Ongoing weight change study
The title of this sounds promising, but it’s just my observations over the past few years and, in particular, the last few weeks. I make a habit of changing my body composition regularly. Not in some magical shape changing manner but rather by controlling food and exercise. I can’t make myself look like a squirrel, for example, but I can pick up or drop a couple dozen pounds when I put my mind to it.
The observations I’ve gleaned are that weight loss (and gain) is primarily dependent on food. Quantity and type, although principally the caloric intake. I’d love to see a Biggest Loser show that focused instead of exercise on just people eating less. I’ve had a few people close to me over the years that developed the discipline and support structures necessary to eat properly for their goal (weight loss) and shed significant weight (40 – 100 pounds or more). Some of them even did this without exercise, which would take a lot of the fun out of the Biggest Loser.
Does exercise speed weight loss up? Yes and no. It helps to build and retain muscle, which will slow weight loss but make a body healthier. It also strengthens bones and makes them more dense, another potential weight gainer (and something healthy). All in all, exercise is a good thing and the benefits outweigh the perceived penalties. But it isn’t necessary.
Case in point, I spent close to the last three weeks unable to work out. This was due to a ridiculous work schedule or other activities that prevented me from getting to the gym. Very disturbing for me, but surmountable. What surprised me was that my weight over these three weeks continued to go down. I was 214 the other morning, meaning I’d lost roughly one pound a week. Yay me, right?
I went back to the gym this past weekend and wow was my strength shot to hell. I was able to bench 275lbs for 7 – 8 reps (4 sets). This time around I worked up to 275 and managed 7 reps, then 3, then 4, then I stopped. 3 sets only, shame on me. Hopefully some of it has to do with my CNS needing to be retrained, but without exercise to retain muscle, in a hypocaloric state the body wants to get rid of muscle and retain fat.
Why? The body thinks it’s starving (it is), so it seeks to eliminate that which causes extra calories to be burnt (muscle) and retain the stored energy (fat) for when things really get rough. The mirror echoed my fears, but already since I’ve been back in the gym I’m seeing things reshape themselves properly.
The moral of the story? If you want to lose weight and don’t care if you look skinny-fat, then just control what you eat. If you want to look good while doing it (or when you drop the weight you want to), incorporate exercise into the process. Likewise, if you want to put on some weight most of us want to add muscle and a good shape, rather than flab – that is done via exercise and eating more of the right kinds of food.
It’s not a secret, it’s just not popular. We want a magic solution, not another reason why we have to be in control and use our willpower. We’ve only got so much willpower we can tap into every day and fighting traffic, work, and kids leaves us to drained to fight the urge to grab a pizza or fast food on the way home for convenience sake.
There are some medical cases where things are messed up. By things I hormone levels, which could include the thyroid, pituitary, adrenals, kidneys, or the sex glands (testes / ovaries). That’s a minority case, by far, but it’s no less real or frustrating. Fortunately we have modern medicine and with determination a person can find a doctor who knows what they are doing and can help. Have patience, most doctors are ignorant, uneducated, or worse when it comes to hormones in men or women. There are some great ones out there, just keep looking.
For everyone else I say suck it up. Nobody makes life better for us but ourselves. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but the sooner we remember to stop justifying defeat and accept responsibility for what we do to ourselves, the sooner our lives get better. Most importantly, it’s not a lesson learned only once – I keep saying “us” and “we” because we all slip from time to time and need a reminder. Why else would I have spent three weeks losing muscle instead of fat?