Why does a personal trainer spend so much time talking about food? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. The most important is that people continue to think that exercise is the key to losing weight – and it’s not. The other reason is that people also tend to misunderstand how much protein they need daily – that slows down the progress they might make with strength exercises in particular. So, here’s the facts:
- From Herman Pontzer, PhD’s new book, Burn: as one of the leading researchers into how human metabolism works, numerous studies clearly demonstrate that humans have a set point of daily caloric burn, and it doesn’t move much. He also explains why individuals on The Biggest Loser almost always regained most/all of the weight lost (during a grueling challenge that most of us would view more as torture). Notably, he also points out that triggering a state of starvation in people causes all sorts of energy to be conserved – in the case of the folks on The Biggest Loser, some of their bodies still showed signs of starvation mode 6 YEARS later, including in their organs and in the functioning of individual cells. Other strenuous studies lasted 14 months, and participants lost very little weight (1-2 pounds or less) and a few even gained a few pounds. If you’re interested in this subject, I highly recommend the book, as it clears up the situation we’re in, as humans. It’s not a how-to guide, though – it just helps to clarify why so many people see little return on the scale from becoming very active, unless they also manage their food intake. It’s because our brains are experts at balancing our movement with our intake to keep us safe from starvation.
- Protein – we’re at the end of the first founding members’ challenge, and I’ve been very pleased to see muscle development in women who initially didn’t make the connection between muscle maintenance and protein consumption. (And so were they!)
Protein is essential for repairing tissues in your body – carbs and fats are basically for providing nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and energy. Understanding that you require all three is helpful, as long as you remember that if you consume more than your body can use, you’ll end up with a surplus that will get stored as short-term energy or (long-term energy) fat. So, let’s combine this with the first point – exercise doesn’t really help you lose weight – the type and amount of food you eat makes the most difference. I saw this myself in an experiment back in 2019 – I had a challenge with myself to walk at least 10 miles a day for the 10 days I was on vacation in Colorado. I managed 111 miles total. Weight lost: zero pounds.
At this point, you might think – “Ok, I hate exercise, and if I can’t lose weight doing it, I’m not going to.” Look, you’re free to do that, if that’s what you really want. But while YOU might hate exercise, your body loves it. Your brain, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, and endocrine (hormone-producing) systems all do better when you get adequate exercise. That’s why recommendations about getting a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise are out there – studies show that we suffer from fewer sedentary lifestyle-linked health conditions if we get at least that much exercise. Just don’t think that there’s a weight-loss reward from working out – I think that’s the disappointment most people aren’t able to deal with. They get discouraged because a scale’s readout is more important to their self-image than how they feel, how healthy they are. And to be honest, a lot of unscrupulous marketers have claimed a direct relationship between their revolutionary workout program and stunning weight loss – and when their customers fail to lose the weight, it’s implied that they didn’t work hard enough. It’s shameful.
As I write this, I’m about 20 pounds heavier than my lightest adult weight, and I’ve never felt better, or been more flexible or strong than I am right now. Listen, there are enough critics out there in the world – I think it’s extremely helpful to fire the critic that lives in our head if it’s hung up on such an outdated concept as weight, our prior weight, our teenaged-self weight, etc. Some ideal weight is simply not the be-all and end-all of our value and fitness, and it’s not the reward for a lifestyle filled with dreaded amounts of burpees and running. Being kind to yourself definitely requires understanding the science and giving yourself a break from the constant babble of fitness industry marketing telling you how you don’t measure up. Eating in a nutritious way and moving your body are BOTH aspects of what we call “fitness” – they’re related to each other, but only one of them affects weight loss. Both nutritionally-dense food and exercise are powerful tools for health. Both are within your grasp. And both get easier to do with help, so call me if you’re still having a hard time making it happen!