This is the most valid and important question that any of my clients can ask me and it is also my least favorite question. Not for any other reason than it’s the most complicated question that my clients can ask me. I can give you a reason for every exercise, body position and tempo that I choose for you to do during a workout, but I can’t give you a straight answer for why/why not or when your body will burn body fat for fuel and you will start to lose weight. In a world where 1 + 1 = 2 and everything we want is at the touch of a button, the concept that 2 or 3 hours of exercise per week doesn’t translate into 1 Lbs of fat or weight lost on the scale is a very hard thing to wrap your head around. I will attempt to make sense of this confusing subject.
First of all, I think a little biology refresher is in order and I will try to keep it short and concise. Your body is made up of bone, adipose tissue (fat) and muscle. Of those three, muscle is the only one that uses the “energy” that you either eat or that is stored in your body as fat. This means that the more muscle you have, the more energy your body needs to use to just survive, even just lying in bed (known as your Basal Metabolic Rate). Now, in order for all of your hard work to translate onto the scale you need to balance your food “energy” books, so to speak. The idea being that the energy that your body uses to just survive plus the energy required to do all the things that you fit in throughout that day; working out, going to work, taking the stairs, chasing the kids…..whatever you do, needs to equal the amount of food (“energy”) that you eat in that day or be greater, so that your body is now in a calorie deficit (the only time a deficit is a good thing haha). If this is the case your body will have to “tap into” it’s stored fat (energy) to make up the difference and voila, weight loss. I hope that makes sense. To say it another way, some scientists tried to put hard numbers to this situation. The math tells us that 3500 Kcal (the units that we measure food energy in) is equal to one pound of fat. So, if we spread that over seven days in the week, all you need to do is cut out or burn using activity or a combination of the two, 500 Kcals per day to reach one pound of fat lost every week. Easy right? Well if it was easy I wouldn’t be writing this. You must remember that your mom was right, you are unique. All of your life’s experiences as well as your genetic make-up is what decides how, when and from where your body will “burn” fat and in turn, lose weight. It is also important to note that muscle weighs more than fat, as it is more dense, so it takes up less “space”. It is quite common for someone to trade out fat for muscle thus not showing a change on the scale. Is your head spinning yet? Are you still reading? I hope so, because knowledge is power, and knowledge with regards to your goals is the best way to reach them!
Ok, so forget about the math, forget about the Basal Metabolic Rate, forget about calorie deficits, let’s just call it what it is, Energy in Vs. Energy out. If you are using more energy than you are eating in a day then that can translate into weight loss. If you find that you have been training for a few months and are neither losing nor gaining any weight, that’s tells you that you are in an energy balance and if weight loss is your goal, a few small changes to the amount and/or type of calories you are eating may be all it will take to put you into a calorie deficit. So putting yourself in my shoes as your trainer, I hope you can now appreciate the complexity of the “when will I start losing weight” question. It’s not that I’m trying to use double talk to confuse you or keep stringing you along to keep you as a client while not providing result, my industry is based on “results”. It’s just that there isn’t a black and white answer to that question.
So where do we go from here? First, I really encourage you to read my blog “The 80/20 Rule of weight loss”; it speaks about how important your nutritional choices are to weight loss. And second, I firmly believe that we need to broaden our definition of “results”. If you are noticing that; your clothes fit differently, the stairs at home or that stupid hill you have to walk up to get to work is easier, or people are saying “wow, you look great. What have you been doing?” but the scale is not moving, are you not still seeing results? These are what I call the intangible tangibles and they are the things that we need to hold on to the strongest and loosen our grip on the scale. Every time you get to bring the belt in one notch, or notice that you are walking to work faster or have more energy in the day or get a complement, celebrate it! Find your way to make it a big deal. Seriously, buy a bag of gold stars and put one up every time one of those things happens; put a quarter or dollar in a jar (if I had a nickel for every time, blank, happened, I’d be rich), something to pat yourself on the back. You are doing this for yourself, but if you are only using the scale to quantify your “results” you are missing the point. I’m not saying never weigh yourself, but I am saying don’t obsess over the scale. If you are going to weigh yourself, make it once a week and try to make it the same day/time and scale every time. Trust and enjoy the process. Remember, it’s not the destination that defines us, but the journey itself.
Thanks for reading
Matt (King Cobra Fit)