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Paul Rogers

How to Lose Weight, Maintain Muscle, and Stay Slim

By September 21, 2010

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In another forum recently a wide-ranging debate took place about the obesity epidemic and how best to tackle it. Two sides seemed to naturally form:

  1. Those who thought that there was some magical, apparently misunderstood element to the current obesity rates in western countries like the US, UK and Australia, and;
  2. Those who thought that it was a simple matter of too much food and too little movement and exercise -- the basic energy in, energy out argument.

I must admit to being in the second camp. I've no doubt that at body mass indexes beyond BMI 30, normal hormonal control of appetite and satiety tends to break down; there is plenty of evidence for this. But ultimately, it still comes down to the first law of thermodynamics, which says that energy is neither created nor destroyed, but can change from one form to another. This means there is no magic in weight loss when it comes down to basic physics. Eat less, move more, lose weight. That's the mantra.

Some weight loss 'experts' like the idea of set-point theory, which says that the body, over time, develops autonomous self-regulation of existing weight and that it adjusts metabolism to maintain that mass even though you try to adjust the energy in and out parameters. My feeling is that even if this is so, a determined approach, probably over months and perhaps even years, can reset this point. Exercise, with weight training an essential part, is going to be a fundamental tool in achieving this -- for several reasons.

In the morbidly obese with BMIs trending over 30, losing weight gets to be a real problem, because sufficient movement becomes difficult and the dysregulation of hormones like insulin, glucagon, leptin, ghrelin, and adiponectin destroy appetite control. Many of these people  should be diagnosed with serious illness and be under medical supervision and treatment. For the under 30 BMIs, there should be more optimism.

The catabolic dilemma. When you cut calories seriously, as a general rule, you lose not only fat but muscle and bone as well -- and your metabolism tends to slow. Contrary to expectation, obese  people tend to have higher metabolisms. The trick is to maintain those high rates while you lose weight. This is  why weight training needs to be an essential part of a weight-loss program. You should avoid very-low calorie diets without exercise because they cause the yoyo phenomenon of weight loss and weight gain. And there are scientific studies to show that a more rational approach with calorie restriction plus exercise and weight training can help maintain muscle, metabolism and bone while you lose fat.

Some people don't like gyms. Fair enough, but you can set up a great weight training workout at home with a set of dumbbells and little more than a chair or specialist bench.

It's all been said many times before in other forums, but the type of diet or diets in general -- low-carb, low-fat or anything else -- should not be a dominant feature of weight loss programs. Lifestyle change is the key, but the underlying approach is to eat less and exercise and move more -- and do some weight training. Check out Beginners Fat Loss.

September 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm
(1) Shane says:

As always Paul, you hit the nail on the head with your commentary about exercise and fat loss. A great fat burning workout plan that increases your your metabolism and builds muscle is key, along with sensible eating practices of course. Anyway, keep up the great work.

September 23, 2010 at 8:32 am
(2) Theo says:

Paul, I think your comments are spot on a a devotee of resistance training and an ex-personal trainer I can vouch for your “Eat less, move more, loose weight” mantra. Too many people are looking for “magic” in a special food or supplement, it isn’t there but in the basics you mentioned. The only thing I found that helps me have better workouts is some carbs and a good cup of coffee before heading out to the gym. Thanks.

September 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm
(3) I Like Weight Training says:

Yes I have found weight training to be the most effecive tool in maintaining a healthy weight for me. For those who want to lose weight, what do you think is more effective: heavy weight lifting (about 5 reps per set) or light weight lifting(10+ reps)??

I believe and have heard that light weight lifting is better for lowering weight, just want to get some more opinions.

September 29, 2010 at 10:30 pm
(4) James says:

Paul, why, why, why do you lend validity to the use of BMI to determine obesity? A 6’1″ weight lifter who weighs 235 lbs and has 11% body fat is obese while someone of the same height who weighs 185 lbs but smokes, drinks and doesn’t exercise is considered to be healthy.

I totally reject this asinine measure – it’s lazy, outdated (look up a Met Life healthy heght and weight chart from the 1950s and do the math) and does nothing to further the discussion of a truly healthy body composition.

The medical profession should insist on standardized body fat measuresment methods (electrical impedance, skinfold measurement, etc.) and use those to determine whether a person has a healthy body or not, and responsible fitness-industry participants (including you) should support its use.

September 29, 2010 at 11:31 pm
(5) Paul Rogers says:

James, you underestimate me if you think I don’t understand the inadequacies of body mass index as a measure of fatness. As well as being wrong about heavily muscled individuals, it also gets it wrong with the ‘sarcopenic obese’ — skinny, low-muscled guys with big bellies for example, who may be under BMI 25.

Most experienced trainers know it’s just a starting point. My comments were about how the ante is upped when people get into the obese range compared to the more moderately overfat.

You can measure body fat with calipers (also somewhat inaccurate), or use a combination of waist circumference and waist to hip ratio to refine your assessment.

A doctor I knew used to use the ‘finger test’. He’d insert his index finger into patients belly buttons and if it disappeared up to the first joint, he told them to lose weight. Not exactly scientific, and at the mercy of distorted belly buttons, not to mention odd shaped fingers. Maybe this is the FJI test — ‘finger joint index’.

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