For weight loss that lasts, play the long game, and don’t rely on diet alone.
Believe it or not, we're now three months into 2018, and it's at this time in any new year that many will begin to assess the results of their new year's diet and exercise endeavours. But eagerness to start the year on a journey of change can often lead to over-ambitious goal setting, and falling short of these could be the reason why many give up around now. But if you find yourself at this place, don’t lose faith just yet - all is not lost, and the past three months of work could well have laid the foundations for better things to come, even if the scales don’t match your expectations just yet. If you really want to make this year’s resolution stand the test of time, read on.
Don’t base your expectations on those before and after pics.
We've all seen them: the before and after pictures that headline the websites and image sharing accounts of body transformation coaches, personal trainers and social media fitness icons; those images that show ordinary people seemingly transformed from being over-weight to lean and athletic in a matter of weeks. And although this marketing strategy is nothing new, the increased exposure that online and social media marketing offers has no doubt increased the perception that so much can be achieved in such little time. And while it certainly is possible to make dramatic changes in such a short period, it's almost certainly the exception rather than the rule, and here's why:
Firstly, those promoting such transformations will pick their subjects carefully. Good subjects are often those who have a recent history (within the last 12 months) of being in good shape for a long and sustained period. Former sports persons, athletes or long term exercisers that have been out of condition for a relatively short time, are great examples to document for the purpose of promoting body transformation. These folk are far more likely to quickly bounce back to their previously good shape, than those that have been sedentary for longer periods of time.
And then there's the photography itself: A good before and after picture should show the subject in the same position, with the same posture, in the same setting, and with the same lighting; and should document the date of each shot. Camera angle, lens selection and lighting can make a huge difference to the way a body looks, and that's even before the photographer uses software to enhance the pic. And it's so easy to make someone in relatively good shape look like they've added a few pounds, just by getting them to relax their posture.
But please don't let this put you off your efforts- that’s not the aim of this article; just be prepared to set realistic timescales for your goals if you're to avoid being disappointed. Because disappointment will ultimately lead to a lack of motivation and then giving up - probably right at the point when good things are about to happen. Fat loss is a complex process that will vary greatly from person to person - as will the time it takes to achieve your goals. Yes, changing your body may be simply a case of eating less and being more active, but getting to a point where this can be maintained may also require interventions that tackle other barriers: psychological, social, medical and lifestyle - to name but a few, and these may take time to overcome.
Don’t rely on diet alone.
And once the barriers have been removed, any serious long term plan must involve both nutrition and exercise, because one won't work without the other much beyond the very short term. I stress this because I often hear the expression 'weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise' bandied about by trainers and nutritionists which, while true in a calorie counting sense, tends to lessen the importance of physical activity, leading some to skip it all together. The importance of exercise from the beginning is huge, especially for long term results, when increased fitness levels will greatly enhance the value of physical activity in controlling weight and body composition. Put simply, the fitter you are, the more energy (calories) you can expend at the same relative level of intensity, and the less reliant you will be on dietary changes alone - allowing you to be less draconian with your nutrition plan.
To better explain this, we need to look at the principle of creating an energy (calorie) deficit, or in other words, creating a situation where there’s more energy output in the form of activity, than energy intake in the form of food and drink. And although not the only consideration when losing weight, this principle should underpin any successful plan.
To keep things simple, we can assume that an energy deficit of around 4000 Kcal per week is needed to lose around 500 grams of fat in the same period. It’s then easy to see why the 80%-20% rule makes sense, because a 4000 Kcal deficit could be easily achieved by reducing food intake alone by around 570 calories each day - the equivalent of a moderately sized meal; which might seem like the simpler choice for some, especially when you consider how much exercise you'd need to do to achieve the same deficit without changing your diet: For a beginner, this would be the equivalent of around 60 minutes a day of jogging at a moderate intensity, which, time wise, might be a bridge too far for many, and is why diet is still likely to have the biggest impact in the initial stages of a programme, even when combined with exercise.
But all this changes as your fitness levels increase - something that will only happen if exercise is included at the very start of a fat loss programme, and is progressed in terms of workload as you get fitter, i.e. not sticking to the same speed/distance/resistance as you become able to do more (crucial): because a much fitter and trained person may be able to expend those same 570 calories in as little as 40 minutes or less by doing more work (speed/resistance/distance) at the same relative intensity. Not only this, but as fitness increases, working at even higher relative intensities can become more manageable, increasing the work, and therefore calorie burn even further over short periods.
And aside from simple calorie counting, other factors are also at play as you exercise: The bodies ability to mobilise fat as a fuel increases as you get fitter, so muscles can draw on this energy store far more readily. Add in some resistance training to the mix, and the resultant extra muscle mass will increase your metabolic rate, and therefore fat burning potential even further still.
But getting to this level of fitness, and therefore a level where you are less dependent on dietary changes alone, will take time; another reason not to give up at the first hurdle, just because the scales don't reflect your expectations early on. So rather than looking at just weeks down the line, set your sights further, whilst also making sure you include both diet and exercise in your programme. How far ahead you set your goals will vary a great deal from person to person, but as a rule, a short term goal of around 12 weeks, and a longer term goal of 6 to 12 months will give you enough time to see measurable progress. And a good coach will prove invaluable in helping you set realistic goals, and to overcome the barriers that might prevent you reaching them; so do your research, and make sure a thorough lifestyle consultation is part of your trainer’s induction process.
Finally, remember too all the other wonderful benefits that come with a more active and healthy lifestyle: more energy and zest for life, better concentration, reduced risk of disease, less pain, better posture, lower blood pressure and cholesterol - the list goes on; surely these are all worth playing the long game for, even if the purely aesthetic changes don’t happen quite as quickly as some might have us believe.
Thanks for reading,