How to Lose Weight (and keep it off!)
As a personal trainer, I’d say the number one goal I hear on a daily basis is weight loss. Most of us are seemingly chasing that goal in one way or another, whether it is 100lbs, 20lbs, or 5lbs (which, fun fact, doesn’t really exist).
Going about weight loss can be done one of two ways.
It can be done the unhealthy way, where you push your body to its limits and beyond to elicit the change you want to see, and then gain back the weight (and then some) as a repercussion to your actions.
Or, it can be done the healthy way, which is much slower, but also more sustainable in the long run, especially if your intent is to keep the weight off for good.
Most of the diet culture advice in the media is geared around the first option: do cardio for an hour a day, eat 1200 calories, and boom, you’ll hit your weight loss goals. The only problem is that while yes, this may work in the short term, the after effects will likely haunt you for years to come (speaking from experience here!).
When we do tons of cardio to elicit weight loss, we may see the number on the scale go down, but that won’t tell us if we are losing fat (good) or muscle (BAD). Less muscle on our bodies means our metabolism slows down as well. Living in today’s society means that we need an efficient and fast metabolism to counteract such a sedentary culture surrounded by plentiful processed and packaged foods. Plus, our bodies are super smart. They will adapt to cardio VERY quickly, meaning that the 1 hour walk on the treadmill you enjoy every day will not always burn you the same amount of calories each day. It will get lower and lower as your body becomes more efficient. (Also, side note, the calorie estimates on cardio equipment are grossly inaccurate and shouldn’t be trusted)
When we lower our calories to 1800 calories or less, we are essentially slowing our metabolism in the same manner. This means we have nowhere to go when we want to cut calories a bit to elicit change. If you are only eating 1200 calories, you can’t dip much lower without causing severe consequences!
With weight loss, our goal needs to be to build as much muscle as possible to a) burn more calories at rest (which muscle does) and b) increase our metabolism. These two things coupled together are what create lasting weight loss and change.
Now the real question is: how do we accomplish this? It comes down to a few factors: strength training, diet, sleep, and stress.
Resistance training must be at the top of the list with a goal of weight loss. Building muscle mass is critical to keep our metabolism high and allowing us to burn more calories at rest. Plus, we also get what is known as the “after burn” effect after we finish a strength workout where we will continue burning calories from that workout for up to 24 hours after. This doesn’t happen with cardio. You burn the calories you burn and you’re done. Strength training 2-3 times per week is a great place to start, focusing on multi-muscle movements (squats, lunges, pushups, and rowing variations). Unsure of where to start? Hire yourself a personal trainer, even if for just 4 sessions. They can teach you so much if you pay close attention, ask questions, and do what they say!
The “diet” I’m referring to here is not so much a diet as much as it is a food template/lifestyle we need to adopt. Focusing on real, whole foods like I talk about all the time is the best way to elicit change on our bodies. Why? Because real foods give us the nutrients we need to fuel our body properly. These nutrients include both macronutrients (calories from protein, fat, and carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Contrary to popular belief, calorie counting and restriction isn’t always the goal. Who wants to eat 1200 calories of prepacked bars and shakes when you can eat 2000 calories of real, whole food and see BETTER results?! Real food nourishes us on a deeper level, balances our hormones, reduces inflammation, supports good mental health, promotes deeper sleep – the list goes on and on. I’ll reference you to my PFC Balanced post for more specifics.
If you are not sleeping, you will not hit your weight loss goals. Period. End of story. Sleep is when our body reprograms and resets for the next day. It plays a key role in all aspects of our health, and must be a priority. Making sure your room is completely dark at night, avoiding electronics (phone and tv) 1-2 hours before bed, drinking calming tea (chamomile), and spending time relaxing before bed are my best tips to a good night’s sleep. Plus, working on blood sugar regulation through PFC balanced eating will make a huge difference too!
Excess stress promotes weight gain around our midsection as our bodies work to protect us from perceived danger. Stress can come at us from so many different angles: finances, relationships, food, lack of sleep, too much/too little exercise, environmental toxins, traffic, kids, anxiety/worrying, etc. We might be able to handle some stress, but the problem arises when we have too many stressors coming at us all at once. Our bodies simply can’t handle it all! Even if you think you have a handle on your stress, if you are holding onto extra weight around your midsection that won’t budge, I’d encourage you to think again. Taking time to just “be,” building stress reducing activities into your schedule (massage, walking outside), or trying yoga or acupuncture can go a long way in helping your body reset. Even something as simple as taking 3 deep belly breaths can help too!
Of course, there are so many other nuances to consider, but the fact remains that you must address these big rocks first before you even consider any other options (fat burning supplements/coffee/tea – I’m looking at you and your BS!). A healthy body will naturally lose weight. An unhealthy body will not. Support your body on this journey. Fuel it right, not with artificial foods or low-calorie processed products. Sleep. Reduce stress. And you’ll find yourself on a much better and healthier path towards your goals!