One thing I have learned thus far in my explorations of nutrition and fitness: almost every piece of it is contested knowledge. And people are passionate advocates for their version. It can be very frustrating when you are looking for simple answers. But there are a couple incontrovertible truths, and these form the foundation of our attitudes on strength.
Truth 1: You are either gaining fat or you are losing it.
People that want to lose weight (primarily) want to lose fat. That's key here and central to pretty much every assertion I'll make from here on out. Your body will burn fat when it doesn't have sufficient glucose available to provide energy to your muscles, brain, and other organs. This means, you need to do two things:
- Drive down the available levels of glucose in your system through your nutrition plan
- Create a need for increased conversion and consumption of fat to glucose through your exercise plan
If you have plenty of free-flowing glucose in your system (hello refined carbohydrates!), you are not going to burn fat, no matter what the treadmill meter says. I'll talk more about it in a future post, but this is the first preview of why "calories in/calories out" is problematic for weight (fat) loss.
I feel that I must state something here: there is NO SUCH THING as "spot reducing" fat from any targeted area of your body. You cannot tell your liver where to claim adipose tissue. Sadly - the areas we hate the most are likely to be the last ones to go.
Truth 2: You are either gaining muscle or are losing it.
"Toning" is a unicorn. It doesn't exist. Euphemisms employed by the commercial fitness industry, like "functional fitness" and "long, lean muscles" are little better. They are all empty promises. We realized that wanting to look better, feel better, and be able to function better really meant getting stronger. And, sadly, the female-oriented fitness machine is the worst offender of these urban myths. If I were President for just one day, I would abolish Zumba.
Truth 3: "Losing weight" really means reducing fat while improving (or at least not losing) your lean muscle mass
We realized that our weight and health were not new conditions. Our bodies had reached a level of homeostasis based on our lifestyle. Losing weight (fat) requires forcing your body to adapt to a new set of circumstances. Strength training creates adaptation in the body. And adaptation is critical to the entire premise of our journey. When you look at the effects of long-duration steady-state cardio, it just doesn't deliver the kind of adaptation you need.
Once we approached weight loss from this new perspective, it became clear that our goal was to actively work to get stronger.
Here is why it works:
- Muscle tissue burns glucose in order to perform work
- Muscles that are worked hard grow to be better able to perform that work
- Your body needs to do even more work to rebuild and grow more muscle (supercompensation)
- Your base metabolic rate is increased as a result of having the increased lean muscle
Okay - there are plenty of studies out there you can find that assert cardio is more effective for weight loss than strength training. But, when you look into the details of their findings, the participants are losing both fat and lean body mass. They are - in the very literal sense of the word - wasting away. And, with it, they are losing their ability to burn energy with those muscles. Also, most of these studies are, simply due to complexity and expense, limited in their duration and scope. And that really starts to cloud the support for the long-term benefits of steady-state as your primary tool for weight loss.
In addition to turning your body into a calorie-torching machine, strength training offered us a couple other very tantalizing benefits:
- Positively impacts bone density
- Increases hormone production
- Increases insulin sensitivity
Honestly, I wish little fireworks would go off at the moment anyone reads that last bullet. It was a pivotal moment for us when we put together the carbohydrate-insulin-muscles-diabetes chain. With all of our new knowledge about nutrition, this aspect of strength training fit like the perfect puzzle piece into our evolving mindset.
We actually stared at each other over the course of a couple of days and asked each other rhetorically, "So by reducing refined carbs and regularly lifting weights, people could not only lose so much fat but actually prevent and maybe even reverse Type 2 Diabetes? Really? Can it really be that simple?"