Most fitness coaches that consistently deliver result will say that diet is 80% and exercise is 20%. Fitness models may need to live on bland and regimented cardboard diets comprising of chicken breasts and broccolis. However, for the general population, very often switching from processed foods to whole foods and relying on appetite cues often produce great results, as long as the hormonal environment is fairly optimized.
Exercise alone rarely significantly change body composition in the long run (with some exceptions, of course), because the human body is very good at adapting the metabolic rate and appetite to match the calories burned. Those of us who struggle with weight loss also tend to reward ourselves with high calorie foods.
Sitting is the new smoking. It’s now clear that exercising for 1 hour a day may not mitigate the harm of being sedentary for the other 23 hour of the day. Therefore, for weight loss and general health, it may be more beneficial to move regularly and/or do short bursts of intense exercises throughout the day than to visit the gym for a long exercise session.
The fitness guru and my mentor Ben Greenfield says that exercise is not necessary to lose weight, but movement is. So, whereever you are in your fitness journey, make it a point to stand up, walk around, stretch and do burpees every hour or so. Even better, get a standing desk or a treadmill desk.
When new year resolvers attempt to lose weight, they only use the scale as their sole progress measurement. It’s called “weight loss” for a reason.
Your weight is simply a measure of gravity on your body. It doesn’t imply what your body is comprises of – fat, muscles, bones, water, and many more things. In fact, I’ve ran into many women who are up to 20 lbs lighter than me, who look larger than me.
Being fixated on weight can also cause backward progress. People who do a lot of long steady state cardio exercise and restrict calories to extreme ends or go on crash diets often lose weight that comprise mostly of water and muscles. It can even cause them to gain fat. Since most people have weight fluctuations, they will get more skinny fat over time. Being skinny fat means that they have more body fat and less muscle mass, which is worse for their metabolic and overall health.
The best thing to measure is body composition – how much lean mass you have and how much fat you have. It is indeed possible that you weight will stay the same once you do things that help with muscle retention, such as resistance training and eating sufficient amount of proteins. Heck, you may even gain weight but get smaller. Muscles are denser, and they store glycogen, which attract water.
None of the ways to measure body fat is perfect, unless you have access to some expensive lab equipments. So, when I work with my clients, I use at least 3 – 4 different ways to assess progress. These include weight, girth measurements, caliper skinfold measurements, Tanita scale (a Bioimpedence machine), and pictures. If someone is obese, it may be possible to drop a lot of weight, especially when they just start a new diet and exercise program. However, for leaner people, it gets more difficult to tell from measurements over time, but it is highly likely that pictures will show significant changes in muscle definition.