Got Muscle? The Trainer’s Secret on How to Lose Weight… and Keep it Off.
It seems as though we are confronted with the issue at every turn. We are bluntly reminded almost daily how fat we have all become and how our children face serious health challenges due to obesity. And the problem, like our waistlines, is growing worse every day. Today, better than two-thirds (69%) of all Americans are either obese or overweight with a whopping one third (35%) considered clinically obese!
One good thing about all of the media attention to the “obesity epidemic” is, it is at least prompting a response. People are thinking about it more and are becoming more focused on wanting to get fit. The negative side of all of this attention is that it has opened a big door for snake oil salesmen and hucksters. The airways are flooded with infomercials touting advice from fitness gurus as they pedal all manner of “fast and easy” programs, gadgets and gizmos. If we’ll just buy the new “Pedal-Spring-Cam-lock / Slant-Pulley-Rocker” device, along with the ten-part CD and accompanying workbook, we’ll get six pack abs and “buns of steel.” Of course, there is always the small print included that points out that results shown are not typical, and weight loss is guaranteed, so long as you use the equipment in combination with a reduce calorie diet, etc.
Sadly the truth is, many of us are obese and many children now face unprecedented life threatening conditions that they should not be facing. Conditions that were once rare in children are becoming common. Diabetes, gallbladder disease and obesity-related sleep apnea are all on the rise in children. More than sixty percent of children today have at least one serious risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, or high blood lipids.
As a retired fitness professional, I have mixed feelings about the promotional pitches that I see for so many commercial fitness products and programs. I’m happy that there is more concern about our lack of fitness, but I am disturbed by all of the hype and misinformation. Most of the things marketed are really quite ridiculous, and the people and companies that pitch them—if they really do know anything at all about physiology, nutrition, or fitness—should be ashamed.
A variety of methods for losing weight, for example, are constantly being promoted. Unfortunately, most of these methods are ineffective and short-lived at best, and some, at worst, are downright dangerous. The fact is, weight loss is not the most important issue here, and it should not be the goal. For most Americans, the loss of fat is what is and should be important.
When it comes to the popular methods for becoming fit (and this includes nearly all of the gadgets that you see on television and most of the better-known weight loss programs and diets), they completely miss the mark. What these programs and gadgets usually end up accomplishing is a pattern of failure for the user because the methods used are not based upon sound physiological principles and correctly applied fitness training methods. What usually ends up happening is that the person participating, while maybe ending up with a net loss in overall weight, actually loses the wrong kind of weight. This is because nearly all of these popular programs focus on aerobic exercise alone, along with calorie reduction. For most Americans, this is a formula for eventual failure.
How can this be? Haven’t we all been told by the experts that what we all need is more exercise and less food? The answer is: if you follow the formula of just cutting calories and doing repetitive type exercise, yes it’s true, you will lose weight. The problem is, most of it will be a loss of lean body mass—muscle, not fat. If you think about it, when all is said and done, your concern should not be how much you weigh, but how you feel and how you look.
To understand how all of this works, it is important to have some basic understanding of human physiology, and in particular, metabolic function. The key thing to remember is that muscle is what burns most all of the calories in your body. In fact, per gram of body weight, at rest, muscle tissue burns about ten times as many calories as fat. In the long run then, the more important factor in determining the rate at which your body burns calories when it is at rest–what is known as your resting metabolic rate—is how much muscle it has. The more lean body mass (muscle) that you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate. More muscle means more calories are being burned while you are just sitting around, doing nothing.
The problem with most diets and/or diet and exercise programs is that they simply focus on cutting calories alone or dieting along with non-resistance type, aerobic exercise. This does very little in the long run to affect resting metabolic rate because it does nothing to retain or increase your overall lean body mass. In fact, it almost always reduces your percentage of lean tissue, causing your resting metabolic rate to become lower. You end up having to cut calories even more just to stay even, because your body now requires fewer calories to survive.
This is why long distance runners are always skinny, as opposed to sprinters, who are always muscular. The marathon runner is in excellent aerobic condition, but he has very little muscle mass. He may burn plenty of calories when he running a race, but when he isn’t, he’d better eat like a bird or “love handles” will start growing with every extra bite of food. On the other hand, the sprinter, because of his high volume of muscle, burns an extraordinary number of calories while he is running, but he also burns many more calories than the long distance runner does when at rest. Generally speaking, he can afford to eat more all the time, without gaining an ounce.
When a person loses weight by way of the diet and aerobic exercise route, they simply go from being a big fat person, to being a little fat person. Yes they weigh less, and yes, they have lost some fat, but they have lost more lean tissue too, which is counter-productive. They now have a lower resting metabolic rate, so they have to keep their calories drastically reduced. With fewer calories, they now have even less energy than before, so staying on their exercise program becomes more difficult. Their overall nutrition is usually compromised, so their immune system becomes likewise compromised. Now, they get sick more easily, and more often.
The end result of all this is that even though the person now weighs less, they have become less healthy and feel bad. They then do what most people do when they feel bad: they start eating more! This is what causes the “yo-yo” effect that most people who have tried the more traditional weight loss methods are familiar with. They keep weight off for a while, than gain it back. Often, they end up worse off, and their percentage of body fat is even higher than before.
This, then, is the reason why so many of us really are obese. What we have been sold by the fitness gurus in the infomercials and what we have been taught about fitness in most all of the weight loss programs, is either ineffective or completely wrong.
The only way to effectively lose fat (not just weight) and keep it off is to reduce the percentage of body fat and increase our resting metabolic rate by retaining what muscle we have and adding whatever muscle tissue we can over time. And the only way to do this is to include progressive resistance anaerobic strength training (weight training) into our exercise regimen.
If you want to lose fat and keep it off for good, add progressive resistance anaerobic weight training to your fitness routine; you’ll be amazed at what good old “pumping iron” will do to enhance your overall level of fitness. You’ll keep what lean muscle you have, add some new, and lose fat—and the best part is, you won’t have to eat like a bird to keep it off!
A Word about BMI (Body Mass Index)
One of the most common scales used by the medical community in determining whether or not a person is “overweight” or “obese” is by calculating your BMI or Body Mass Index. Essentially, it is a number that represents the ratio of one’s height to weight. In some formulas, a person’s age is also considered in the calculation.
According to broader medical community a BMI from 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal. A BMI of more than 25 is considered overweight and a person is considered obese if their BMI is above 30. Severely obese is anyone with a BMI above 40.
The problem with using the BMI as the primary indicator of fitness is, it cannot show whether or not someone’s weight “problem” is due to a higher percentage of body fat, or muscle. In fact, since muscle is denser and weighs more than fat, someone with greater muscle mass and little body fat will often be determined to be obese, when they really are the exact opposite.
To illustrate my point, consider a relatively short man that weighs almost 200 pounds—194 to be exact. When we enter that height and weight into the Stanford Healthcare website’s “BMI Calculator,” this is what we are told:
Your BMI falls into the obese range. You’re not alone. Over 45 million Americans have a BMI above 30, just like you do. Obesity can lead to serious medical issues like type 2 diabetes and hypertension. You should take steps to lose weight in order to avoid these obesity-related conditions. Call the Stanford BMI Clinic at 650-736-5800 to learn more about our comprehensive bariatric surgery and medical weight loss programs.
Aside from height and weight, no consideration has been made in this case of the person’s actual level of fitness. What is this subject’s percentage of body fat? Is this person really not only overweight but well into the range of “obese,” as the experts at Stanford have indicated here?
So, while BMI can be used as one indicator of fitness for many “average” Americans who lead primarily sedentary lives, a better way to determine whether you are overweight is to measure your actual percentage of body fat. In the mean time, I recommend assessing how you feel and how you look. Just standing in front of the mirror with little or no clothing on will probably tell you just about all you need to know!
How to Lose Weight the Right Way
The typical traditional weight loss scenario goes something like this:
- Bill starts at 200 lbs at 30% body fat. This means Bill has 140 lbs. of lean (muscle) body mass, and 60 lbs. of fat.
- Bill’s goal is to lose thirty pounds. He goes on a diet.
- After a few months, he has lost 30 lbs. He now weighs 170 lbs. He has done it mainly by cutting calories.
- Bill is still 30% body fat. He now has 119 pounds of lean mass, and 51 pounds of fat.
- Bill has lost only 9 lbs. of fat, and 21 lbs. of muscle!
- Resting metabolic rate lower = less calorie burned at rest.
- Must continue to restrict or reduce calories to avoid weight gain.
- Energy level declines due to lack of calories. Exercise becomes difficult.
- Immune system compromised. General fitness, health and wellbeing declines.
- Bill begins to eat more in order to feel better again. Fat is gained. Fat % increases.
FAT loss program including Progressive resistance Training:
- Bill starts at 200 lbs at 30% body fat. Has 140 lbs lean mass, and 60 lbs. fat.
- Bill wants to lose 30 pounds, but focuses on building more muscle by doing weight training. Bill’s progressive resistance training adds muscle.
- After a few months of training, Bill has lost 30 lbs. He weighs 170 lbs.
- But, because Bill worked to retain and build muscle, he is now 10% body fat, instead of 30%. His body fat is only 17 lbs, and his lean body mass is 153 lbs.
- Bill has gained 13 lbs of muscle, and LOST 47 lbs of fat!
- Resting metabolic rate higher = more calories burned at rest.
- Bill must INCREASE calories to feed lean muscle—without weight gain!
- Bill’s energy level is higher. Exercise is now “fun.”
- Bill’s immune system is strengthened. His general fitness, health, and wellbeing is greater.