Weight Loss Program - The Role of Muscle


The usual weight loss scenario looks something like this - when a person sets out to lose weight, they are motivated and determined. This person diligently counts calories, follows a structured program or just cuts back on food consumption on their own, often skipping meals. They think by reducing calories the dieter is addressing the most obvious part of the weight equation - calories consumed. (weight equation is CALORIES CONSUMED - CALORIES BURNED = CURRENT WEIGHT).

There are many problems with this plan but let's just focus on muscle. When a person suddenly reduces calories consumed, the body responds by switching into what's called the famine response. In nature, there are cycles to the food supply with seasons of abundance followed by times of scarcity. The body is "programmed" to switch it's caloric needs to allow survival even in times of famine. This "famine response" causes the metabolism (the rate at which the body "burns" food -calories) to slow down, and at the same time the rate at which the body stores the calories as fat speeds up. In other words, food eaten is more likely to be stored as fat than burned up.

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At the same time during this "famine response", the body 'burns up' existing muscle! Why? Muscle requires more calories to maintain than fat. If indeed a person is experiencing a famine, less muscle requiring less food to maintain it might be a good evolutionary survival strategy. But if a person is simply overweight and trying to loose fat this is NOT a good situation. This person is now more likely to store food as fat and less likely to burn it as energy, and they now have declining levels of muscle mass.

As a person tries to lose weight by reducing his or her calories without following a balanced plan or supplementing without attention to a good protein source (protein supplements are NOT all equal), their weight loss is due to loss of fat as well as muscle. Typically the dieter eventually "falls off the diet" for many reasons; mainly because people end up hungry and they revert back to their old eating habits. Now due to the change in metabolism and lowered muscle mass, the increased calories consumed are even MORE LIKELY to be converted to fat than before the diet! Therein lies the blueprint for Yo-Yo dieting.

What can a person do?

1. Exercise. If you remember only one tip from this article, remember this: MUSCLE = METABOLISM! The more muscle mass a person has, the higher the rate at which their body will burn calories.

A balanced weight loss program includes exercise, but I think people look at exercise from the wrong perspective. If the goal of exercise is to "lose weight" a person may be disappointed. Exercise improves circulation, lymph activity, the immune system, energy, positivity, and muscle tone, and each is very important in a weight loss program. However there are arguments as to whether or not it helps a person actually lose weight. So I challenge a person to view exercise as a means to increase muscle and address the other listed positive effects. In other words, I would like to propose that in order to determine the effectiveness of an exercise program, don't watch the weight on a scale but instead track the body fat percent, and muscle mass.

2. Do your due diligence regarding different weight loss programs, supplements, or self-help information. Don't listen to the hype, and don't be suckered into believing a person can (or should ) lose a gazillion pounds in 10 days. How many pounds have you gained this year; 7? 10? If it took you 1 year to gain it, why are you expecting to lose it overnight? Follow the natural rhythms of your body and add some common sense.

3. Consider working with a Health Coach (or Wellness Coach). Working with a coach can offer you ideas, strategies, accountability, and a perspective outside of your own to help you toward your goals. There are no "one-size-fits-all" weight loss programs, and working with a coach can help you tailor programs on the market (if that's what you choose for weight loss) with your own personal life situation.

4. Have you ever been successful on a weight loss program only to regain the weight back? If so, rather than focusing on the "failure" (gaining it back), focus on what you accomplished; you lost weight before! If you did it before, you can do it again, right? Remember you CAN do it. Over the years I have come to the opinion that dealing with weight loss is much like helping a person overcome a drug or alcohol addiction. But remember there is no force in the universe more powerful than Human Will. You can do it!

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