's loaded with an excess of sugar, bad fats, or sodium that completely negates any benefit it's trying to emphasize. Choose real, unprocessed food the majority of the time. 


Not if you want to stay healthy over your lifetime, you won't.

It is not recommended that you restrict your calories to less than 1200 calories per day. For a heavy or active person, even that level is too low. Very low-calorie diets are typically deficient in the proper amount of macro- and micronutrients and can lead to malnutrition, poor energy and fatigue, an inability to succeed at any kind of fitness program, and a slowing of your metabolism. You are also at risk for binge eating, which will ultimately sabotage your weight loss goals.

One way to know how many calories your body requires is to calculate your basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories we would burn if we were completely at rest. Once you know your BMR, you can calculate your basic calorie needs based on your activity level. It's easy to find these calculators online, but here's an example for myself:

At my height, weight, and age my BMR is 1347 calories. I alternate between being moderately active (1.55 multiplier) and very active (1.725 multiplier), so my range for caloric needs to maintain my current weight is 2087-2323 calories. If I want to maintain my current weight, I should not go below these adjusted numbers. Keep in mind, however, that a leaner body mass requires even more calories for maintenance (the formula falls short in calculating for this).

If you want to lose weight, you should plan to cut 300-500 calories per day from your daily energy needs. If you are very obese, you can cut even more calories, but again keep in mind that going below 1200 calories per day is not advised. You can see how much better your diet can become (quantity-wise) if you increase your activity level.

All that being said, I am not a calorie counter at all. I am a firm believer that if you choose fresh, real, healthy, unprocessed food the majority of the time, and don't eat beyond satiety, your caloric input will regulate itself properly.

Just remember, our bodies require fuel to function at their potential. The correct amount, the correct type, and consistently throughout the day.

So, in summary, is there a magic pill or a magic formula that will make the weight fall off with no effort on your part? The answer is NO. If you want to create a healthy, fit lifestyle for yourself and keep your body at a healthy weight (and that number might be higher than you think!), then you must make common sense choices every single day. There are too many myths out there that sound good, but are completely meaningless when stripped down. Sound choices include:

  • Exercise that includes resistance training and higher intensity
  • Food containing ALL the macronutrients and the micronutrients our bodies need to function
  • Enough calories to properly fuel our activities and keep our metabolism efficient
Lastly, stop obsessing about the number on the scale and start obsessing about changing your body composition instead.

Did I change the way you think?