Alligators and Crocodiles.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
Weight loss and fat loss.
These things are basically all the same. But if you ask the right person, all of these things are totally different.
“Crikey! That gatuh is way deefrent than that there croc you crazy American, just look at that snout and all those razah shahp teeth. Gatuh for sure.”
And God forbid you give a dedicated Coke drinker some Pepsi. Thats basically equivalent to promising your 6 year old daughter a pony for her birthday, but then punching her in the back of the head instead.
And then theres weight loss and fat loss. Weight loss means you lost mass, doesn’t matter where or how. Fat loss means you lost FAT. Kinda the same, but extremely different. Let me ‘splain.
Weight loss occurs when you restrict calories and increase physical daily activity resulting in a reduction of your mass. Sounds great, but many times its not all its cracked up to be.
When you restrict calories, many people do one of three things. First, they’ll try to eat less and not really change what or how they eat. Instead of three pieces of pizza, it’s just two now. These might not be the healthiest calories, but it’s still less calories than what they would have normally eaten. Fewer calories hopefully equates to weight loss, but with unhealthier food options this doesn’t always work out quite as planned.
Second, they’ll pull a complete 180 and swap all their sugar laden and fried foods for grilled chicken and steamed veggies. These are the foods you should be eating more of for optimal health and they definitely aid in dropping weight. Unfortunately, a lot of times going cold turkey with unhealthy foods is like asking a smoker to do the same thing with their nicotine habit…its a fairly low success rate.
And third, you’ll have people who do both of these things combined. They start making healthier choices and consume even less food prior to their ‘health kick’. This can cause a sharp drop in daily caloric intake, maybe even too much so. When this happens, its not uncommon for you to feel like you’re starving 24/7, making you more likely to slip up when you treat yourself to a cheat meal. What may start off as one innocent cheat meal can morph into something much more calorically diabolical. Before you know it you’re spraying cheez whiz directly into your mouth in between bites of your double bacon cheeseburger, then washing it down with a triple thick chocolate milkshake.
Now ideally when you restrict calories, your body says to itself “Damn I’m hungry, but I’m not getting the volume of food I’m used to. Guess I better start eating away at these fat stores I’ve accumulated over the years to keep me going!”
Now thats what happens in an ideal world. Like in an ideal world, the Eagles will win their first Superbowl this weekend causing Cowboys fans worldwide to find another method of trash talking other than their safety net “talk to me when you’ve won a Super Bowl” line. We may have zero Super Bowl wins, but at least we’ve won more than 1 playoff game since 1997.
Anyway, getting back on track. Unfortunately weight loss doesn’t always happen this way. There’s a chance that restricting calories will cause fat loss (hooray!) but also cause some muscle loss (NOOOOOOOOOOO). This can be particularly true if protein intake isn’t sufficient (1g per lb of your ideal weight).
Muscle loss is NOT the goal when it comes to losing weight. As a matter of fact, it is flat out the opposite of what you want. Not only does muscle help you burn more calories during exercise and at rest, but it basically serves as a fountain of youth, making it easier to perform daily tasks, express strength, train harder, and so many other wonderful things.
But don’t let me scare you into thinking restricting calories will result in debilitating muscle loss. It’s when you combine it with lots of exercise that you can start to run into this problem. But not just any type of exercise. I’m talking about intense cardiovascular exercise.
Running for 30+ min straight.
Hour long cycling classes.
Group fitness classes where no dumbbell is heavier than 8lbs and you basically never stop jumping and dancing around.
I touched on the subject of low intensity long duration cardio before, and you can read that HERE, but here’s the gist of what I’m trying to get across.
Long duration, low intensity cardio will, without a doubt, increase your cardiovascular health and help you drop weight. But if done with enough frequency and intensity, it will also make you slower, weaker, aaaand eat away at your muscle to improve oxygen transport within your body.
Now, if you combine excessive long duration, low intensity exercise with calorie restriction, you’ve got a solid recipe for losing not only weight, but potentially muscle mass to boot.
And just incase you haven’t retained this point yet, let me bash you over the head with it one more time.
YOU. WANT. TO. RETAIN. MUSCLE. TISSUE. AS. BEST. YOU. CAN.
If not, this is where you can start to fall into a vicious habit of dropping weight, not quite looking how you want to, gaining some weight back, losing weight, not quite looking how you want to, gaining some weight back, etc.
HOW YOU ASK?!
The following visuals represent a 200lb male at the beginning of his weight loss journey.
Starting off at 200lbs, he’s a little fluffy, but that’s ok, he’s working on it. He’s gonna start restricting calories, hitting the treadmill and fitness classes hard and often, and dropping weight. This is good!
So over the course of 6 months, our imaginary male lost 26lbs which is awesome. That’s an average of just over 1lb per week. Nice, steady progress, which is exactly what you want to see when trying to lose weight. High five imaginary male!
He dropped 19lbs of pure fat but also took some friendly fire by losing 7lbs of muscle as well. This might not seem like a big deal, but take a look at the graphic again.
These charts (which represent body composition at the starting point, 8 weeks, 16 weeks, and 24 weeks later) didn’t…really change. What this boils down to is that while you’ll definitely look better because you’ve dropped weight, you might not have the ‘tone’ or ‘definition’ that many fitness enthusiasts crave.
Here’s where this becomes a pitfall for a lot of folks. Let’s say winter rolls around and our imaginary male falls off the healthy bandwagon. He gains some weight and jumps back up to 183lb. Well, now he’s starting off his weight loss efforts with 7lbs less muscle than the first time around. This is like challenging someone to a foot race but clamping a 25lb ball and chain to your left ankle first.
Now repeat the cycle of restricting calories and partaking in vigorous cardio. You’ll lose the weight again, but possibly some muscle with it.
Then, God forbid, you fall off the bandwagon again.
Repeat the cycle.
Lose weight, lose a little bit of muscle.
Repeat cycle with less muscle mass than before.
Go insane pondering why you can’t look the way you want and why this keeps happening.
This is precisely why I’m not a big fan of the term ‘weight loss’ and having people strive for that as a goal. All weight loss is not necessarily good weight loss, but for a lot of folks out there, its the sole measure of success when it comes to a fitness routine.
In Part II, I’ll talk about how shifting your mindset from ‘weight loss’ to ‘fat loss’ will truly lead to success when it comes to building a physique worthy of a Greek God. Plus, I’ll let you know how to get those body composition charts morphing in the way you really want them to.