The Latest On Weight Loss, According To Science And My Observations

As fate would have it, quite a few interesting articles regarding research related to weight loss have come out in the past few weeks since I posted my "why we  should probably all stop offering weight loss coaching" article of a few weeks ago.

Now, unfortunately the fact remains that long term success with weight loss goals is a statistically unlikely outcome. Therefore I suggest that anyone making any promises about weight loss with the inference of "guaranteed" results is at best overly optimistic or at worst a damn dirty liar. Certainly though there are people out there who've lost weight and kept it off... so if you have a weight loss goal, and let's quantify that and say you have a permanent weight loss goal, what you probably want to be concerned with is figuring out where your best chances of success lie, and with avoiding the mistakes that all the unsuccessful people are making.

First let's talk about exercise. You should be doing some resistance training.

This is probably not news to anyone who has followed my various social mediums for more than a few minutes by now.

Resistance training is one of the best things you can do for your health, whether you have a weight related goal or not. Reiterating about 5000 of my previous entries though, and this is important so make sure you're paying attention this time, the purpose of resistance training is a lot less to do with "burning calories" and a lot more to do with inspiring your body to take up and put more energy and resources to use in supporting lean mass, ideally at the expense of fat mass.

So it's not just that you expend energy while training (although you do, and that's good) but that your body has something productive to do with the balance of energy that remains.

And by the way for what it's worth, it absolutely IS possible to gain lean mass at the expense of fat mass, especially for beginners but also even in more experienced athletes and enthusiasts.

Q: What's a good resistance training program for a client who wants to lose weight?

Exercise selection and variations in programming obviously will vary between individuals, but generally speaking the best resistance training program for a client who wants to lose weight is the same program that you would give her if she didn't want to lose weight... subject to her levels of confidence and proficiency at exercise.

Where most people with a "weight loss" focus will screw this up is by messing with the program, adding stuff in, leaving rest periods out, performing the whole routine as a super set or a circuit, and so on, with the idea that they "need to burn more calories to lose weight". So there's an obvious mistake you should decide right now that you will resist the urge to commit in future.

A couple of related links on this point:

Just a little more on the many benefits of strength / resistance training:

I may have digressed a little so peruse those additional links at your leisure. The first one may be especially pertinent to many of the people reading this entry.

Back to the main point as per the included image above, diet is key but resistance training will facilitate the best and most consistent results.

Paradox: Diet is the key, but "diets" don't work.

Diet is a contentious topic.

On the one side of the fence you have the people who insist upon some variation of the "all they have to do is stop eating crap food, cut out carbs, cut out grains, and eat clean" theme, and on the other side of the fence you have the people who insist "all that matters is that they are in caloric deficit". However, according to the International Journal Of Obesity, “it is now well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term”. So with one or two very rare, very notable exceptions, both camps are full of idiots.

Now I covered an abundance of evidence in this weight loss bullshit busting master post (not to mention all the other master posts), a while back... so rather than being redundant and repeat myself again and again, let's skip to the new stuff. Suffice it to say though, it's NOT about "clean eating" and it IS about "calories in, calories out", but it is NOT about "less and less and less calories in, more and more and more calories out".

At a certain point with such approaches... whether by deliberate caloric restriction or by omission of energy dense food choices to the effect of caloric restriction... all you are doing is training the body to manage the workload, rather than to actually benefit from training. It may be more accurate to say that you are training the body to require that level of workload (expenditure) at that level of restriction (intake) just to maintain a heavier and fatter condition, and if those levels are unsustainable then weight gain / regain will occur. As would appear to fit with the observation quoted earlier.

Again though, this has been a contentious topic. The majority of the "calories in calories out" crowd until very recently have insisted that there is no way for the body to adapt to prolonged and excessive levels of caloric restriction so as to preclude weight loss. Rather they would insist "if people are in deficit they see fat loss, if they're not seeing fat loss they're lying to you about how much they eat". 

Now since the Biggest Loser Study a year or so back, people in that camp have begrudgingly admitted that the body WILL adapt to prolonged calorie deficit and this WILL preclude further fat loss, but have continued to insist that the answer to this is simply to restrict even further into deficit and/or increase expenditure further with additional exercise & activity. I did mention that I think most of them are complete fucking idiots, didn't I?

Anyway. Increasingly, more and more evidence suggests that while fat loss IS dependant upon being in caloric deficit, we must work to appropriate levels of deficit where an expectation of adherence is not unreasonable, and where we are still providing sufficient energy and resources to benefit from training, and we must not restrict indefinitely but rather adopt a strategy of working at periods closer to metabolic capacity and at periods working from a greater level of deficit.

So, really that's almost exactly what I have been talking about for years... isn't it? 

Here are some links to relevant evidence:
Now... the approaches in each of those studies are different, but collectively in my opinion they more than sufficiently refute the "further into deficit (aka less calories in) always results in greater fat loss" doctrine as pushed by far too many halfwitted CI/CO & IIFYM proponents. 

Practical application of this information:

As coaches, as overweight or obese people, and even as fitness enthusiasts of non excessive weights, we need to be aware of and appreciate the paradoxical nature of things. To wit; an energy deficit is required to facilitate fat loss, but prolonged and excessive levels of energy deficit are associated with a higher body fat percentage in athletes and with greater long term weight gain in the overweight and obese. It is similarly ironic that when changes in body weight are seen as the most (or only) important outcome of an exercise program, we tend to adopt less effective approaches due to being overly concerned with "burning calories" and we are less inclined to pursue and appreciate the many benefits of productive activity.

Regardless of whether we are overweight and obese people or whether we are relatively lean and more active people, we need to move away from a "dieting" mentality where we glorify or consider necessary the arbitrary restriction of food choices, or over restriction of energy intake. We need to cease associating the suppression or ignoring of our bodies' hunger signals with discipline, will power or other strength of character and these virtues with the attainment and maintenance of a lean and healthy physical condition.

Rather, we should take an interest in learning and practicing a productive and beneficial approach to exercise and activity. We should practice regular, consistent, structured and varied eating habits to an appropriate but not excessive total energy intake. As per the links above, there may be some evidence to support the practice of eating more earlier in the day and less later on... but I would suggest whatever meal and snack schedule each individual finds convenient, appealing and sustainable to achieve "appropriate but not excessive total energy intake" by default without being too concerned about occasional divergences.

This could simply be described as practicing self care and healthy habits, and this alone should prove conducive to better physical and emotional health as well as a leaner condition, whether actual weight changes occur or otherwise.

For those who are enthusiastic to work more strategically to maximise their potential to see the most significant and sustainable results, the process should involve periods of working closer to a "maintenance" level of intake representing metabolic capacity, and periods of working to a merely "adequate" level of intake which is at a significant deficit, but still suitable to a reasonable expectation of adherence, and to reap the benefits of training without resulting in comprised metabolic rate.

Please come and discuss this entry on my facebook page.


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