If you speak to most people in the gym, you’ll find their main reason for going is to lose weight. On average, most people are looking to lose two stones of weight. But why this magic number? More importantly, how quickly can you lose two stones? There are plenty of diets and training programmes promising rapid weight loss, but do they achieve positive results?
In this first part of a two-part article, we look at why a weight goal might not be right for you. We also present you with realistic time frames for weight loss.
What’s your weight loss goal?
I’ve worked in the fitness industry for over a decade. I have lost count of how many people I’ve coached as a trainer. Something I can almost guarantee is that a client will tell me they want to lose weight. It’s interesting that when asked ‘how much weight do you want to lose?’, the most common response is ‘I need to lose two stones’. Why is two stones the magic number for most people? Even if your magic number is different, it’s crucial to understand your weight loss goal.
To answer the two stones question, we must delve deeper into the goal of weight loss.
But first, let’s just be clear. There are only three cases where your goal needs to be attaining a certain weight:
- Medically, you may have been given a weight target. Usually, this is for surgery or assistance in contraceptive intervention.
- Your job. As out-of-date as it sounds, for jobs such as air hostesses there are still height and weight requirements.
- Certain sports may require you to compete within weight limits. Sports such as boxing, horse racing, even formula one impose weight classes and weight limits on the athletes.
Digging deeper into weight loss goals
If you do not fall into the above categories, why does the weight loss need to be specific? After all, when you imagine your future self after weight loss, you’re not seeing a picture of the scales in your head, you’re picturing what you look like and how your life will be.
With clients, after asking how much weight you wish to lose, the follow-up question is ‘why that number?’. You may not know precisely why you’ve plucked that specific number.
There are usually several responses given to the why question, often they go along the lines of these:
- I’ve put (amount) on over the last (period), and I’m not happy, I want to go back to before that.
- I felt more confident when I was (amount) lighter, so that’s where I want to be.
- Since putting on (amount), I feel unhealthy and want to get back to how I was.
- I used to fit in (dress size), so I want to get back to that: at the minute I dare not put any of my dresses on as I feel hideous in them.
With these answers, we are getting closer to the real reason to wanting to lose the weight. The goal is usually about feeling better about yourself. But we still need to probe just a little bit deeper. After that, the follow-on question is often ‘what physically would make you feel happier? Can you picture the look you want that will create that happiness and confidence?’ The typical answer to this question is usually along the lines of:
- I want to look slimmer
- I want to be more toned
- I want to stand tall with confidence
- I don’t want to jiggle when I move
- I want to have a six-pack
The REAL goal
Now you have the real answer to the question ‘what do you want to achieve?’. Originally it was the number on the scale you needed to achieve. But that’s not the real goal. The real goal is to look better. By looking better, you will feel better. It’s important to understand that losing a specific number in weight does not guarantee that you will look or feel better.
The path to your real goal does not lie with a specific weight loss, but rather an improvement in body composition. You need a loss in body fat whilst maintaining lean body mass (LBM). When you target a weight goal, such as needing to lose two stones, this is general weight loss. Two stones is a large number, and losing it in the wrong way may not be healthy or achieve a look you desire. Focusing on fat loss may change the target weight loss, but it will give you the desired outcome of looking and feeling better.
Weight loss vs fat loss
There is a significant difference between weight loss and fat loss.
When you start a new lifestyle geared towards weight loss, you will see an initial rapid weight loss. The weight loss will begin to slow down as time progresses. When this happens, you are likely to increase efforts to maintain the initial rate of weight loss. If the number on the scale is going down, you are on track to achieving your goal, right?
The main issue of using the scales for weight loss is that you can’t determine what weight you are losing. Your body is made up of different elements – bone, organs, skin, muscle, fat, blood, water, and waste products.
When you see a weight loss on the scale, it could be due to a loss in
- Fat – that’s what you’re after!
- Water – this can vary hugely depending on things like salt intake, carbohydrate intake, alcohol intake, fibre intake, dehydration, hormone status, inflammation, medicines and so on.
- Protein – that’s not what you’re after, this is effectively a loss in muscle!
- Waste products – going to the toilet!
- Bone – over time, slowly, you may leach bone minerals if you take the wrong approach.
How do you know what weight you’ve lost over the past day and what weight you’re losing longer term?
Fat loss and LBM retention is the answer
By focusing on fat loss, your rate of weight loss may be slower, but it will have several significant benefits. And you’ll be healthier. Rapid weight loss may be detrimental to your health. This is because rapid weight loss comes with a loss of LBM. There are several adverse side effects linked to losing LBM, including increased risk of injury as well as a decline in certain functions of the brain. We have previously discussed the importance of muscle and how it plays a vital role in injury prevention and fighting off diseases. Some studies show that a significant loss of LBM during a dieting period will encourage a considerable weight gain after completion.
Weight loss reality
We previously highlighted the benefits of dropping body fat and retaining LBM in our body composition article. We also explained that the healthy rate of fat loss is one pound per week, based on the energy stored in a pound of fat and the required effort to remove it. To monitor weight loss, it’s best to combine a reading on the scales with a body composition scan. The body composition scan breaks down your weight into LBM and fat mass. You can monitor your fat mass and LBM, sometimes shown as fat-free mass, to ensure your weight loss is from body fat.
Based on the recommendation of one pound per week weight loss, losing two stones would take 28 weeks, which is around seven months. You may find that number disappointing, especially as many diets and programmes make claims of faster changes. And if you are obese or carry a significant amount of body fat, you may lose weight more rapidly initially. But generally, one pound per week is both sensible for retaining LBM, and realistic.
Summary of part one
Most weight loss goals are actually physique and health goals. If you look good, you are going to feel good which is the main outcome. You are more likely to associate the physique you want with a number on the scale. You need to appreciate that the weight on the scale is only your relationship to gravity. There are multiple tissues that make up your weight as a total. There are also multiple factors which affect your weight on an hourly basis. You need a better understanding of your body composition to appreciate your starting point.
Focusing purely on weight loss might be an unhealthy way to change the numbers on the scale. Instead, focus on reducing body fat whilst maintaining that vital lean body mass. With this goal in mind, the ideal weight loss figure is one pound per week. Although the change on the scale may be smaller than initially planned, the visual effects will be more impressive. Better still, your results are more likely to be sustainable and you are less likely to rebound. Monitoring your body composition and taking comparison photos should be used alongside the scales to evaluate your weight loss success.
In part two…
In part two, we will identify popular diets and methods used for weight loss. We will examine these methods and present the best way to attain your true goal of improved health and an improved physique, visually.