Understanding Weight Loss Principles

One of the more common questions I get as a trainer is:


“How much weight can you make me lose and can this happen by let’s sayyyy…next week? because I’m leaving for Cabo.”

This is one of the more difficult questions to answer because of the amount of variables for each individual and their respective environment (Maslows Hierarchy of Needs http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html). For today’s explanation I won’t get into the intricacies of Ghrelin, leptin resistance, and other more complicated variables. I’ll try to just nibble a small piece of the whole pie to build a strong foundation of understanding.

First, most publications believe an individual should lose no more than 1-2 pounds per week (https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/). I personally don’t like using just weight as a marker of one’s progress, for reasons that I will explain shortly. For instance, one research found that if you’re losing weight without building up your lean muscle mass, about 25% of every pound you lose will come from that desired lean muscle mass. Why is that such a bad thing? If your goal is to fit into that pair of Skinny jeans by summer without lathering up in Crisco first, who cares how it’s done, am I right? The problem with approaching this with a point A to point B solution, is you might end up worse off in the end with even more frustrations than you began with. 

Let’s back the bus up for a second so I can first explain Resting Metabolic Rate. The resting metabolic rate (RMR) is key to understanding how your body works and why some people gain weight so fast, or plateau after achieving their initial weight loss goals. RMR is basically the energy required to keep you alive with no activity.

Let us take another detour to very briefly explain “metabolism” because it gets thrown around a lot in vague terms. Metabolism is comprised of 3 components (Resting Metabolic Rate, Thermal Effect of Food – the required energy to digest food, and Physical Activity Energy Expenditure – energy that is burned performing physical activity like working out). I will only make one point on this before leaving this rabbit hole of a subject; lifting weights or high intensity exercise is far more beneficial than the time many people spend on sustained rate training – running, cycling, etc – Not to say these are not great healthy activities, we are strictly focusing on weight loss tactics. By putting time in on resistance training, your body requires more energy (or calories) to repair and replenish the glucose in muscles you just depleted. http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/fitness/how-exercise-affects-your-metabolism.html

Bodybuilding.com has a pretty useful calculator to find your RMR. They state factors that can increase your RMR such as: muscle, environment, pregnancy, and some supplements. Factors that lower your RMR are age, genetics, and crash dieting. Ya, makes you second guess that 500 calorie diet huh. In other words, lowering your muscle mass means lowering the rate your body burns fuel.

For math simplicity, let us assume one might have been burning 2000 calories a day just by taking up space on the couch (RMR). But by losing weight via calorie restricting diets you also lost muscle mass.  But while you’re celebrating that weight loss, something happened with your body composition. Now with the same exact activity and diet as before, your body now only needs 1400 calories to sustain itself-new RMR. Meaning, when you eat that same exact diet, there is now a surplus of calories that it didn’t have before. Kind of counter intuitive don’t you think? Hence the “yo-yo weight loss paradigm”.

If I can’t have a target body weight how do I choose a goal? Ah! great question! Let us start with a body percentage goal rather than a weight goal (Desired Weight). Depending on what references you go to, numbers will be slightly different but generally fairly close. Women require higher body fat percentages in order to maintain menstruation and ability to have children.  http://www.bmi-calculator.net/body-fat-calculator/body-fat-chart.php

An example goal would be for a female at 28% (acceptable category) body fat (BF) to reach 24% BF (Fitness category). This individual is 136 pounds with 97 pounds of lean muscle mass and 39 pounds of body fat. As you can see, the body fat test gives you a more informative assessment of one’s body. Desired body weight = Lean muscle mass / (1- desired body fat %). http://www.builtlean.com/2010/05/04/ideal-body-weight-formula-how-to-calculate-your-ideal-weight/  With this a reasonable goal could be to lose 8 pounds and have a desired body weight of 128 pounds. Definitely attainable. The desired body weight is now calculated and not just an arbitrary number.

What is the rate of body fat percentage one could expect to lose and stay on track. This aspect isn’t as well documented and researched as how much body weight one can lose safely, which I find ironic and backwards. However, most experts agree that a 1% loss per month is attainable and thus far has no contraindications. In reference to the example I gave above, that person should be able to reach their goal of 24% body fat with a new weight of 128 lbs in roughly 4 months. Now, I’ve seen people lose body fat at a higher rate and a lower rate; everybody is different. But 1% is the general rule of thumb. I know 8 pounds doesn’t seem like something to post on your FB page or hashtag on Instagram; however, you’re changing your body’s compositional make-up and it will be more noticeable than you think.

Now before you start taking a pair of scissors to your favorite Lululemon’s and get tear stains on the front of that #Beast-Mode tank, there is light at the end of the tunnel. With understanding comes progress, motivation, and a literal step in the right direction. I know this sounds daunting and changes your goals slightly, but I think it is well worth it for the health benefits and a more sustainable approach to keeping that hard earned weight off. After all, what’s the point in working your butt off to lose 20 pounds if you’re going to gain it back in a few weeks and you have to start over again. I say do it right the first time.

Understanding these principles hopefully will make you at the very least question those magazine articles on shortcuts to dropping pounds…And FAST! How do they come up with “new ways” every month anyways? Lastly, this is just one aspect of a healthier lifestyle with a side effect of losing body fat. Next time I will go over Leptin Resistance; another piece of the pie…ooooooooo, pie sounds good. Wait, no! I will go over another piece of the celery pie! Man, even similes are testing our weaknesses at every turn.  

Hope this helps. Stay positive my peeps.

Checkm8 Fitness

One thought on “Understanding Weight Loss Principles”

  1. I can testify that it works to not stress over the numbers on the scale and trust the process. I trained at Checkm8 Fitness with Kirk for 6 months and saw my body composition totally change. I cut my body fat percentage in half and gained around 15 lbs of muscle. However, my weight on the scale only fluctuated around 3 lbs. I did this all in a healthy way by working out regularly and actually increasing my food intake. I ate more calories and educated myself as to what I was putting into my body. It took patience and allowing myself to trust the process but I was so happy with my results in the end!

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