Solid nutrition paired with a consistent strength and conditioning routine impacts more than just body composition (read: it’s just plain good for your long-term health); however, we’d like to address the widespread obsession with nutrition and/or training for “weight loss”, what that really means, and how to manage expectations.
What Are You Really Trying to Achieve?
“Losing weight” may not be your actual goal. “Weight loss” literally means lowering your body weight – the sum of your bones, muscle mass, body fat, etc. When allowing the number on the scale to dictate progress, people often go to unhealthy lengths to get there (overtraining, severe caloric deficits, and so on). If progressing towards a leaner build is your end goal, losing weight and consequential muscle mass by way of these extreme methods is far from ideal.
Generally speaking, those eager to “lose weight” may carry more fat than physiologically necessary. The claim of “I want to lose weight” often translates to “I want to lose fat.” Fat loss goals typically entail lowering the amount of fat our bodies carry without compromising muscle mass. In line with this mentality shift, you’ll likely need to learn to take what the scale says with a grain of salt, as fat loss is not always linear, and weight fluctuations are very normal and very much dependent on several variables:
- Maybe you’ve under slept
- Maybe you had a salty meal and your body is retaining water
- Maybe you’ve introduced more carboHYDRATES (yes…a hydrating macronutrient with water-retaining properties) into your diet to support your activity level and your body is adjusting
- Maybe you aren’t drinking enough H2O to support the above-mentioned carb increase
- Maybe you had a particularly challenging training session and your muscles are swollen
- Maybe you’re gaining muscle
Fat Loss for Dummies
When carrying out a fat loss roadmap, you’ll find the best results when you couple a consistent strength training routine (which includes scheduled rest and recovery) with a nutrition plan that appropriately accommodates your lifestyle and activity. Identify a nutrition plan that you can stick to. Avoid making rash decisions or inflicting crazy restrictions that will push you to throw in the towel.
For example, while low carb diets can be highly effective for some (primarily for those with a more sedentary lifestyle and/or those with a more significant amount of fat to lose), it can be highly ineffective for others. Did you know carbs bind to water? When you eat less carbs, you may experience impressive initial weight loss due to water loss. But after about two weeks, there’s not much water weight left to shed and results may slow, which can lead to frustration, binge-like behavior, and huge swings of inconsistency. Alternatively, when transitioning from a lower carb diet to a more carb-rich lifestyle, you’ll need to manage your expectations and prepare for initial water retention before your body normalizes and favorably responds. The point is: find a plan you can sustain for the long term and accept that fat loss isn’t linear in terms of what the scale says. In fact, you may be surprised by the drastic aesthetic results a fat loss plan may yield for you with minimal scale change.
Let’s take a look at the below photo. This depicts one of our very own trainers. Would you believe us if we told you the scale number was the same in both photos? Well, it is. The difference lies in her body fat percentage. Through making some key nutritional changes in line with her strength training regimen, she was able to lose fat and gain lean muscle, resulting in minimal weight loss (as muscle is much denser than fat, thus occupying less space than an equal mass of fat).
The most effective way to gauge fat loss progress will be through body composition analyses. This data will give you a much better snapshot of your physical condition than the scale (InBody technology, water displacement method, Dexa scans, and the “bodpod” are all good methods that will spit out detailed information on your body fat to lean muscle mass ratio, basal metabolic rate, etc.). Once you have your initial data, you’ll have a much more sound and accurate method of measuring progress as your periodically check back in (be sure to use the same body composition measurement method for your check-ins to remain consistent). Consider a monthly loss of 0.5-1% to be solid, safe progress. Apart from those with more significant amounts of body fat to lose, a loss rate of more than 1% per month may indicate too large of a caloric deficit and warrants nutritional re-evaluation.
All that said, we understand that body composition metrics may be not be in the cards due to any number of reasons (cost, inconvenience, time, etc.). Before you go running back to the scale, consider back up methods: weekly progress photos or taking measurements are two simple and quick ways to track progress.
Results Take TIME!
In addition to understanding the difference between weight loss and fat loss, there seems to be a sweeping (and unhealthy) race to the finish line. Even if a 2-, 4-, 6-week crash diet leads to initial rapid weight loss, it’s likely been a loss of muscle and water (and keeping that weight off is borderline impossible). Past fostering an unhealthy relationship with food, training, and self-image, the rapid weight loss approach will also naturally lower your metabolic efficiency, which can be devastating for long-term success. As opposed to adopting an “eat less, workout more” mentality, think of it more as “properly fueling and effectively training.” It’s not going to happen overnight, but as long as you remain consistent, those lean results will come…and they’ll stay.