— With New Year’s resolutions and fitness challenges well under way, fitness centers all over the nation are packed with motivated gym-goers eager to reach their new goals. At Factor X Fitness, my schedule has been jam-packed with initial assessments for our X-Factor Challenge participants who typically come armed with several questions. I’d like to address many of these common questions in this column over the next couple Sundays, starting with the ones below.
Question: I’m in a hurry to lose weight. Why do you recommend a slower, steadier pace for weight-loss?
Answer: Slower weight loss is better weight loss for a couple reasons. The first being that your metabolism is the most important tool you have to maintain or lose bodyweight. If you lose weight too quickly by means of a crash diet or too much exercise, your body needs to compensate by lowering the amount of calories used on its own each day. Using this approach, you can only force your body to respond for so long until it backfires (meaning your metabolism slows considerably) and you begin to gain weight back; only once you begin eating normally again, you now have a lowered metabolism leading you to gain back even more weight than when you started. When you lose it slowly, not only are you saving your metabolism, but you are able to have a diet that includes more healthful nutrients and keep a sane workout regimen as well.
Another reason, addressed in more detail below, is that muscle is desirable for losing weight even though muscle itself contains weight. Because of this, the initial net weight-loss effect will be less (note that I said weight loss, not fat loss will be less.)
Question: Why are you recommending only a small weight-loss goal and also recommending I gain muscle to lose weight? Are you nuts?
Answer: OK, I haven’t been asked that question quite in that way, but I’m certain some of my clients have initially contemplated saying it. Closely related to the previous question is why I tend to recommend smaller, short-term weight-loss goals than many would like to see. Yes, I’m trying to avoid anything extreme, but also because I recommend weightlifting and, hopefully, gaining a bit of muscle for many reasons, not the least of which is to burn fat. Along with that, inevitably, comes some actual weight. In fact, muscle tends to add weight to the scale right from the start. When you begin a weight-loss program, there is typically quite a few things causing you to both gain and lose weight which is why watching the scale too closely can be nerve-racking. Typically, immediate weight loss can be seen from water loss caused mainly by either consuming fewer carbohydrates or sweating more. At the same time, weight gain can be experienced from weightlifting simply because your muscles are now holding more glycogen, water and nutrients (the kind of weight you want). Keep in mind that none of these signals true fat loss or muscle gain, only a shifting of water and nutrients, which is not a permanent loss or gain anyway. Finally, after you have been following your program for a period of time, you may experience fat loss and muscle gain to varying degrees. So typically, what will happen when you first begin is you may see something like five pounds of muscle gain (or associated weight) and five pounds of fat loss, and the scale will basically reflect nothing despite making an impressive 10 pounds of improvement. As time goes on, the weight you gain from weightlifting quickly tapers off and your fat loss will continue aided by your new hard-earned muscle. This will then lead to that fit and slimmed-down look that tends to be the goal of weight loss; all done the healthy and sane way.
As you can see, weight loss itself should not be the true goal, but rather fat loss. Be patient with the scale going down and be content knowing that any added weight from muscle is not only making you stronger, healthier and more fit, but it is also helping you burn fat every single day.
Amanda May is a Factor X Fitness personal trainer. Reach her at AmandaMayFit@Gmail.com and Instagram.com/AmandaMayFit.