This small list of thoughts is far from exhaustive nor is it applicable only to individuals brand new to fitness. For many, the fat-loss journey can be a frustrating experience full of ups and downs, twists and turns, chaos, and unpredictability. Hopefully the 5 concepts listed below will give some insight as to how one can mentally approach the challenge of shedding fat mass.
1. The Number on the Scale Does Not Tell the True Story:
Firstly, notice how I did not say “weight-loss”; I said “fat-loss”. Many people can easily marry their numbers on the scale to the point where it becomes an addiction. They weigh themselves far too frequently, sometimes several times in one day. They might see their weight fluctuate through the course of a week or even a few days. And this confuses them (even though it is quite normal). Unfortunately, many individuals can become so fixated on their scale readings that, when they notice their weight is not decreasing (or even increasing), they lose their focus, motivation, drive, and even their social life takes a downturn. Ultimately, they let the numbers on the scale block their vision which can force them into making decisions based on reflex as opposed to rationale.
The scale measures your downward force driven by gravity. In other words, it measures how much matter is in you. A regular scale does not measure what type of matter is in you. This is key! If a scale were to ‘judge’ two different individuals – both weighing 140lbs, but one has 15% body fat and the other has 35% body fat – it would not be able to differentiate between the two individuals because they both weigh 140lbs. But clearly, the one with 35% body fat is at much more of a health risk than the one with 15% body fat.
Body composition matters. People should shift their focus to fat-loss rather than weight-loss. To do this, make an effort to build lean muscle and burn fat through regular exercise, clean eating, and an active lifestyle. This will all lead to a healthier life, which is actually much more important than frantically trying to lose significant weight with no program. The latter formula usually leads to poor decisions and ultimately no improvements in fat loss.
2. If You Are Struggling to Lose Fat, Increasing the Cardio Frequency May Not Be the Solution:
Cardio has many benefits and it definitely has earned its place in the health and fitness world. However, many individuals commonly have a misconception that it is the one and only route to fat loss. In fact, numerous novice gym-goers incorporate too much cardio and, when they realize they are not obtaining results, they mistakenly add even more cardio to their routines.
It has been well-documented and backed up by some impressively substantial research that strength-training with free weights is an outstanding method for fat-loss. The science has shown that individuals who regularly perform weight-resistance training (in conjunction with clean eating, of course) have achieved tremendous results in their fat loss, thus their body compositions have significantly improved. On top of this benefit, strength training has provided incredible positive carry-over to athletics and everyday living activities (better posture, more energy, etc).
This does not necessarily mean that the cardio training should be ditched altogether. However, dialing the cardio sessions back slightly and introducing strength training 2-4 times per week will definitely have a huge positive impact on fat-loss.
3. Progress Is NOT Linear:
In the early stages of exercising, it may seem like progress is linear. While people new to an exercise program may lose a good chunk of body fat every week in the preliminary stages, this does not necessarily translate into a smooth trend of fat-loss without any obstacles or setbacks between then and when they achieve their final goal(s). Believe me, there will be setbacks, seemingly unbearable challenges, adversity, struggles, and even a few bouts of frustration. There will be periods when someone will need to take a few steps back before taking a prominent leap forward. And, quite simply, since we are human, there will come a time when certain workouts will just flat out suck and not go according to plan.
What really matters is how one rebounds from these setbacks and keeps their journey in progress. Looking long-term at the overall picture is vital: Progress may not be linear, but the overall upward trend is what is really important. When people can turn what seems to be an insurmountable and impervious wall in their path into a temporary setback, they are primed for success in their fat-loss adventure.
4. Controlling Mindless & Pointless Eating is Essential:
It is often said that fat-loss or obtaining a more ideal body composition is based upon a ratio of somewhere along the lines of 10% gym: 90% nutrition. Of course, people could debate for decades on what really is the exact ratio for optimum success. I, personally, feel that the above ratio is not too far off the `actual` optimum ratio (if there is such a thing). The key message is that for one to achieve fat-loss, he or she cannot assume that exercising and nutrition are mutually exclusive. Exercising for hours upon hours every week does not give anyone a free ride to eat junk food on a regular basis. I am not a fan of clichés but the phrase, “you are what you eat” earns brownie points from me for being stunningly accurate.
Purposely and consciously eating an unhealthy meal is one thing. If someone is completely aware of what they are eating and knows that the next meal will not jive well with their fat loss goals, but they want it anyway for a break from clean eating, that is perfectly ok. Where people tend to go wrong, however, is the mindless, chaotic, and sometimes emotional (or in some combination of) eating that takes place far too often. Some people who can become quite sad or angry may need to gulp down a gigantic bowl of ice cream to obtain their `fix`; some who are stressed from a long week`s work may need to party with some friends and a go on a drinking rampage; some associate TV time with junk food time (heavily buttered popcorn, chips, pop, pizza, etc); some eat because they are nervous; others eat because they are just simply bored. The above examples are completely ok if they are isolated events. Unfortunately, they happen much too often to be considered one-offs. And this behaviour shows up in their lack of fat-loss progress.
Note: It is quite easy to confuse actual hunger with thirst. Ironically, drinking water is something of which so many people do too little. So the next time you are bored or nervous and you think you are hungry, drink down a handsome tall glass of water before thinking about digging in the fridge. After the glass, ask yourself again, “Am I actually hungry?”
5. Control the Other Stressors In Your Life:
This is related to the discussion in #4. Exercise is an essential part of the fat-loss equation, but it is far from being the only part. We beat the nutrition factor to death already. Now let`s consider all the other stressors in the life of being a human that could potentially wreak havoc on someone`s fat-loss goals.
Unfortunately, regular exercise and clean eating, alone, do not always equate to ample success in losing fat. Although this is much easier said than done, to lose the desired amount of fat and keep it off, people need to take care of the other facets that are important to them in life: Level of happiness; amount of quality sleep; how much water they are drinking; how active they are outside the gym (or too much sitting); how much stress is in their life; have they had to deal with any unfortunate tragedies?
Behaving at the gym between 1-10 hours per week is better than what most people do. However, 1-10 hours is still a very small percentage of 168 total hours in a week. If you exercise regularly and take care of your nutrition, but still aren`t losing fat, take a closer look at the stressors in your life and do your best on minimizing those. All of the above stressors (plus many more) have been shown to foil fat-loss plans. Fat-loss should not be a short-term challenge or a sprint; it is a lifestyle. If the stressors play a part in your fat-loss goals, then you know fat-loss (and keeping it off) isn`t just a chore. It is a living.