Updated: Aug 15, 2019
Has your weight loss journey been like a slow-moving roller-coaster? Up one week and down the next? You lose weight only to rebound and gain back all the weight you lost plus more. And even worse, the weight you regain is now going to your mid-section?
Why do we continue to put ourselves through this torture over and over again? The results don’t change. Is it really possible to lose weight and keep it off permanently?
There is an old story of a group of lumberjacks clearing a dense forest. The men are working hard cutting down trees and clearing a path at a very fast rate. After a few hours, the leader climbs a tree to review their progress. After surveying the landscape, he calls down to the workers, “I have good news and bad news. We are making great progress, but we are in the wrong jungle.”
Many people approach weight loss like the lumberjacks clearing trees in the forest. We are focused on the wrong “forest.” We follow the latest, greatest diet trend – Keto, Paleo, Detox, Fasting - and may even lose some weight, but as soon as we stop the diet and return to our usual patterns, the weight creeps right back.
How much we weigh on the scale has little relevance to how we look and feel. Even if we are losing weight, we may be damaging our long-term health by losing muscle as well as fat through overly-restrictive dieting, eliminating food groups or doing too much of the wrong type of exercise.
In fact, we can look good and be healthy permanently. Improving our body composition is very possible but we need to understand and follow the basic factors that contribute to health and good body composition.
Go to any garden and you will see a variety of flowers in all sizes, shapes and colors. Each and every flower has its own beauty. People are the same. Each has its own beauty and should be appreciated for who they are. Accepting that there is not one healthy or “perfect” body type removes the pressure to be the perfect flower.
Genetics, environment, nutrition, exercise, habits, stress and age can all affect how much we weigh and the amount of muscle and fat we carry on our body.
Our genetics are what they are – unless you picked parents with lean genes, you will have a tendency to gain weight. Genetics may determine the foundation, but our lifestyle contributes more to our long-term health and body composition. Understandings and modifying how we eat, move and recover will be the major determinant of how lean or fat we become.
The environment we live and work in can play a significant - our access to healthy foods and the opportunity to get the right kind of exercise can positively or negatively affect our body composition. If there are no supermarkets where we live, it will be hard to find nutritious foods. Exercise builds muscle and burn calories to maintain a healthy body composition. Access to fitness centers and outdoor exercise trails can improve or limit our chances for a healthy body weight.
Nutrition and exercise also play key roles in changing our body composition. Eating properly and getting the right type of exercise can help us lose fat and increase muscle in our body. Strength training or resistance exercise improves body composition by increasing the amount of muscle in the body. More muscle means more calories burned even while we are at rest. Recommendations for basic health include 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week and strength training using compound exercises which target large muscle groups twice a week. Improving body composition may take a higher volume and intensity of exercise.
Choosing a diet made up of minimally processed foods with the proper amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats in reasonable proportions is a major factor in how much we weigh and how much fat our bodies retain. Maintaining a focus on incorporating small lifestyle changes into your daily diet will help keep weight off and avoid a weight rebound.
Chronic stress can trigger fat-storing hormones. Our bodies need some stress to grow and change. The stress we experience from resistance training can improve body composition by increasing the amount of muscle in the body. More muscle means more calories burned even when we are at rest. Stress is effective when we allow enough time for our body to recover before applying more stress. Constant stress affects our hormones and can cause us to eat more than we should or miss meals or eat the wrong types of foods. When we are stressed, our body may not digest, absorb and metabolize food normally. Sleep patterns change when we are stressed. Lack of sleep may cause an increase in cortisol leading to fat storage. Managing stress can lead to positive changes in our weight and body composition.
Age can also affect our body composition. As we age our bodies do not process or synthesize protein as well as younger people. To maintain or gain muscle protein intake needs to increase. Hormonal changes also accompany aging. Some of these changes make to harder to lose weight and easier to gain weight.
The biggest enemy to reducing fat in our body may be our habits. Habits drive our actions. Habits are the acts we do everyday without even thinking that may cause us to gain weight. Sitting on the couch mindlessly chewing on snacks every time we sit down to watch our favorite TV show can add extra calories that we do not need. Turning on the TV triggers our snack habit. We have to make a conscious decision to change our habits to improve our body composition.
Habits are one of the main reasons we gain weight back after dieting. When we diet, we temporarily change our daily routine by limiting the amount or types of foods that we are eating. Once we stop dieting, we return to our old habits. If we have not changed the triggers, environment, or our mindset we return to the same habits that caused us to gain weight in the first place.
To improve our weight and body composition permanently look at the areas discussed above – environment, exercise, nutrition, stress, and habits and start with small changes that you can incorporate into your lifestyle for lasting changes in your weight and body composition.