Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lean Not Light!

Some of the threads on have moved me to write this blog entry for two reasons. Firstly there seems a lot of confusion out in the big wide world about the whole subject of weight loss, and more than a few mixed up ideas about how it all works.

Anyone who read this blog knows that I often refer to Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). One of the things that John Grinder (one of the first developers of NLP) discovered was the effect that language and the language we habitually use has the way we create our ‘map of the world’ and how we interact with the world.

Which brings me to the word ‘weight’! Indeed the very site I use (and thoroughly recommend is call!

But is it weight we want to lose? If that were the case it would be easy we could hack off a limb and immediately be many pounds lighter!

Is it weight that is an indicator of poor health to come? I suggest not. I have seen no evidence whatsoever of increased heart problems or incidences of diabetes among bodybuilders and figure athletes, rugby union players, male sprinters all of which would be considered over weight by any conventional measure.

I suggest that what we want to be rid of is FAT. Certainly speaking personally my goal is for the first time in my adult life to be lean. I really don’t give a hoot what the scales say!

So what is the difference and why does it matter?

It matters because of all the research indicating obesity will lead to health problems and possibly premature death not one study I have seen indicates that an excess of lean mass is a problem.

Our bodies have not evolved to be fat! We evolved over hundreds of thousand of years to live in times of scarcity and then relative plenty. Therefore we have evolved mechanisms to both conserve resources (fat stores) in times of famine and lay fat stores down in times of plenty (just like many other species do). Our problem in the developed world is that in the last 40 years we have moved out of anything approaching that cycle into an era of super abundance! We are surrounded by calories! You cannot put fuel in your car without walking past racks of fuel for your body! However this has happened (in evolutionary terms) in a twinkling of an eye and there is no way we can evolve quick enough to adjust.

So consequently people are laying down more and more fat as we sleep walk through this eternal autumn of plenty into a train wreck of obesity in the future.

Luckily many have woken up. They know too much body fat is not good, either from a health or an aesthetic point of view. So what to do?

Firstly understand a little of how the body works. The body likes to store fat and it likes to hang on to it for as long as possible. It is programmed by evolution to do that.

Many people’s first thought when wanting to lose weight is to drastically cut down the intake of calories as after all it is an excess that is causing the fat isn’t it?

The problem with this is our evolutionary programming has equipped us with a mechanism so that when famine comes we give ourselves the best chance of survival. That is the processes of the body slow, neuro transmitters are produced that make us feel tired and lethargic so that we slow down activity and save our resources. The mechanism also releases a hormone that seeks to make up the deficit in our energy intake/output from our lean mass. After all if you are going to crawl into a corner and wait out the famine you won’t be needing all that muscle.

Also fat is natures energy store. That is why nuts and seeds are so calorie dense it is also why squirrels and birds like them so much! Nature stores what it needs the most.

And here is the kicker muscle is much more metabolic than fat. So every ounce of muscle we lose we lose some ability to burn food. Your needs go down and your ability to create a deficit goes down!

So if you do the standard ‘diet’ you will lose weight, of course you will! But what are you losing? Fat or lean?

Who is going to be healthier a 200lb man with 120lb lean mass and 80lbs fat or a the 260lb man with 240lbs lean and 20lbs fat (assuming the same height). I know which I would rather be.

What is the alternative? THINK LEAN!

I believe we need to have a radical shift of how we think about obesity and take ‘weight’ out of the conversation. Re-address goals. Rather than find out how to lose weight find out how to get lean! Rather than spend every day on the scales see how the clothes are fitting. Follow a PROVEN strategy for fat loss. The best people in the world for losing body fat are competition body builders and figure athletes. Not that I would go to the extremes they do, if only from an aesthetic point of view (it is just yuk!) However they can write the book on how to take fat off. So why not borrow a bit from these guys?

As I see it, if you follow the three paths of: cardio to burn fat, weight exercises (heavy enough to cause muscle hypertrophy) and nutrition such that you have a smallish calorie deficit but concentrating on giving your body the best nutrients you can there really is no way you will NOT get lean.

On this positive side of the coin our bodies have also evolved the mechanism that allows us to retain our lean mass and use up our fat if there is an adequate supply of food (even though it might be in deficit to our needs) as long as we are also using our muscles. In this circumstance a very different hormone is produced that allows the deficit to be made up from fat.

However I can almost hear people saying, but I am not a competitive body builder or a super fit athlete! To which I reply there is no need to be. I am not Jimi Hendrix but if I learn from the master a bit about guitar playing I will be a better guitar player!

We do essentially all have the same physiology. It is not as if when I take in excess energy it turns to fat and with someone else it turns to lemonade, is it? Of course there are different genetic types and some find it easier to be lean than others. However as one well known body builder was heard to remark “the more I work at it and the better I eat the better my genetics get!”

So let’s hear it for lean! Let’s get a bandwagon going ‘Lean not Light’.

There is a theory of memes which says that ideas can evolve spread and mutate like genes. I think this is a meme that we should set lose into the world!

I see so many people working themselves into a stew over a pound not lost this week, when I suspect it is not really even what they want. I suspect what they want is to be leaner, look better and feel better about themselves! And nothing wrong with that say I!

Of course the funny thing is if you do concentrate on getting lean, retain your lean mass and lose unwanted fat you will get lighter!

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