Let’s be real with each other for just a moment. Turn on the smooth jams playlist, you know the one that has Pony by Ginuwine. Break out the bubbly. We’re going to get intimate. It’s going to be oh so sweet. Be honest with me for a minute, you don’t give a damn about your weight do you? Of course you don’t. What you really care about is the amount of fat you have.
Fat is that annoying jelly roll that hangs over our belt that we affectionately call Ralph. Fat is what leads our thighs to looking like cottage cheese. Fat is why we torture ourselves on the elliptical, wondering who really watches The View anymore.
Virtually ALL of our weight loss efforts aren’t true weight loss efforts at all. No matter our obsession with the scale. They are fat loss efforts. We just assume that scale weight going down means fat goes down.
When you want to lose fat, excuse me – weight, what do you do? You go to the gym and don’t leave until you’re as sweaty as Rick Ross doing a 3 hour show near the equator.
The gym has very little bearing on weight loss alone. Almost none.
Obviously the gym is good for health. In my opinion, movement is medicine. There is no doubt at all about that. But when it comes to weight loss – specifically fat loss, movement alone won’t get you where you need to go.
Just a quick look at this link can tell you exactly why that’s the case.
Clearly that was performed on post menopausal women, which is unique sub group of people that face a very distinct set of issues. However it doesn’t make the lessons we can learn completely irrelevant. The lesson being that in order for someone to lose just 1lb of pure body fat, they would need to exercise for 35 hours. This is if there are no dietary changes whatsoever. 1lb.
Does this change when talking about young, healthy people? Of course. Does it change by a drastic amount? Nope.
Whether you knew it or not, fat loss is a full time job. Go ahead and turn in your two week notice.
Fat loss is a tricky beast that people have really yet to figure out completely. Sure we think we have a ton of good ideas that work for a lot of people, but not all good ideas work for everyone.
There’s a myriad of metabolic, physical, socioeconomic, and psychological factors that make up the fat loss equation. If one or two are out of whack, or just a tiny bit off, fat loss becomes much much more difficult.
It doesn’t help that we’ve been lied to all along. Exercise actually doesn’t burn near as many calories as you think. Those caloric readings of how much you burn on the machine at the gym are grossly overestimated. That’s what keeps us coming back, but also frustrates the hell out of us when results don’t come overnight.
What! I’ve burned at least 1,000 calories every workout this week! How have I not lost a damn pound?
The bulk of your calorie burning efforts actually come from just keeping you alive.
Using the Katch-Mcardle formula, which takes into account body fat percentages, to determine your basal metabolic rate is the most accurate method to determine what I like to call your alive number.
Katch–McArdle formula: 9.81 x your amount of non-fat mass + 370 calories per day
Say for example you are 170lbs with 20% body fat. You have 136lbs of non-fat mass. That means through Katch–McArdle every single day you burn through 1,704 calories without even leaving bed.
Tack on another 20% worth of caloric burn thanks to TEF and NEAT. TEF, or thermic effect of feeding, is just energy required to break down food. NEAT, or non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis is what you burn by walking around during the day, fidgeting, twiddling your thumbs, and playing air guitar in the car. NEAT accounts for a very small portion of caloric burn.
After adding that extra 20%, this examples daily caloric burn is roughly 2,045 calories per day. Exercise barely impacts this equation at all. Maybe taking total caloric expenditure to 2,300 per day.
Does this mean you shouldn’t exercise? Hell to the no. Exercise makes you feel good. It’s good for your mental health. It’s good for your sanity. Weight bearing exercise helps build muscle, which will have an impact on the amount of calories you burn each day.
You better exercise. Especially weight train. How else do you plan on fulfilling fantasies of triumphantly defending your castle when lowly burglars invade looking to pillage and take your woman? Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks of those things.
Weight training with progressive resistance is a muscle (and bone) building activity. More muscle means more calories burned just to keep you alive. More calories burned means less fat. High five.
As Dick Talens has said before, and I love this analogy, cardio is like paying off your credit card debt. It’s good in the short term and needs to be done. Weight training is like paying your mortgage. You’re building and supporting an asset. It’s clear which one is more important to long term success and health.
For some reason, financial analogies work ridiculously well in fitness. Two areas people really suck at.
Beginning an exercise program to lose weight without any attempt at dieting is absurd. You could spend months working up to that 35 hour number and not see any real change. Even if you know exactly how many calories per day are required to maintain your bodyweight, eat that exact amount every single day and workout, it could take months just to see 1lb of fat loss.
How do you drop fat and get really really ridiculously good looking?
Does all of this mean that you need to drop 500-600 calories off your maintenance to lose weight? I’d say slow your roll. That sort of drop could lead to trouble later on. The entire goal of dieting is to lose as much weight as possible, while eating as much as possible.
Hear me out on this. You want to eat as much as possible when dieting. This is for a couple of reasons:
- To support your weight training. To adequately recover you gotta eat dat protein, and you need enough calories to make it happen.
- What happens when fat loss stalls (spoiler alert: it will at some point)? You’ll have to either drop more calories, add in exercise, or both. If you’re already eating 500-600 less, it couldn’t take very long until you’re barely eating enough to support vital functions. That’s what we in the biz call bad news.
Say though that you’re ridiculously good looking, super intelligent, and have the quickest wit in the west. You know how to diet. You only start off by eating 100 calories below maintenance and exercising with 4 weight training sessions a week. Because dammit you’re smart.
For about 6 weeks you make steady progress. You’re getting progressively sexier. You’ve even started carrying around a cane to beat off all the potential suitors clamoring over you. Then fat loss stalls just a bit. “But the suitors!” you cry.
Because you slow played it and barely dropped calories, you still have plenty of wiggle room. You decide to drop another 100, and add in a HIIT cardio session. Bam. Can you say progress again? With a minimal change. I’m so proud of you I might cry.
For serious though. Fat loss is a full time job. It takes a LONG time to lose just a single pound of fat, and a lot of things have to go right. Consistency is key, but so is not getting down on yourself. If you’ve started exercising, then I am standing up applauding you right now. But right after I finish applauding I just might scold you on why you haven’t gotten your calorie situation figured out.