You hear it all the time: “I need to lose weight!”
And the instrument you use the most to track your progress – the scale.
But do you just want to lose weight indiscriminately?
The answer, if you haven’t already guessed, is a emphatic NO!
That’s because when a person decides to lose weight, they will usually go on a ‘diet’ and eat less so they weigh less.
However, your loss of weight can come in the form of fatty tissue or lean tissue (bone, muscle).
If you solely reduced your food intake and did nothing else, you will actually begin to lose muscle before you lose any fat!
From The Calorie Myth, by Jonathan Bailor:
“Studies show that up to 70% of the non-water weight lost when people are eating less comes from burning muscle – not body fat. Only after its cannibalized this muscles will our body burn body fat.”
The reason being when you have worked up the willpower to eat less, your body thinks that your environment is not yielding the usual amount of food. So it automatically goes into energy-saving mode similar to what your phone does when it reaches the last 10% in your mobile phone battery. It starts to shut down low-priority processes and functions to conserve the remaining energy so that you can make it to a charging station.
Your body does a similar act where it burns less energy in your day-to-day until you start to eat the ‘usual’ amount of food again.
To understand why your body does that, you need to understand that body fat cells are just storage units for energy to be used on a rainy day. They are actually very useful tissues, especially for survival purposes when food sources are scarce. Although, we haven’t had to worry about food supplies for the last 100 years or so but if you look at the timeline for the majority of the human species, food wasn’t nearly so abundant. Humans had to go on hunting trips for days while others went foraging for plant foods that were hard to find and in small quantities that were found in the wild.
By understanding how human biology evolved (from rough and challenging environments) we can see why having fat cells is crucial to human survival. But when we live in environments where food supply is abundant (urban centres), fat cells no longer have the same importance as it once did. But unfortunately, the human body has not evolved quickly enough to dispose of fat cells at will. The body still see’s them as backup energy reserves and will fight hard before relinquishing them. It will even throw in the metabolically expensive muscle tissues to be burned off for fuel rather than letting go of fat cells.
This is why exercise is such a key component in any ‘weight-loss’ program – or a better name ‘fat-loss’ program. A proper exercise program should include strength training as the primary objective since it is strength training that will retain muscle mass. When your body gets these repeated hits of strength training stimuli, it knows that it can’t get rid of the muscle tissues since they are being used in high intensity exercises.
Your body doesn’t know the difference between lifting weights in a safe and controlled gym environment or fighting for your life against an enemy intruder. All it knows is that muscle is needed for survival and so the priority is there to retain them.
As you’re eating less and doing high intensity exercises, the body now has no other alternatives but to turn to your fat cells to find energy. This re-wiring of your hormones can now grant access to the coveted energy supply, your fat cells, and now finally, we are making progress towards the goal we first set out to achieve.
This also means that as you lose fat, you may not be losing weight, especially if you are gaining some muscle – which is a good thing! Muscle is more dense than fat so it will weigh more than fat given the same volume.
That is why just looking at the scale in your bathroom can be so misleading of your efforts to get into better shape. It doesn’t tell the whole story!
So the next time you want to ‘lose weight’ or you hear someone who wants to, remember that it’s really fat loss that you’re after and your weight is NOT the most important factor.