I have written extensively on the subject of weight loss, but I thought it might be useful to create a page that addresses the most common questions I get about losing weight.
Here are answers to 7 common questions surrounding weight loss “best practices”. These answers are based on current research, backed by my own personal anecdotes and opinions.
Enter the Weight loss FAQs . . .
1. Am I fat?
The measure of one’s personal level of “fatness” can be very subjective, if not properly assessed. There are many tools available to determine this including body mass index (BMI), body composition testing and waist-to-hip ratios. BMI is generally accepted as the standard for assessing body weight, but is not as accurate at estimating body composition testing (ratio of fat to lean mass). Most people don’t have access to professionally supervised body composition testing tools. Fortunately, for most people, BMI can be accurate enough to identify important health risk factors. Go here to calculate your BMI.
Since excess abdominal fat is an independent risk factor for disease, it is also important to consider waist circumference in combination with your BMI result.
Individuals with a:
- BMI >25 -30 and a waist circumferences of >40 inches (for men) or >35 inches (women), are considered overweight with an increased risk of morbidity.
- BMI >30 -35 and a waist circumferences of >40 inches (for men) or >35 inches (women), are considered Class 1 obese with a high risk of morbidity.
- BMI >35 -40 and a waist circumferences of >40 inches (for men) or >35 inches (women), are considered Class 2 obese with a very high risk of morbidity.
- BMI >40 and a waist circumferences of >40 inches (for men) or >35 inches (women), are considered Class 2 obese with an extremely high risk of morbidity.
2. Do carbohydrates make me fat?
The short answer is no. Carbohydrates provide the most efficient energy source for the body during periods of activity. Carbs are important for fat metabolism, provision of muscle proteins and provide you with essential fiber, vitamins and minerals. For active individuals, and athletes in particular, carbohydrates are crucial to glycogen repletion, before, during and after exercise. Depleted glycogen levels are associated with increased lethargy, depression and a loss of strength, power and conditioning.
Worrying too much about carbs can lead to really neurotic behavior in some people. Demonizing carbs and focusing on a single macronutrient shifts the focus away from what really matters – calories! Proponents of low or very low carbohydrate diets usually have a marketing agenda with a new book or product to support. These diets have been shown to not be any more effective than traditional approaches, especially in the long term.
Science tells us that for most active adults, carbohydrates should account for between 45-65% of total caloric intake. This should be obtained from unprocessed, whole food sources that are moderate-to low on the glycemic index and rich in fiber. This will help promote satiety and normal blood sugar regulation. Some studies even suggest that you need a minimum of 100-120 grams of carbs a day for optimum thyroid function.
Bottom line: Excess consumption of any nutrient, being carbs, fats, protein or alcohol will cause weight gain.
3. Is it possible to be fit and fat at the same time?
Although it’s generally believed that being fat is bad, mounting evidence is beginning to show that body weight is not the absolute indicator of health as it was once believed to be. In fact, it seems that physical fitness is a more accurate predictor of long term health. This has particular implications even for thin, but inactive folks who have long believed that their gifted metabolisms give them a “get out of exercise free” card.
Some experts even claim that obese people who are physically fit are half as likely to die as people who are of normal weight but inactive. Many obese people struggle to lose weight with exercise, which often leads them to quit the program and an eventual acceptance of their condition. It’s important for them to know that as long they meet the minimum standards of activity, they’re still gaining important health benefits that can dramatically reduce the risk for chronic disease.
Bottom line: Although obesity is associated with countless health problems, it might be better for overall health to be fit and fat than inactive in any state.
4. Is losing weight fast dangerous?
Fast weight loss is usually achieved via excessive activity levels and/or an overly restrictive diet program. The latter (also known as very low calorie diets or VLCD) is often the preferred choice for most people. A VLCD should be medically supervised and usually used to treat moderate to extreme cases of obesity. A VLCD typically has the client consuming about 800 calories a day or less, well below minimum recommended intake of 1000 to 1200 calories per day for most active or larger adults. VLCDs can produce very fast, short-term weight loss for some very obese people. While this can be very motivating for some people, it doesn’t come without risks.
Many of the VLCDs don’t address the key issues that govern long term weight loss. These being behavioral modification, nutrition counselling and physical activity. This is why maintaining weight loss on these programs is so challenging and most often results in a complete relapse back to your original weight. In addition, there is a serious risk of malnutrition, especially is the program isn’t medically supervised. Many people will experience dramatically reduced energy levels, thus impairing their ability to exercise. Other side effects commonly reported include: constipation, nausea, diarrhea and, even worse, gallstone formation.
Bottom line: Fast weight loss is short term at best and almost guarantees a relapse. Lose weight slowly by means of healthful eating, smaller portions and exercise.
5. What type of exercise is best for burning fat?
Once you accept the fact that weight loss occurs in proportion to the total caloric expenditure of the workout, you can quickly “weed out” those gimmicks that claim to get you thin by any other means. From there, you are left with choosing exercises that work all major muscle groups simultaneously and increase the demand for oxygen consumption. The exact exercises you choose will vary greatly depending on your fitness level, age and many other factors. Unfit individuals can fatigue from even the simplest tasks, making exercise selection less important for them. In fact, just walking and light aerobic exercise done frequently can work wonders for this group.
For more fit person, squats, lunges and push-up variations are obvious choices. This group can progress to combination exercises (movements that combine 2 or more exercises in one) and incorporate circuit training into their program as well. Forget about “fat burning zones” as this will only distract you from the primary goal of burning the maximum amount of calories in your workout.
It’s also worth mentioning that exercise isn’t necessary for weight loss, but it certainly is for optimal health and fitness and to help ward off chronic disease.
Bottom line: There is no universal best exercise or method for burning fat. Individual factors such as training age, fitness level and age determine the best exercises for you.
6. Is doing cardio on empty stomach more effective for losing weight?
Many people believe that exercising on an empty stomach will burn more fat. Supposedly, upon waking, you’re in a fasted state which reduces the amount of available sugar (fuel) in the blood which encourages fat stores to be used preferentially to fuel activity. This issue is always under debate, but the assumption is faulty at best. Even if you actually achieved a “fasted state”, burning fat during your workout is not the major predictor of weight loss, it’s the total caloric expenditure that matters.
Besides that, the human body has its own way of partitioning energy and not you, or anyone else, fully understands how it works. However, some people swear that it works for them. To them I offer the following advice:
Perform fasted exercise, only if the intensity is low to moderate. Intense activities should be done in a “fed” state to ensure that your performance isn’t comprised. Intense activities include interval training and weight training or body weight circuits that elicit complete exhaustion on most sets. Strength training exercises require a great deal of energy and concentration all of which is undermined by a fasted state.
Bottom line: Exercising hungry may comprise the quality of your workout and won’t likely result in better weight loss.
7. How do I avoid regaining all my weight back?
Many who are successful at losing weight struggle to maintain it. There are many reasons why this happens and I’ve written about it in detail here. In summary, long term weight loss can only be achieved by means of regular exercise, sensible eating and permanent behavioral change. It is the failure to commit to these 3 habits, after the weight loss, that is the main reason why people regain the weight.
Additionally, setting realistic goals from the onset, developing coping skills during times of stress, having a support system in place and embracing the health and fitness lifestyle are all keys to losing weight and keeping it off.
Hopefully this post helped demystify some of the common questions about weight loss. Stay tuned for another round of weight loss FAQ’s coming up in a future post.
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