Many people decide to start exercising with the primary intent of losing weight, which is why we see a massive spike in gym memberships throughout the prior to the summer holiday season and New Year.
The fact that most of the people who sign up at these points in time will stop going after a few weeks or months, or rebound quickly afterwards to the same or greater weight tells an interesting story. It’s unfortunately often one of disappointment and a lack of results.
This, in part seems to arise due to a lack of understanding surrounding the mechanisms of effective, sustainable weight loss.
Most people understand that losing weight is something to do with calories.
Hopefully most of you also understand that on a fundamental level, in order to lose weight, we have to burn more calories than we consume over a period of time (week, month, year) in order to lose weight, i.e. we need to be in a calorie deficit – what eludes many, is the appreciation of the time and effort required to effect this change.
Often, the thought process goes something like this:
‘Exercise burns calories right? And I need to burn more calories to lose more weight, yes? So if I go to the gym and train, ill burn more calories and lose the weight won’t I?’
This holds up in principle, however, in practice there are a few pitfalls.
It has been shown that exercise alone typically results in <3% weight loss (Jakicic, 2009), which relates to 0.5-3kg in reality – so not much.
This is in part due to the fact that the amount of calories burnt per session is often far lower than we anticipate; most people probably struggle to burn 300-500Kcal in a session, and the often touted ‘afterburn’ effect is also much overstated (6-15% of the calories you burn in the session) so not much extra again.
Added to this, exercise often makes us hungry – and it is very, very easy to re-eat the 200-500Kcal you’ve just burnt in exercise back: a medium caramel latte contains about 250Kcal for example, and that is something that many consume daily and won’t satisfy your hunger much if at all. Hopefully this illustrates just how easy it can be to wipe out the calories burnt whilst training and go some way to showing why exercise alone may not be the most effective way to lose weight.
This doesn’t mean that there is no point exercising – exercise does burn calories, and the benefits extend far beyond the effects on scale weight into long-term health. In addition exercise has been shown to be very effective at helping maintain weight once lost!
Your Nutrition (what your eat AND drink) is a far more important factor to manage when it comes to weight management, with a combination of diet + exercise being the most effective.
Nutrition is the aspect that most people struggle with when they decide to lose weight, and that is because it is difficult to find a system that works for you and stick to it!
Research has shown that most people will underestimate the amount of calories that they eat by up to 30% if not more – the coffee example above may have opened your eyes to how easy this happens!
A 10% underestimation, that’s only 200Kcal/ day based on the average Female recommendation of 2000Kcal/day (which incidentally is fewer calories than that coffee above contained). This would be more than enough to cause weight gain/ inability to lose weight, especially over the course of 1, 5 or 10 years, let alone underestimating by 30%.
If your primary aim is to lose weight, you are likely to have to adapt your lifestyle to some degree to enable you to effect the change you want. It will probably involve a degree of restriction and there will be bumps in the road where you struggle to stay on track. But the key, if you really want to lose weight is finding the method that best suits you (where you don’t have to suffer too much and can still enjoy your life), and focussing on remaining consistent – that means when you fall off the wagon, you don’t just chuck your toys out the pram and give up. Accept that it happened, try to identify the reason that you went off course, adapt if necessary and try again.
A win-learn mentality (as opposed to win-lose) is necessary if you want to be able to get a result long-term.
It can, and probably will be a long process, and in order to retain a healthy relationship with food (which is absolutely essential when trying to lose weight) you need to be able to have a good system(s) in place to deal with life when it throws a curveball in there.
That’s often the challenge, but its one that can be mitigated by intelligent planning and preparation, this analogy is a nice way to think about the challenge of weight loss:
“We lose weight in pennies (exercise and diet) and gain weight in pounds (food), with the net result being to save (gain weight).” – Gregg Slater
The balance is stacked in favour of weight gain in our current food environment – it’s so easy to access lots of high calorie foods that are very rewarding (from a taste perspective) to eat, which makes the process of weight loss all the more challenging. Planning and having a system therefore becomes essential for success here.
Given all of this, if you can build a structure that incorporates your lifestyle choices, work and goals you will have a far higher chance of success, compared to just trying to copy a diet plan or philosophy that you’ve seen someone else have success with. The likelihood of your life being identical to theirs is slim, so its naïve to expect their methods to translate directly to you, taking this approach is the equivalent of having one set of directions, but two completely different starting points on the map– you are very unlikely to end up in the same place no matter how much you want to, and will probably get lost and frustrated along the way.
If you want to hear the story of someone who has succeeded in losing weight and keeping it off, Seth has very kindly recorded a short video that may help you, you can find this HERE.
If you need help finding your directions, feel free to ask or book a nutrition consultation to plan your individual approach around your specific requirements.
For a series of short nutrition presentations to help you to understand more, please join my Facebook group
MNU certified Nutritionist