More Weight Loss FAQs

Here we go with another roundup of  Weight Loss FAQ’s. If you missed the first post, be sure to check it out here. This time I bring you 5 questions that have a lot of people frustrated and confused. With so much conflicting information to sift through, it is my hope that these well researched answers will help enlighten your journey.

Let’s get started . . .

1.  Do my genes make me fat?

The causes of obesity are numerous but many overweight people believe that it’s their genes that determine their body composition.  Recent research has shown that, in a small number of cases, this is absolutely true.  The fat-promoting genes that have been identified to date act on the brain and the body systems that regulate hunger, satiety and energy balance. This has a huge impact on a person’s body weight, food preferences, eating behavior, energy expenditure and possibly their response to different diet programs.

People who inherit these genes have a “survival advantage” over their leaner counterparts during times when food is scarce. This becomes a disadvantage when food is plentiful as it eventually leads to obesity and related chronic illness. For these people, it’s an unfortunate hand of cards to be dealt.  Even under ideal circumstances, weight loss can be an impossible proposition.  This has got to be demoralizing. However, you shouldn’t completely give in to these limitations and it’s not an excuse to sabotage your health with negative behavior. Your environment, dietary choices, activity level, family and social influences can greatly impact how your genes are expressed.

Don’t be so quick to blame your genes for your lack of weight loss if you haven’t attempted a lifestyle makeover.  If diet, exercise and good lifestyle habits don’t work for you then you may have a problem and should consult your doctor to find a solution.

2.  Are weight loss drugs safe and effective to use ?

Weight loss drugs are generally prescribed by a doctor or health practitioner.  They generally fall into 1 of 2 categories: appetite suppressants or fat absorption inhibitors.  Some of these drugs benefit the user by improving blood lipids, lowering blood pressure, treating sleep apnea and regulating glucose metabolism. These benefits are likely, at least in part, due to the weight loss itself and not the drug interaction.  Weight loss drugs can potentially increase the rate of weight loss over diet and exercise alone but only in the short term.  After 6 months the weight loss is usually plateaus and some people experience weight regain, even with continued use of the drug. These drugs offer no advantage in the long term maintenance of weight loss.

As well, each of these drugs pose potential health risks associated with their use and the long term effects remain unknown.  In fact, there are no weight loss drugs currently available that are considered safe and effective for long term use.  Because of the health risks, weight loss drugs should never be considered for cosmetic reasons only. They are only recommended for individuals who are moderately to severly obese and have a medical need to lose weight.

There are many other contraindications that need to be considered and discussed with an appropriate health care provider before deciding if weight loss drugs are right for you.

3.  Are high protein diets efferctive for losing weight?

Many popular modern diet approaches advocate high protein consumption as a means to enhance weight loss results. The benefit of this approach is that it may encourage muscle preservation and the subsequent drop in energy expenditure with muscle loss.  Protein also has a thermic (heat generating) effect that can also increase your daily energy expenditure.

While this is a good news for weight loss, there are some downsides for high-protein diets. Research has shown that people may initially lose more weight on a low-carb/ high-protein diet than with traditional approaches. But, over a period of months, the net weight loss is usually the same with both approaches. High-protein diets such as Atkins are often boring and too restrictive.  This approach to dieting is not very sustainable and more likely the dieter will quit and even rebound back to unhealthy eating patterns.

High-protein consumption may also pose serious health risks for some people. When protein is assimilated, the excess nitrogen produced may be damaging to the kidneys that have to work hard to remove it. Although further research is needed to conclusively show a link between high protein consumption and kidney damage, people with kidney problems may have need for concern. High consumption of processed animal protein and animal fat is also linked to the development of certain chronic diseases.

It really comes down to selecting your protein sources carefully to obtain the benefits and minimize the risk.  Plant based protein diets are lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber and micro-nutrients than animal proteins.  Consuming protein from soy, legumes, high quality protein supplements and limited quantities of fish can nullify many of the health problems associated with the consumption of many commercial animal products. Vegetarians also boast lower rates of mortality (death) and morbidity (illness) from many chronic diseases so it may be worth trying out for yourself.

High-protein diets, when done safely, may be more beneficial for some individuals but are generally no more effective at improving weight loss in the long-term.  Seek a qualified professional to determine if this approach is right for you.

4.  Why is building muscle important for weight loss?

Because muscle tissue has a major influence on your resting metabolic rate (calories you burn/day).  Simply put, more muscle means more energy burned at rest and during periods of activity.  Aging and inactivity accelerate muscle loss, especially for those who engage in severe calorie restricted diets. In fact, calorie restricted diets almost always result in a higher degree of muscle loss than when exercise is involved.  Although weight loss may be slower with this approach (because muscle loss diminishes), the amount of actual fat loss may be increased.  Since muscle is more compact than fat, you may experience better girth measurement improvements even with less weight lost.  So you might fit better in your clothes sooner.

It is also evident that people who work to build and maintain their muscle are far more successful at maintaining lost weight.  Maintaining muscle tissue can only be achieved with weight bearing activity. Building new muscle requires a more specialized approach in the form of a well-planned resistance training regimen. Strength training will improve your  fitness and functional capacity as well, something that dieting alone can’t do (in most cases). Calorie restriction can limit or inhibit the amount of muscle you can gain, but if your goal is fat loss and not weight loss, preserving your muscle should be a priority.

5.  Can I lose fat and gain muscle at the same time?

The nutritional strategies for gaining muscle and losing fat are diametrically apposed. This makes accomplishing both goals simultaneously a difficult proposition. Before you give up on this lofty goal completely, you need to define what is meant by “the same time“. If  it is defined as being “right now” then you can bet achieving both is physiologically impossible. However, if you broaden your definition of  “the same time” as a “continual process over time” then this can, and has been done by countless people. I’ve had clients experience an 6-10% reduction body fat and actually gain weight (from increasing muscle) over a period of several months.

It’s important to know that dramatic results like this are rarely typical. This is why widespread media with claims to the contrary can lead many to develop unrealistic expectations. It is very difficult to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time but some circumstances will increase the likelihood that you’ll  experience atypical results. These circumstances include:

    1. Training age – Individuals who are new to exercise generally experience rapid gains in muscle. Their responsiveness to exercise is at its peak and diminishes the longer the individual trains.
    2. Past experience – Individuals who have extensive training experience and who have lost much of their gains due to prolonged inactivity will experience more rapid results. This is because it’s much easier to regain atrophies muscle than it is to build it from scratch. This phenomenon is known as muscle memory. I’ve experienced it myself many times over the last 20 years.
    3. Genetics – Let’s face it, some people were just given the birthright of a lean and muscular body. Many of them look great in spite of themselves and not necessarily because of what they do. They have inherited the optimal somatotype (body type),  hormones levels, muscle fiber type and nutrient partitioning ability to gain muscle while staying lean.  There aren’t many of them and I hate them all (just kidding).
    4. Drugs –  Anabolic and fat-burning drugs can have a huge impact on the amount of muscle gained and fat lost. They also help in achieving these goals concurrently. These results are usually the ones you see displayed in advertisements for bodybuilding and fat loss supplements. Most of these drugs have dangerous side effects and I would never recommend that anyone use them if you are concerned about your health.

The bottom line  – It’s best to focus on one goal at a time for best results. If fat loss is what you need most, focus on that for a while and prioritize muscle building later down the road. If  you want to go ahead and try to do both, and none of these 4 factors apply to you, it may be very difficult to accomplish both goals at the same time without a very well thought out, long term plan.

If you enjoyed this article, please quickly do me a favor and share with others and comment below.

Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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