If you’re waiting for a sign to ditch your restrictive weight loss plan for one that actually works, here it is.
For most people, losing weight can be very difficult, and with an endless number of weight loss methods to choose from, figuring out a plan that can lead to success is often overwhelming. Typically, the first approach many take is a restrictive nutrition protocol coupled with an unsustainable workout routine. While this approach can lead to quick short-term results, results are often temporary and burnout can come fast. To make meaningful change, long-term habits must be built into a realistic and sustainable approach to weight loss, as well as a strong understanding of body composition and metabolic health.
What is Weight Loss?
Seems relatively obvious, but it is common to assume that weight loss is equivalent to fat loss when, in fact, there are differences between both terms. “Weight loss” is a general term that refers to a reduction in total body mass, regardless of the type of tissue. “Fat loss” means a reduction in the amount of fat tissue in the body. Because muscle tissue is denser than fat tissue, this technically means an individual can lose weight by losing both muscle mass and fat mass, or by losing muscle mass and slightly gaining fat mass. Losing fat is typically the goal for most when it comes to body composition goals, but when paired with gaining muscle, total weight may actually stay the same. This is a main principle of body composition, or the relative proportion of different types of tissues in the body (fat, lean muscle, bone).
Weight loss factors: body composition and metabolism
Fat loss is driven by many factors, including nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress, and hydration, to name a few. It is also supported metabolically by the proportion of muscle tissue in the body. Muscle burns more calories than fat in a resting state. The higher percentage of muscle to fat, the more likely it is to burn excess calories at rest, which adds up over time. Carbohydrates are typically the first line of energy the body uses, however, when the body experiences a calorie deficit, fat may be released from fat cells to use as energy through a process called lipolysis.
According to many experts, building lean muscle mass is one of the important factors in a healthy body composition, and can significantly support metabolic health. To increase muscle tissue, enough force must be placed on muscle fibers to cause a microtears. Recovery, nutrition and adequate hydration are key factors in repairing fibers, which ultimately builds muscle mass over time. In terms of metabolic health, lean muscle mass contributes to metabolic flexibility, meaning the body’s ability to adapt to changes in metabolic demand, govern fuel sources and navigate insulin sensitivity. In the end, all of these factors contribute to the success of weight (fat) loss efforts over time.
Building a sustainable approach for long-term success
The first step in a weight loss journey is to set realistic goals. What is feasible to accomplish in a specific amount of time? This is where most people fall off course before they even begin. By placing unrealistic expectations, like “losing 30 pounds in 30 days” can lead to feelings of failure when the goal is not met. Also, what will be comprised of those 30 pounds? 10 pounds of muscle and 20 pounds of fat? Understanding what is possible for your unique body and lifestyle helps set appropriate expectations and keep you motivated along the way. Measuring body composition with DEXA scan can accurately estimate the proportion of fat mass to lean muscle mass in the body. Then, measuring resting metabolic rate can determine how many calories your body needs each day to lose weight through a moderate calorie deficit (emphasis on “moderate”). From there, a more detailed nutrition and exercise plan can be determined that will help move the needle on reducing fat mass and/or increasing muscle mass. For most, increasing muscle mass can lead to better metabolic health and consistent fat loss over time.
Finding and sticking to a sustainable nutrition plan and workout routine are also key in navigating weight loss. This is where restriction can steer individual off course, and often towards an unhealthy metabolic state over time. The common misconception about fat loss is that it can only occur under extreme calorie deficits caused by undereating and over-exercising. However, not fueling the body properly and not taking time to recover from workouts can cause stress in the body which can lead to fat loss resistance, as can lack of sleep and external sources of stress.
This is where mindset comes into play with weight loss. Learning to be realistic, patient, non-restrictive and able to manage stress are super powers for sustainable body recomposition and weight loss over time. Of course, positive reinforcement never hurts: measuring your body composition over time with repeated DEXA scans can give you solid evidence that your new lifestyle is leading you towards your goals. If not, tweaks to nutrition or exercise protocols can be made fluidly that can steer you on the right course. Either way, cultivate a balanced mindset around your approach to weight loss, knowing you do not have to stick to a stressful, restrictive plan. You just might find that your results come quicker than you anticipated.