I’ve had this same conversation a couple times today, so I thought it would be a good blog post just to clear some things up.
Point 1: During a public health crisis, weight loss is not a very high concern. More importance needs to be places on staying healthy and happy.
Point 2: If being healthy & happy means you really do need to accomplish some weight loss, the recipe for weight loss is actually very simple to understand. Executing on it can be more difficult.
Point 3: The general weight loss prescription is not going to work if you don’t have a solid lifestyle foundation first. Attempting to lose weight without that foundation will likely lead to sickness or injury instead.
Now I’ll take each point and expand on them a bit.
Right now we’re all on lockdown trying to slow the spread of COVID-19. This presents it’s own very serious challenges in terms of global, national, and local economics, personal finances, social needs, work productivity, familial relationships, education and care of children. And many other challenges besides. So, losing some weight ought to fall pretty low on the priorities list right now.
What matters most at this time is staying healthy (keeping your immune system strong), and staying happy (not going completely crazy). That means the focus is lifestyle, the foundation of the pyramid: Balance, Energy, Purpose, and Rhythm.
- Be sure to balance your work & stressors with rest and recovery.
- Remember that you’ll have your best energy–at the most appropriate times–by sticking to a sun & moon schedule and predictable routines: Wake with the sun and sleep with the moon.
- Reconnect with your purpose in life. What fills you up with meaning? How can you get more of that every day? What habits can you build and maintain every day to make sure you get more purposeful, meaningful life lived over a longer span of time?
- Keep all your daily habits of health, fitness, and longevity on a consistent rhythm. Sleep, wake; eat, poop; drink, pee; exercise, recover; work, relax; all on a regular schedule.
For some people, losing weight IS essential to their health and happiness. It’s important to remember that everyone’s priorities are different, and our priorities are a dynamic thing that changes throughout our lifetime. If you priorities at this moment dictate that weight loss is still necessary to accomplish right now, the recipe is actually pretty simple to understand:
- Increase calories out & reduce calories in
That’s a pretty simple idea (though it’s not always that simple), but it’s also pretty abstract to a lot of people, so let’s translate it into some concrete action steps:
- Eat smaller portions at each meal & cut out sweets & non-water beverages.
- Do a ton more cardio to burn loads of calories.
- Maintain as much muscle mass as possible by continuing strength training.
This recipe is also easy to understand, and it should be repeated as often as possible to drill it into people’s heads. Everyone knows that they need to fill their car up with gas when the gas tank gets empty, and take it in for an oil change every couple of months. Whey don’t we all know and acknowledge the basic maintenance of a human body as well as we do with our automobiles?
There are really only 3 high-level nutrition strategies:
- Eat less (to lose weight)
- Eat more (to gain weight)
- Eat better (to be healthier)
Now, let’s take the example of a bodybuilder and see how they use these three strategies when their success in their sport–and possibly their livelihood–is on the line. First, they’ve got to “eat better” in order to maximize their body’s natural anabolism. Secondly, they alternate between the “eat more” and “eat less” strategies in different phases. In a “bulking” phase, they eat more and do a lot of resistance training; thus adding muscle mass as well as fat mass at the same time. In a “cutting” phase, they eat less, maintain resistance training to maintain as much muscle mass as possible, and do a ton of cardio to lose that fat mass (losing some muscle in the process, unavoidably).
So, if you’re already overweight, you’ve already done the “bulking” phase. Now it’s time for you to do the “cutting” phase. That’s the simple recipe above: eat less, do cardio, do strength.
While this is relatively easy to understand, it can be very difficult for many people to execute on. Eating small meals or healthy snacks 3-5 times a day, going for a long walk/run/hike/bike every day, and doing strength workouts a few times a week might be an extremely difficult proposition. It requires a ton of mental buy-in, physical discipline, and psychological fortitude to build and maintain those habits. If this is hard for you, you might need to look back at those Basic Lifestyle Guidelines in Point 1: Balance, Energy, Purpose, and Rhythm.
Remember that parenthetical above where I said, “though it’s not always that simple”? Yeah, sometimes increasing calories out while decreasing calories in actually doesn’t work. Some people continue to gain weight with this approach, or stall out at the same weight, or experience adverse health effects such as hair loss or amenorrhea (look it up).
If your hormones, your digestion, your nerves, or some other part of your underlying physiological and psychological make-up is messed up, you’re not likely to lose weight on this simple plan. You might be more likely to invite disease or suffer injury.
This is why people with disordered eating or a long history of unsuccessful weight loss attempts need to start with the healthy lifestyle foundation and the “eat better” plan before they try to attempt the simple weight loss recipe. That gets us back to Point 1. Balance, Energy, Purpose, and Rhythm. Start there. Maybe, stay there. Weight loss can probably wait until after the COVID-19 health crises is over.
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