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.