Back to Fitness: Weight Loss Takes Time

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By John Andersen

To some of you, this is not an issue. Through a combination of an active lifestyle, healthy eating habits, and favorable genetics, you’ve been able to maintain a healthy body weight.

But to many, weight loss seems a consuming and impossible subject, and through the same combination of lifestyle, eating habits, and genetics, you may currently find yourself far from your ideal body weight.

Discussing weight is a very touchy subject. It is far too easy to compare ourselves to others and feel inadequate if our body doesn’t look like that of a runway model or movie star.

So, let’s first dispel any notion that there is a specific body mass index or fat composition that is a reflection of perfect health. Who is healthier, someone with 10 percent body fat (very very thin) but who smokes and drinks and does not exercise, or someone with a 30 percent body fat who exercises regularly, doesn’t smoke, and has healthy eating habits? The answer is obvious, yet we do tend to focus so much on waist size and weight.

However, we also have to realize that body weight is important. A healthy body weight often (but not always) reflects a healthy, active lifestyle. I am not suggesting that everyone should weigh the same as they did in their 20s. However, if you currently weigh 40 or 50 pounds more than what you did in your 20s, I think it is okay to say that is a problem. I think it’s okay to say that being obese is not consistent with a healthy active lifestyle. More so, I think it’s important to realize that being significantly overweight and out of shape is limiting your potential to be the best “you” that you can be.

Carry around a 40-pound bag of mulch. It’s hard work! And it makes exercising very hard!  Frankly, the more overweight a person is, the harder their journey back to fitness is going to be. It can be very overwhelming and seemingly hopeless in finding where to start.

In a world of South Beach Diets, recovery milk shakes, and 6 Minute Abs, there is sadly so much confusing and misleading information on the best ways to lose weight. And to make this all seem even more frustrating, our bodies are incredibly efficient machines!

Let me illustrate this. One of the pinnacle endurance events is an Ironman triathlon: 2.4 miles of swimming, followed by 112 miles of cycling, followed by 26.2 miles of running. On average, a person completing an Ironman in a “middle of the pack” time will burn somewhere around 8,000-10,000 calories for the event! So if we take into account the fact that these athletes will often eat around 3,000 calories during the event, how on earth does our body come up with the other 6,000 calories??

The answer is in our body’s energy stores. For the well-trained triathlete, there may be approximately 2,000 calories in the form of stored glycogen in the muscle and liver. So that leaves about 4,000 calories unanswered. These would come from fat stores. Fat is a very efficient energy source for our body, so much so that one pound of fat can fuel us for approximately 3,500 calories, according to conventional calculations.

So, taking all of this into account, someone going out and completing an Ironman, 170 miles of human-powered motion, may expect to lose only just over 1 pound of fat. That sure can make the 2-mile walk you were planning seem fairly pointless as a way to lose weight.

But it is most definitely not!

I illustrate the Ironman case above just to show that we need to be realistic with ourselves when we consider the best ways of losing weight. Contrary to claims by the diet books or weight loss nutrition products, weight loss is a very slow process. And as much as exercise is a critical part of that process, it is certainly not the main driver of the weight loss. That role goes to your nutrition.

Changing your diet is the main way to lose weight, but starting an exercise program will further inspire you to keep up a healthier diet, and when you start to gain fitness, you will actually want to exercise more, and then in turn continue to eat better, and then in turn start losing weight! It is a wonderful cycle.

So where to start?

1) You need a goal. Only you can decide where you are and where you want to be. Create a goal, and as scary as it might sound, share it with somebody. Your friends and family will most likely be amazingly supportive and encouraging if you’re willing to share your goals.

2) Assess and change your diet and eating habits. Seek a professional if needed. Avoid sugar like the plague. Avoid processed foods. Don’t drink soda, sports drinks, juice, or even diet soda. Drink water.

3) Start a regular exercise program. As a start, find a way to give yourself one hour, four to five times a week. Walk. Run. Cycle. Swim. Just move. Get outside.

Remember that your current weight and fitness status has absolutely nothing to do with your self-worth. You are important and of high worth no matter where you are in your journey!  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about getting healthy and fit. You’ve got one life and one body. Take care of them!

(Note:  All calorie amounts described here are rough estimates based upon current knowledge of exercise physiology. However, one thing we know is every person is different! The numbers provided above are simply to paint an “average example” of calorie expenditure in an endurance event.)

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