This was the title of a rather depressing article in the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella Magazine which was kindly brought to my attention by a client. The journalist responsible investigated why dieters found it so difficult to keep weight off once they had lost it. After digging around a little I realised that it was actually an abridged version of an article first published in the New York Times at the end of 2011.
The article is depressing mainly because it offers those trying to lose weight little hope. The scientists who investigated how the body behaves after weight loss, conclude that while losing weight may be relatively easy, maintaining that weight loss is incredibly difficult.
New research points to changes in the body that occur after weight loss through a restricted calorie diet as being the reason why. These include hormonal changes which can last years, emotional responses to food after such diets and a reduced ability to burn calories in like for like activities pre and post diet.
After this exhausting look at the facts surrounding weight loss, the journalist concludes that the only route to losing weight and keeping it off is a boring daily calorie count (a cup of lettuce has 5 calories apparently) and an obsessive use of aerobic exercise (six or seven hours a week).
Is this really the only solution?
The first thing to say is that none of this information is particularly new. Most trainers who have had any experience of helping people lose body fat will tell you two things, it’s not about calories consumed and aerobic exercise doesn’t help in the long run, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Restricting calories will result in weight loss but that weight loss will be made up of both muscle and fat. Muscle is what you don’t want to lose because it burns calories as well as doing stuff like helping you move around.
So from the beginning you are setting yourself up for failure as the article rightly explains. You just adapt to living from fewer calories and metabolise what you’re not using, both from fat stores and muscle alike.
When you begin to eat normally you start to store fat as your body has adapted so well to living with fewer calories.
Aerobic exercise has many benefits but helping people to lose body fat is not really one of them. It burns calories sure but it also makes the body more efficient at the activity as part of the training effect.
In other words the first run you take will burn say 200 calories, but that same run 8 weeks later will burn fewer calories as your body has become more efficient at running. Hence the need for people to run more and more to keep the body fat from returning.
So what to do?
It’s actually quite simple and there is plenty of evidence out there to prove it, If only the Sunday Telegraph got off their arses to investigate a little instead of buying articles from the New York Times.
It’s about eating food that is as closet to its natural form as possible and following a long term resistance programme. Easy? Nope. Quick? Nope. Does it produce consistent measurable results? Yes.
Processed food in my experience and the experience of many of my colleagues has a much greater effect on body fat reduction than counting calories. It’s not calories that matter per se, but what makes up those calories.
Take, for example, an informal experiment we conducted a year or so ago with some volunteers using the elimination diet. The diet has just one rule, no processed food of any kind. The average weight loss over a month was 6kgs, with no change in exercise levels and no restriction on the amount of food eaten.
Resistance exercise is the only sensible long term exercise solution to controlling body fat. It results in an increase in muscle and so your capability to burn calories actually improves. It also exercises a greater number of muscles and can be more accurately directed and progressed.
In addition and perhaps most importantly, it helps us deal with force. This ultimately decides whether or not we will become injured and how well our bodies will tolerate the aging process.