How many times have you heard someone say, “I need to lose some weight”? Maybe you’ve even said this in the past. Maybe you’ve said this recently.
It’s a pretty common statement.
But, did you know there’s such a thing as good weight loss and bad weight loss? That’s right, not all weight loss is created equal.
What’s the difference?
The Bad Way to Lose Weight
The term weight loss is a reference to the change in one’s total body mass. All of it, the lean mass (LM), the fat mass (FM), water, etc. Weight loss is therefore deemed successful if/when the number on the scale goes down.
But isn’t that a good thing? It can be for sure. It can also be misleading. Let’s examine a common approach to weight loss.
- do a sudden, massive reduction in calorie intake via “fasting, salads, and meal replacement shakes
- do lots of cardio
- do very little weight training or lift very little weights for a whole lotta reps
This approach does not consider the importance of one’s lean body mass (LM). In fact, there’s no real effort to maintain or increase LM using the plan above. Understanding your LM and how it can work for you is a game changer for weight loss, long term health, and looking your best.
Let’s look at an example. Susie is a 47-year-old mother of 3 who wants to lose some weight. She decides to double up on her walking and elliptical work. She also has some purple 8lb DBs in the basement she’ll use for “toning”. Lastly, she gets “serious” about her nutrition and decides to fast each day until 1pm. She’ll break her fast with a small salad. And for dinner she’ll have another salad and perhaps 3oz of salmon or chicken breast.
First, it’s highly likely that Susie is going to lose some weight! In fact, she’ll probably lose weight rather quickly (assuming she doesn’t completely give up 2 weeks into this nightmare).
Deprivation aside, Susie is not doing anything to preserve her current LM. The short-sided success Susie will see is setting her up for long-term failure.
Most likely, Susie will lose the 10-15lbs she wants to lose. She will probably feel pretty good about it too. However, she’ll slowly begin eating more over time. Everyone eats more over time, it’s normal and “dieting” phases aren’t meant to last forever. As an aside, the term “dieting” is a bit misleading and implies one is trying to lose weight. In reality, we are always “dieting” because we’re always eating. The term “cutting” would be more appropriate.
Suzie’s weight will creep up, and she’ll eventually feel compelled to lose that same 10-15lbs once more. Susie will probably repeat the diet plan above. She knows it works! Over time, however, Susie is losing valuable muscle mass (her LM is shrinking). She’s losing valuable muscle mass that keeps her metabolism going, her body functioning, and her confidence high. Suzie will also be burning less and less calories over time so she will also have to diet harder and harder to lose those same 10-15lbs year after year.
What’s worse, Susie’s fat mass is actually increasing. Susie is making no real attempt to keep this from happening either. By ignoring what needs to be done to preserve her LM, she’s passively accepting an increase in FM.
How do I know?
- Susie isn’t lifting heavy weights?
- Susie isn’t eating 1.6-2g of protein per 1kg. of body mass?
- Susie is “crash dieting”!
The list above is a great recipe to become less muscular and more fat over time. Susie’s FM is growing even if her total weight stays the same! Over the next 5 years Susie’s body will change significantly… but not in the ways she wants it to.
- Crash dieting in the absence of heavy weight training and adequate protein intake is a great way to lose lean body mass!
- Letting your intake creep back up to surplus levels in the absence of heavy weight training and adequate protein intake is a great way to get fat(er).
Do you see what’s happening? A lot of people inadvertently fall into this loop.
The Good Way to Lose Weight
A better way to go about this process is to set your goal (let’s stick with 10lbs lost in 12 weeks). Once you have your goal, focus on the following:
- a small calorie deficit (about 250 calories per day)
- a designated daily protein intake (1.6-2g of protein per 1kg of bodyweight works nicely)
- lifting heavy weights 3x per week (barbells are best here, focus on squats, presses, and pulls)
- walking 30 min each day @ a brisk pace
Will you lose some LBM on this plan? Yes, we always gain both lean mass and fat mass when gaining and we always lose both lean mass and fat mass when cutting. The trick is to do what you can to tip the scale in your favor (gain mostly muscle, lose mostly fat).
You should work (very) hard to maintain / increase your LM because more LM:
= more metabolism
= more strength
= more food (even when dieting)
= a happier, fitter you!
This January most of the country will be going on a diet. If that’s you, make sure you’re doing it right.
Focus on fat loss rather than weight loss!