22 May Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss
Bar none, the most common question I get asked as a personal trainer is, “What’s the best way to lose weight?” I hate this question with a passion.
While I love how TV shows like The Biggest Loser have highlighted our obesity epidemic and inspired people to start exercising to become healthier, I dislike how these shows have also created a psychological paradigm shift away from fitness towards an ironically unhealthy emphasis on “weight loss”, with the most important measure of success being numbers decreasing on a scale week after week. The term “weight loss” has been engrained into our vernacular so much that most people have lost sight of their intention when they say they want to lose weight. What’s frustrating is that I’ll hear comments like, “I’ve lost several inches off my body and my clothes are feeling looser, but the weight just isn’t coming off. What am I doing wrong?” It’s comments like this that make me feel like I’ve failed as health professional in educating clients about the important markers of health.
I work in the health and fitness industry, not the make-people-skinny industry. I try my best to explain like I’ve done hundreds of times that fitness is not about numbers on a scale, or how you look. We can worry about that stuff later. First, let’s work on regaining functional movement, because if you’re focusing on weight loss when you’re having trouble getting up and down off the floor, you need to re-think your priorities. Besides, we need to get you to a baseline of adequate movement if you want us to give you the most effective exercises possible to achieve your goals. Next, let’s strengthen your cardiovascular system, because what’s the use of “looking good” if you’re out of breath from walking up the stairs and prone to having a heart attack? Finally, once you’ve earned the right to start thinking about how to improve the way you look, instead of thinking about vaguely “losing weight”, tell me you want to improve your body composition (BF%) instead, which will change the shape of your body like you want. Otherwise, you’ll be the unfit “skinny-fat” person at the beach, which is not a good look.
The typical response I get to all this is, “Well, it’s different for females; seeing the numbers go down is important for us. I know weight isn’t important but…” No, stop right there. That “but” indicates that you really don’t understand. Please, please, PLEASE stop focusing on weight, and start focusing on the aforementioned health markers.