All pounds are not equal! Lean tissue (bones, muscle, water) is roughly 20% denser than fat, meaning that pound for pound, lean tissue takes up less space; and lean muscle tissue is the source of our strength and driver of energy metabolism. Yet when we talk obesity, we almost always measure it by weight. Even body mass index, or BMI, that number your doctor uses to pass judgment on your weight, is blind to the ratio of fat to lean tissue making up your body. Obesity, combined with high body fat to lean ratios, is at record levels and growing. Two-thirds of women over the age of 40 are either obese or overweight and the number is even higher among seniors. Obesity is not just an offense to our vanity – it has serious health consequences as well. Overweight and obesity are associated with lost bone mineral density and osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 Diabetes and many cancers.
Maybe it’s in your head (it’s not), but it seems like you have less energy than ever.
So, when your doctor tells you it’s time to lose weight, you listen, and you try. You get back on the diet yo-yo, lose a few pounds, feel great for a while. But a few months later you’ve put the weight back on (and then some!) and you feel worse than ever. Maybe it’s in your head, but it seems like you have less energy than ever. Worse yet, even if the weight seemed to come off evenly, when it came back, it went straight to your middle section. What’s up with that?
It’s time to change the goal.
Studies show that when you go on a weight loss diet without changing your exercise practice, you lose both fat and lean tissue. Loss of lean tissue means loss of muscle, and no good comes from that. Here are two important reasons for not letting that happen: 1) less muscle means lower metabolism and less energy, and 2) lost muscle means lost bone mineral density.
Protein (muscle) is denser than fat, which means that it weighs more. The more protein you lose, the more weight you lose. That’s why weight loss alone is a very dangerous goal. You may be watching the pounds melt off, but what you don’t see is that muscle is melting off, and with the muscle, goes your bone strength and your capacity for energy metabolism.
Instead of just setting a weight loss goal, set a fat loss goal that drives your weight loss goal. I’m not suggesting you ignore the scale completely. I’m suggesting you set your fat loss goal first, and let your weight loss goal drive your fat loss goal. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you have a body fat level of 30% and you weigh 180 pounds. Your target body fat is 25%. At your current weight and fat level, you are carrying 54 pounds of fat and 126 pounds of lean tissue (bone, muscle and other non-fat). You don’t want to lose any of the 126 pounds, so to get to 25%, your total body weight must become 126/.75 = 168 pounds. That’s your target.
Drive your goal with combination of diet and exercise. Modest calorie reduction through elimination of empty calories, combined with both aerobic and strength training gives best results. Be sure to include enough protein and calcium in your diet to support maintaining and building both muscle and bone. Aerobic exercise burns calories, and the strength training prevents loss of muscle during your weight loss period. Do not forget the strength training. Resistance exercises – weights, body weight, bands, aquatic resistance,etc. – cause your body to synthesize some of that dietary protein into muscle. And if you aren’t adding muscle you are losing it, as muscle is the only store of protein your body has.