Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Womens Weight Loss Paradox: Why is the scale stuck?

It is said in bodybuilding circles that one can make gains using basically any program for the first 6 months. Call this the "6 month muscle honeymoon" where just about any type of exercise will add muscle, especially if you are not near your genetic ceiling. So a teenage boy will make gains for the first 6 months and then things will slow down in terms of adding muscle at that rate. I know in high school in the early 90's when I first got a weight set my arms grew considerably for 6 months and then things slowed down and I had to get on a 'Cybergenics' kit to "keep growing"! (Cybergenics were the original "before and after" marketers with just mind blowing 8 week transformations-turned out the guys in the amazing photos were really just  using steroids and I was paying alot of money for B-12 drops and other vitamins) Anyway I never made gains as great as my first 6 months without serious hardcore natural bodybuilding techniques. For example I had to squat over 400lbs and get up at night and drink gallons of milk and natural peanut butter/banana sandwiches to really put on muscle while living in a monastery (thats another story). But what does all this have to do with women's weight loss? Okay try and follow me here:
1. Traditionally most women do more cardio then weights but that has changed in the past decade which is great. Men do more cardio and women lift more weights. Great.
2. Most women care more about weight loss then men, leading to often dieting haphazardly and having little muscle mass. I am of course generalizing but I have seen it enough of it.
3. A women gets on a "good" plan to lose weight that includes knowing how many calories are needed to lose weight each day, being consistent with a lower calorie diet, doing easy exercise like walking to burn calories and make the body better at using fat, and doing harder exercise like intervals or weights 2-3 x week to "maintain" lean body mass while losing weight. 
4. However the women is not going to just maintain muscle mass but actually add muscle as they go through the initial "6 month muscle honeymoon." Just about any reasonable strength training program (which could be found for free on the internet) will work if they stick to it.
5. So someone may do everything right, such as eating with a plan that is sensible, doing their workouts and avoiding binge eating BUT the scale stays the same or barely budges. If the women has been shown how to do proper squats then one can expect some muscle mass to be built in the lower body and if she also becomes "good" at pushups then there is some corresponding increase in upper body muscle. If one is not tracking lean body mass(which includes muscle and is rather hard to do properly without a DEXA scanner machine) then one should not be too concerned with the scale weight and instead use these measurement tools:

-Ask yourself if you 'feel' better then before you started?
-Do you clothes feel looser?
-Do you have more energy?
-Do you have more confidence?
-Can you lift more weight then when you started?
-Can you do more reps then when you started?
-Can you do more cardio then when you started?
-Do you feel more relaxed and sleep better?
-Have you surprised yourself with a personal feat of strength such as getting out of a chair without using you arms for support?

Anyone can "cut weight" like boxers do, by not eating and riding a spin bike in a sauna until they pass out and may lose 10 -20 lbs. But of course that is coming right back when you drink something if you didn't die. But sustainable weight loss for women is conservatively 2lbs per month. One can gain in the 'honeymoon phase' maybe 1/2 lb to 1 lb or muscle per month. Either because she had never done any strength training or had been on an extended layoff due to injury, kids, life in general.) So someone starts at 200lbs and after 6 months loses 12lbs of fat (2lbs per month) while gaining 6lbs of lean body mass. Total weight loss for 6 months is only 6lbs and so the scale can be very frustrating if its the only tool of measurement. Even though I promise you this person looks way better and can actually continue to lose weight compared to 'their friend" who just ate cabbage soup and ran for 6 months and lost 20 lbs. The cabbage soup and cardio diet not only eats away remaining muscle but will leave you in a worse state in 6 months.

In my opinion and after years of "helping people get fit" I now care more about how a person feels then weighs and how they can function (like lifting up kids) more then just looking ripped. Since being "ripped" is basically an temporary illusion of shaving, tanning, lighting, photographing, photoshopping, drug using, starving and generally unhealthy and neurotic behaviour. Being ripped is as unhealthy often as being obese but in different ways and so moderation is key-some muscle, some fat, some strength, some endurance and some fun in your life is what it really should be about.