The Problem with “Losing Weight”

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The Problem with “Losing Weight”

People are more concerned about their health and fitness than ever before and when asked about their goals, losing weight is typically at or near the top of the list. Since so many people are concerned with their health and actively trying to lose weight, you would think the percentage of overweight people would be decreasing, but the rate of obesity is still on the rise. There are many reasons for this, but one problem is people generally focus on losing weight, when they should be focused on losing fat.

You may be thinking that losing weight and losing fat are essentially the same thing, but while they are similar, they are definitely not the same. As you probably realize, losing fat means decreasing the amount of stored fat in your body, while losing weight means decreasing the amount of any number of substances in your body (fat, muscle, bone, water, etc.), many of which you don’t want to lose. Even though people primarily use the phrase ”losing weight,” they almost always really mean losing fat.

It makes sense to think in terms of losing weight instead of losing fat, because weight loss is easy to keep track of using only a scale, which most people already own. Monitoring your body fat is significantly more difficult and requires additional equipment and testing. Plus, some body fat tests are not very accurate and the ones that are reliable can be expensive, time consuming, and/or require a trained person to administer them.

Another reason people think primarily about losing weight is because the concept of weight loss is simpler than the concept of fat loss. Weight loss involves an increase or decrease in a single number (weight), while fat loss is usually measured in terms of a percentage (body fat), which is not numerically as meaningful to most people. Of course, society plays a large role as well, with almost every media source mentioning the term weight loss more frequently than fat loss.

Using the term losing weight as opposed to losing fat might sound like just a minor difference in vocabulary, but this apparently small variation can have a major impact on your ability to lose fat. The main problem is people understand that losing weight is different than losing fat, yet they still make the assumption that when they lose weight, all or at least most of the lost weight is from fat. As a result, it creates the mindset that weight loss equals fat loss.
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This mindset is very problematic, because it causes weight loss to be used as a direct measurement of fat loss. Since the scale is used to measure weight loss, people consider decreases on the scale to mean decreases in fat loss, yet these are often far from the same thing. By having this mindset, true fat loss becomes less and less important and the person’s actual goal becomes trying to lose weight and just get a lower reading on their scale.

Whenever your primary goal is just to get a lower number on the scale, it usually leads to making decisions that ultimately hurt your fat loss. There are many ways to lose weight and a lot of them result in losing more healthy weight (muscle, bone mass, etc.) than losing actual fat weight, but the scale can’t tell the difference between them. Also, approaches designed to maximize weight loss alone, especially quick weight loss, typically result in losing the highest amounts of the healthy types of weight being lost and have the lowest percentages of fat loss over the long run.

By only being concerned with losing weight, people don’t have to worry about having a well-rounded health and fitness program, which causes them to become overly focused on doing whatever they can to lose weight. This approach has caused many people to follow poorly designed weight loss programs that only result in short-term weight loss or yo-yo dieting, which often actually lead to increases in body fat percentage over time.

Probably the most common example of this problem is when people eat fewer and fewer calories as a way to stimulate weight loss. Everyone knows you have to consume fewer calories than you burn if you want to lose weight, so they assume the fewer calories they eat, the more weight and fat they will lose. If you do not know this already, the previous assumption is completely wrong. (See “Cutting Calories too much Prevents Fat Loss” for more information)

Excessively cutting calories and making other drastic changes to increase weight loss may lead to some significant decreases in weight at first, but much of this weight loss will be from water and it will come back as soon as you start eating more calories. In addition, this type of weight loss causes a decrease in muscle, especially if you do not exercise, which will decrease your metabolism and cause your body to burn fewer calories every day. This will also make it more difficult to lose fat in the future.

If you want to maximize fat loss, your primary goal cannot be just to lose weight. You have to find a balance between cutting calories and maintaining a well-balanced nutritional program including adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats, high-quality carbs, water, and other nutrients. Then you still need to exercise, getting enough rest/sleep, and minimizing your stress level. All of these things are important to keep your body functioning properly and help you maintain good overall health.

Taking this well-balanced approach may not result in as much weight loss as a program designed just to make you lose weight, but this slower approach will result in you losing a higher percentage and probably even a higher total amount of body fat. In addition, since this approach helps you maintain more of your good weight (muscle, etc.), you will be able to maintain your fat loss and continue losing even more fat in the future.

On the other hand, programs that only focus on losing weight generally end up sacrificing elements that are essential to long-term success and general health. Many weight loss programs do not provide enough calories or nutrients to maintain your metabolic rate, daily recovery ability, and immune system function. Eventually your progress will stop and your body will essentially shut down until you switch to healthier eating and exercise habits.

However, once you go off the weight loss program, you will probably gain much or all of the weight back, even if you start eating right and exercising. This is because the previous weight loss was not quality fat loss and these types of weight losses are not able to be maintained under normal circumstances. At the end of the day, the only weight loss that really matters is fat loss and the problem with just trying to lose weight is that it often results in losing the wrong kind of weight, which actually hurts your ability to achieve long-term fat loss.

About Ross Harrison 14 Articles

Hi, my name is Ross Harrison and I am a personal trainer in Austin, TX. I have been a certified personal trainer (NSCA) since 1996 and I am also a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), nutritional consultant, and I have completed numerous other courses and certifications over the years. I also have a degree in psychology from Grinnell College. Over the course of my career I have been an independent personal trainer working with  clients in their homes or various other locations, as well as a trainer at a large gym. I also have experience working in a privately owned health food store  and a large chain supplement store.

After almost a decade in the health and fitness industry, I became frustrated and discouraged by the way many personal trainers and gyms were so focused on making money, even at the expense of their client’s success. As a result, I decided the only way for me to feel good about being a personal trainer would be to start my own business. That way I could create my own policies and make sure I stayed true to what I believe a personal trainer should  be. Then in 2005, I did just that when I started my personal training business called Precision Health & Fitness.

I chose to name my business Precision Health & Fitness, because it accurately reflects the approach I take as a personal trainer. I believe personal training should be completely focused on the client and since every person is different, every program should be precisely designed to reflect that individual’s specific goals, needs, abilities, and lifestyle. I know many
personal trainers say this, but more and more trainers are just repeating the same programs with numerous clients or using tools, such as computer programs,  to self-generate “custom” workouts or nutritional programs for their clients. In my mind these are examples of mass-produced training programs, not personal training.

I also feel that many conventional personal training practices, such as making clients sign contracts, not allowing refunds for purchased sessions, and even paying by the hour, ultimately take the focus off the client’s needs. Therefore, I made the conscious decision to stay away from any policy or practice that I felt detracted from focusing on my clients, even though other people have told me I am limiting my income or discounting the value of my services too much.

For example, my clients pay session prices instead of an hourly rate. This may not sound like a big difference, but it means I can spend more time with my clients when they need it. Many of the people I work with are just starting to exercise or have never been taught proper exercise technique. By having a set time limit on my sessions, I can take the extra time to ensure my clients learning to perform exercises correctly. This not only ensures their safety, but also leads to more effective workouts and better long-term results. Of course, if a client has a set schedule or a limited amount of time, then I will make sure the workouts I create fit those time constraints.

Another benefit of not having timed sessions is it gives clients the opportunity to talk or ask questions about health and fitness or their workout routine. I have never been a big fan of trainers who take the “do it because I said so” approach to health and fitness. I encourage clients to ask questions and I believe that becoming more educated about exercise and nutrition and
learning how your actions affect your results is an important component of health and fitness programs. By making a link between your actions and your results, it will help motivate you to stick to your  program.

This is just one example of how I my business is focused my clients, but there are also other ways Precision Health & Fitness stands out from other trainers and gyms. For instance, I do not have clients sign contracts and they are free to discontinue their training program at any time. I even let my clients determine their own payment plan, which they can change at any time.
Some clients pay for a number of sessions in advance, some pay after each session, and some pay after they have completed a number of sessions. It is all about trying to make things as easy and convenient for my clients as  possible.

That is not to say the workouts themselves are easy, because every workout is designed to be challenging, so it will create a stimulus for improvement. At the same time, I never design workouts that are designed to make  people stiff and sore for a week or have trouble walking up stairs. I know some  people like those workouts because they think the harder they work, the better  their results will be, but that is only true up to a point. It is definitely  possible to exercise too hard or too much and excessively challenging workouts  are almost always counterproductive over the long-run.

When you really think about it, shouldn’t long-term health and fitness improvements be the goal of a personal training program? I believe that it certainly is, although I know there are people who would disagree with me. However, for the people who just want to push themselves as hard as possible regardless of the long-term consequences, there is not shortage of personal trainers who are willing to do just that. My background and personal experiences  have made me believe that long-term health and success should never be sacrificed for short-term gain and that is the philosophy I apply to my personal  training programs.

Speaking of my background and personal experiences, exercise and nutrition have both been very important parts of my life since I was young. When  I was seven, I developed a serious hip infection that destroyed the femur head  (ball that connects to the hip) in my right leg and left me with a fused right  hip. At the time I was told there was almost no chance that I would ever
walk again, but by working hard and keeping up with my exercises, I was able to regain the ability to walk and eventually allowed to play most sports and participate in almost any other activity I wanted.

However, even with continued exercise, I still experienced hip pain that increased over the years. Then when I was 30 I was finally old enough to get a total hip replacement, which resulted in an almost complete reduction in my pain, but I was also left with a new set of restrictions. Since hip replacements  wear out over time, it means the more stress I put on my hip by doing things  like playing sports or running, the sooner I will need a new hip replacement.  Needless to say, my activities have drastically changed since my hip replacement  and I no longer play sports, but I still exercise regularly to remain healthy  and stay in shape.

As for nutrition, it has played an equally important role in my life. When I was younger, I had very unhealthy eating habits, was overweight (or husky  as my clothes were called), constantly felt run down, and got sick frequently.  By the time I was 18 I was trying to eat healthier, but I had already caused my  body and immune system enough distress to be hospitalized for
pneumonia and I  developed a bad case of ulcerative colitis, which is an incurable intestinal  condition where treatment involves just trying to keep it in remission. Simply  put, I had a lot of health issues for a teenager.

Fortunately for me, I became more educated about nutrition and I made eating healthier a priority in my life. My improvements were not immediate, but over time my energy level increased and my immune system improved to the point where I rarely ever get sick anymore. Also I have been able to keep my ulcerative issues to a minimum just by eating healthy (it is generally kept in remission through medication) and by working on managing my stress level. Due to  my improved nutritional habits, I can easily say that I am far healthier and feel much better in my mid 30’s than I ever did as a teenager.

The reason I included all this information is because it explains what motivates me as a trainer and why I care so much about health and fitness. My personal history has also shaped my training philosophy and it is the reason why I always focus on the long-term outcome of a training program, instead just thinking about short-term improvement. It is also why I try to get people to shift their priority from what they can do to look better and think more about what they can do to make their body feel better throughout their lifetime.

If you eat healthy, exercise properly, and do other things that make your body feel better, you will be doing the same things you need to make your body look better. On the other hand, if your sole focus is on making your body look better, it does guarantee that your training program will make your body feel better years down the road. Workout programs that cause you to perform
exercises incorrectly, use poor posture, or develop muscle imbalances can still result in you looking better, but they can also lead to premature muscle and joint aches and pains years later.

It is completely natural to be focus on the present and the immediate future, but people frequently do not think enough about how they want their body  to feel in 20 or 30 years down the road, at least not until they start developing some health related problems. Personal training success is often measured my how much weight is lost or how much muscle is gained, but I believe that is not the best way to think about success. Even if you lose fat, if you are frequently sore or in pain, I would not consider that to be successful, except maybe if you are a competitive athlete or someone who is required to push  your body to the limit.

Personal training and health and fitness in general, should be about creating a better overall quality of life and not only about looking better. Of course, looking better is almost always a primary goal, but it should not the only focus of a program. I know from first hand experience how much of a positive impact a well-designed exercise and nutrition program can have on virtually every aspect of your life. All too often, people accept aches and pains as normal consequences of aging, but in most cases you can make a significant improvement in how you feel.

I want to leave you with a final thought, regardless of your current situation, you are capable of improvement and you probably capable of achieving much more than you might think. I wish you success in all your health and  fitness endeavors and please contact me at ross@precisionhealth-fitness.com  or (512) 537-3377 if you have any comments or questions.

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