Are you trying to lose weight?
Are you a coach or trainer trying to help your clients lose weight?
Are you getting frustrated by tiny changes in your weight, never making any real progress?
I have a very simple piece of advice for you. It is simple, but for most people it will seem counter-intuitive, like it makes no sense. That is understandable, because it is a strange thing to say, but hear me out.
If you are trying to lose weight, STOP TRYING TO LOSE WEIGHT.
Sounds ridiculous, right? How are you supposed to lose weight if you aren’t trying to lose weight?
Therein lies the problem. Such a single-minded focus on losing weight will almost certainly lead to self-destruction. What most people consider to be ‘losing weight’ is actually decreasing the amount of excess adipose tissue, or ‘fat cells’, in the body. To put it simply, focusing solely on losing weight does not work because fat is simply part of the very complex equation that is the human body, and to change one thing requires change in almost all other areas. When someone sets themselves the goal of losing 20kg, they are not factoring into the equation all the other factors that will ultimately determine how much weight is ‘lost’.
Losing weight is almost always the goal for two reasons; improve health and improve self-confidence. For a person that has these goals, if you were to show them a photo of someone like Ronda Rousey or a professional football player, they would likely say that they would love to achieve a body like that. So an athletic and healthy body is the real goal, rather than losing weight. Losing weight is obviously a significant part of achieving an athletic and healthy physique, but there are other factors, such as increasing lean muscle mass, that are vitally important and can have a huge effect on the amount of ‘weight’ you lose.
Forget the myth that resistance training (or ‘weights’) will make women look like men or make men look huge. That is an issue for another day.
Let’s get back to our person who wants to lose 20kg (we’ll call her Kate). With a proper training, health and nutrition plan run by an experienced and qualified coach or trainer, she will be doing a significant amount of resistance training, as it is now well-researched and known that resistance training is one of the most important and effective tools in your arsenal when it comes to weight loss. So, it makes sense that with resistance training there will be an increase in lean muscle mass. This is good, as an increase in lean muscle mass will encourage a decrease in adipose tissue (fat). I’ll spare you the science, as that is not the point of this particular piece, but it is important to remember that lean muscle mass is much more dense than adipose tissue. This leads to the phrase ‘muscle weighs more than fat’. If you have a chunk of muscle and a chunk of fat that are the same physical size, then the chunk of muscle will have the greatest weight.
Now, after 6-12 months of improving nutrition, training consistently with compound exercises and proper planning, eliminating negative lifestyle factors, and making great progress, Kate is feeling fantastic. She feels stronger, fitter, healthier, and sexier than she has ever felt before. Her shoulders don’t slump anymore and she stands tall and proud. Her waist is narrower, her midsection is firm, and she has the physique of her dreams.
Then she jumps on the scales and is heartbroken because she is only 15kg lighter than when she set her goal. She feels that she has failed and that she has not done enough. Kate is no longer thrilled with her results and is only focused on the number on the scale. There are two major problems with this attitude.
1. It is a huge misunderstanding of weight loss.
Remember what I said earlier about gaining lean muscle mass? Kate’s total weight loss was 15kg compared to when she started her weight loss journey, but that singular number is useless on its own. In this example, through her training Kate actually gained 10kg of lean muscle mass. That is great! That is strong, healthy tissue that we want the body to have. It is what has given Kate that great posture, her strength, and confidence in her new physique. So that means that Kate actually lost MORE than 20kg of fat. For Kate to have lost a total of 15kg while gaining 10kg of lean muscle mass, she would have lost 25kg of fat.
25kg of fat! That is a fantastic result that, when combined with her strength and muscle gains, has improved Kate’s life an indescribable amount. Kate has actually surpassed her goal by 5kg, rather than falling short by 5kg, and it is only a misunderstanding of the way the human body works that has left her feeling like she has not achieved her goal. When trying to lose weight you should not be focused on one single number, because one number does not paint the full picture. Of course, any half-decent coach or trainer would explain this to Kate and would be constantly reinforcing the message that she should be focusing on improving her life, rather than simply decreasing a certain number. The weight on the scale is not important. What is important are your strength, health, confidence, and quality of life, and these are the things on which you should be focusing. If you do this, the excess fat tissue will disappear by itself.
2. The number is not important.
The ridiculous obsession over numbers is infuriating to experienced health and fitness professionals. If you are trying to lose weight you need to ask yourself why you care about a certain number. Is it societal pressure? What you see on TV and social media should not be impacting your goals. Whether it is the number on the scales, clothing size, or waist measurement, it is not important. Every person is different, so you should not be comparing yourself to someone else. The focus should be on getting stronger, fitter and healthier than you have ever been. When I, and most other experienced professionals, are changing someone’s life for the better, there is no looking at the scales. The only number that matters is how many years you add to your life by improving your health and fitness.
Change the focus
Even if you start your health and fitness journey with the goal of ‘losing weight’, distance yourself from that goal. Don’t look at the scales. Checking the scales every week or every day will leave you stressing about incremental changes that are meaningless in the grand scheme of things, and can only serve to weaken your resolve. Focus on the process and learn to love the changes you make to your life. Enjoy working out, enjoy making positive changes to your nutrition, and set performance goals along the way. How many days in a row can you remember to have a drink of water before going to bed? How many days in a row can you eat the right amount of vegatables? How much faster can you perform that circuit in the gym?
Change the focus to the process rather than the endgame, and the endgame will be so much easier to reach.
Strength & Conditioning Coach