I’m going to lay out a conversation that I regularly see EVERYWHERE. And it’s a conversation I used to have with myself and with my friends too.
“I just start this [insert diet here], but then I had some [insert delicious yummy food here]. I wish I had more will power.”
Does that sound familiar? Yeah, me too. I did Jenny Craig. I did calorie counting. But I always put the weight back on. I am that statistic (the majority of us are actually) that would end up heavier than when I started dieting in the first place. And you think it’s just a lack of will power. But really it’s not.
First of all let’s talk about 1,200 calories. It’s a number that everyone knows that you are supposed to have if you are on a diet. And has been written about very eloquently here. And the thing is a whole lot of people can clench their way through 12 weeks of being on a restrictive diet. But then what happens?
One of the things we tend to believe about weight and appearance is that we should just eat less and run more. There is this idea that cardio and dieting is how you can have the body you want and be healthy too. But the fact is that it is really quite challenging. Will running help you burn fat and lose weight? Absolutely. But it will also trigger your appetite which makes it really hard to be dieting. People tend to think of running as the answer because runners are slim. But that’s like playing basketball to get taller. The best runners tend to be very lean. But running won’t necessarily make you lean, any more than basketball will make you tall – that’s more about genetics.
And you can certainly go down the cardio/diet path – but that’s a very restrictive path and you probably won’t be enjoying yourself all that much.
This is where weight training comes in. It does a few things. One is it increases your metabolism. Another is it builds muscle, which will burn more energy even at rest. And so instead of being stuck on a restrictive diet, all of a sudden you can have a far more sustainable, more enjoyable relationship to your food. By contrast, if all you do is cardio-based exercise, your base metabolic rate will continue to drop and to achieve any fat loss you are forced to eat less and less, making it more and more unsustainable.
When talking about weight training it can easy to get caught up in the fears of getting too bulky. And I know exactly how that feels. Being overweight, the last thing you want to do is add more to that. But the fact is contrary to what you might be told there is no lean muscle or bulky muscle. There is just muscle. There is no toning. There is just building muscle. And it doesn’t matter whether you do high repetitions at low weight, or low repetitions at high weight – they will both build muscle. One supports more strength development, the other more endurance. But the physical result is not substantially different.
When people start their fitness journey, they usually not only want to be fit and strong, they want to look fit and strong. And the answer is usually pretty simple. Eat well. Eat a lot. Don’t pretend that all calories are the same. Because they aren’t. If you like the mindfulness of calorie counting – think of proteins, vegetables and fruits as calorie free and use your counting for all the other stuff. Incorporate weight training in a way that you are going to enjoy. And incorporate cardio in the same way. Your best results are going to come from a combination of muscle building and fat burning activities.
But here’s the thing, people can tell you all about what is the most effective thing – running, boxing, crossfit, heavy lifting, walking or whatever else. But it’s only effective if you do it. And to do it, you have to want to do it. So pick something you are going to love. Or if you don’t love anything yet, try something new.