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    Do You Really Want to 'Lose Weight'?

    I hear it all the time: "I need to lose weight."  It sounds good - even goal-like in its context - but there's a lot going on psychologically when that phrase is uttered.  Considering the fact that our brain obeys commands, even ones that we would prefer it not obey, we have to be very precise in what we say or think.  We have to create for ourselves a successful environment rather than a self-defeating one.  What you say packs quite a punch - either a good punch or a painful one.

    "I need to lose weight" is a very interesting psychological statement.  It sounds good on its surface, but think about it for a second: what does our brain register when it considers the word "lose"?  Normally when we lose something, we want to get it back.  If I lose my wallet, I will spend as long as necessary trying to get it back.  Many times have I "lost" my keys and spent the better part of an hour hunting for them.  The loss will consume my thoughts and actions until I have found that which was lost. 

    "Losing weight" creates a similar mental response.  We struggle to 'lose weight,' then when we succeed in finally losing the weight, we habitually "search" for that weight again by falling back into old habits.  Before long, we are right back where we started and have to repeat the process of "losing weight".  Losing something intentionally is counter-intuitive.  After all, what else in your world have you ever tried to lose? 

    Instead of making the negative psychological statement, "I'm going to lose weight," we can simply state a power statement like, "I'm reducing my body fat and strengthening my muscles."  We actively pursue that goal by engaging in cardiovascular and weight-training exercise, and we eat food that is balanced in required nutrients.

    Next, let's consider what it means to "lose weight."  When most people think about losing weight, they are really talking about making a change as it appears on a scale.  Well, I've already covered the uselessness of a scale in my Measuring Progress article.  However, there's a little more to scale weight than meets the eye.  If I stop eating today and refuse to feed myself for the next 3-5 days, I can guarantee that I will lose weight.  Will it be healthy for me to reduce the scale weight by starving myself?  I think the answer to that question is fairly obvious - starvation is never a good idea.  In particular, the type of weight lost by starvation is not going to create the results I really want - a reduction in body fat percentage.

    We can reduce our body weight in 3 specific ways.  First, we can trim water weight.  This is particularly easy to do by simply drinking more water.  Sounds counter-productive, I know, but the truth of the matter is that when the body begins to enter a state of dehydration, it will hold on to whatever water it can by cramming it into body tissues - including fatty deposits.  Under normal circumstances (some medical conditions are special cases.  See your doctor for details), drinking water will alert the body that the drought is over and it can release saved water.  I've seen cases of people dropping 5-7 pounds in a week by starting a dietary regimen that includes drinking significantly more water.  I've personally experienced a 10 pound weight reduction in a 2-week period after making a change and drinking more water.

    The second way we can reduce body weight is to starve our bodies into submission.  A body that has no food will inevitably shrink, but the weight will not be fat reduction.  The body preferentially uses food for a ready fuel source.  When no food is available, the body will turn to fat for fuel.  In short time, however, the body realizes that it is in a state of famine and will stop using fat for fuel.  The next available source of energy is muscle tissue.  At this point, the individual begins losing muscle mass - a double edged sword that can have severly negative consequences.  In the short term, a starvation diet kills the metabolism, making burning calories even harder.  The loss of muscle tissue makes coming off the diet a problem because the body's ability to burn calories is now handicapped, allowing even the smallest amounts of food to be stored as fat.  Prolonged starvation diets can cause cardiac issues - remember, the heart is a muscle too - and eventually death.

    The way we want to reduce body weight is by losing fat.  The way to reduce body-fat percentages is by actively engaging in a consistent exercise regimen and by eating a balanced intake that includes protein, whole carbs, and good fats.  Exercise with a crappy food source will make muscles stronger, but will do nothing to change the shape of the body; the individual might actually gain weight as muscles grow and fat percentage remains consistent.  Eating well without exercise will likely cause very small changes over time, but will not yield remarkable results.  Both careful eating and exercise are necessary to make a noticeable and healthy change in body composition.

    Be well.