Scenario: You've spent an entire month waking up early to get a workout in, you've cut out junk food and soda, and you've ate more fruits and vegetables than you ever thought you would. Yet when you step on the scale, your weight hasn't budged. At this point, you may have decided to give up and let your weight dictate your day and how you feel.
Has this ever happened to you? The problem is, the scale can never tell the whole story. You may be losing or gaining weight...but where is this weight coming from? Muscle or fat?
If your overall goal is to be "skinny", let me start by saying that contrary to what the media and magazine covers want you to believe, skinny does not always mean you are healthy. Can you be skinny and unhealthy at the same time? Absolutely. Just because someone is at a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) doesn't automatically mean they are healthier than someone with a higher BMI. For many years, BMI has basically been the "standard" way of determining whether a person is healthy or at risk for health problems. Based on only your height and weight alone, with BMI you are categorized as either being "underweight", "normal", "overweight", or "obese". However, according to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic, as many as 10% of Americans may be "skinny fat" or "normal weight obese". Meaning, although these individuals are within normal BMI range, they can still have a high body-fat content, increasing their risk for cardiovascular disease and other health-related problems. The problem with BMI is it fails completely at differentiating between high body fat and lean muscle mass. I have seen this firsthand with my clients who are collegiate and professional athletes. According to BMI alone, they are considered "overweight" or "obese", yet many have less than 15% body fat. (Here's a chart on healthy body fat percentages.)
So instead of solely basing all your hard work by the number on the scale, how should you actually gauge your progress? Check up on your body fat. Whether you do this with an actual body fat device (i.e. skinfolds, BIA, bodpod, etc.) or you simply do this by monitoring how your clothes are fitting (muscle takes up less room in the body than fat, meaning you may look and feel leaner even at the same body weight). Knowing your body fat percent can help you make realistic goals on how much fat you want to lose. It can also tell you if you're losing lean muscle mass, which could be because you aren't eating enough or you're training too much. When you lose weight too quickly (i.e. more than the average healthy recommended max of 2 lbs per week), you are most likely also losing muscle and water...not just fat. The best example I have of this is the contestants on the show The Biggest Loser. This show gives viewers false and very unhealthy expectations for weight loss. I have honestly had a few clients refer to that show - telling me they "just don't know why they can't lose 14 lbs in a week" like the contestants on that show, when they feel frustrated after only losing one or two pounds a week. The ugly truth is that the contestants aren't going to sustain this weight loss, as it's primarily muscle and fat loss...and chances are, a few months after the show's ended, they will sadly gain it all back. Here's a great article on what has happened to many of the contestants after the show.
Body image is a person’s perception of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. Having a positive body image means that most of the time you see yourself accurately. You feel comfortable in your own body, and you feel confident about the way you look. Just like you can't base your progress with the number on a scale, you can't base it on what you see others doing on TV or the celebrities in magazines. It isn't realistic, and most importantly, it isn't your own journey. Your overall health, your hard work, and your self-worth is so much more than the number shown on a scale. Don't let that number or what you see in the media dictate your day or your confidence.
If you're looking for healthy ways to decrease your body fat, try these tips below:
1. Exercise - Try adding some resistance training to your routine. You don't need a gym membership for this...you could purchase a pair of hand weights to use at home or even perform body weight exercises 2-3 times per week to start. Along with resistance training, try getting in some cardio as well. Just 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity can help boost your metabolism and burn fat.
2. Cook at home! You'll greatly reduce the fat and sodium content in your food, and you can monitor exactly what's going into it. It's also a great way to get your whole family involved in something together. Check out my recipes page for simple recipes you can make at home.
3. Breakfast - Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Give your metabolism a boost by eating within 30 minutes of waking up! Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast everyday are 40% less likely to develop belly fat than those who don't. Here's some breakfast tips and recipes to get you started.
4. Eat Consistently - Skipping meals can be one of the worst thing for your metabolism. When people skip meals or decrease their calories significantly (<1000 calories/day), they go into "starvation mode" in which the body tries to compensate for the low calories. Your metabolic rate can actually decrease by as much as 10-15% doing this!! Your body will hold onto fat and burn lean muscle instead. So aim to eat a small meal or snack every 3-4 hours...here's some additional tips on healthy snacking.
5. Sleep! Studies show sleep loss affects the way we metabolize carbs, which could possibly lead to increased hunger or slowed metabolism. Lack of sleep can also interfere with your energy levels during the day, causing you to skip a workout because you're too tired. Try getting in at least 7 hours of sleep!
If you are unsure where to start, contact me and I can help design a plan to fit your personal needs and lifestyle!