I’ve been out of the private training scene for a month or two now and I while I don’t feel like that’s enough time to properly collect my thoughts on this subject, I’ve started. And it’s a deep, fraught, emotional rabbit hole.
When you’re in the fitness industry there is a question that comes up more often than any other.
"How do I lose weight?"
Whenever I felt it coming I freeze.
Then I back away mumbling something about not being the person to ask because I’m only qualified in training, not nutrition.
It never fails to break my heart, as well as put me into a mild panic. Why? The question is simple enough and the answer has always been the same, so why so uncomfortable? Because 99 times out of 100 it came from someone of a healthy, normal weight. Who was nearly always a woman. Who has spent their entire life being manipulated and marketed into a horrible web of lies about the one thing that belongs to them and no other person or corporation.
So this article is for the woman who is an expert in her field but still asked me how to lose weight. This is for the woman who can deadlift a small motorcycle but still asked me how to lose weight. This is for the woman whose partner looks at her as if the sun shone directly out of her arse but still asked me how to lose weight. This is for the man who raised great leaders of the next generation but still asked me how to lose weight. This is for the person who never stops lifting everyone around them up but still asked me how to lose weight. This is for the people who would have a shot at being content if they could just stop asking how to lose weight.
It’s my attempt at putting into words everything I wish I had said to each of those clients and friends, and to my younger self. It’s a conversation I never actually had because it was easier to tell myself it wasn’t my problem and I didn’t have enough time to get into it.
But in not being part of the solution I was definitely part of the problem. I’m sorry. I let you down by not saying it when you asked.
This is what I think you should know.
Protein is not as important as you may think it is, it’s just easy to sell. There is nothing bad about carbohydrates. Fat is good for you, but there is no evidence it should constitute the biggest or the tiniest part of your calorie intake. Ketones are bullshit, or as close to bullshit as to be indistinguishable from it. In the absence of medical test results showing otherwise, your insulin response/thyroid/cortisol/adrenal glands/gut biome are probably not making you fat. Sugar isn’t either, but it may be making you unhappy.
Anyone who tells you otherwise has a vested interest in either robbing you of your money or your joy.
Healthy is not always lean and lean is not always healthy. The normal body fat range is around 20-30% for women, 10-20% for men (slightly lower for athletes, slightly higher with age). Not a lot of the Instagram #fitspo set would be inside that, and many appear to be well below it. Looking a certain way personally is not a qualification for involving yourself in other people’s health, and giving out diet advice with no training or education in nutrition can be dangerous. Medical and allied health practitioners would call this practising outside your scope and it is a very serious, potentially criminal, breach of ethics.
The ways we measure and track body composition are shady, at best. The body varies, sometimes significantly, from day to day. Splitting measurements down into single centimeters or kilograms is an exercise in deceit - that fine a fluctuation can come from nowhere and does not necessarily reflect actual change. In contrast, your perception of your body can turn on a dime. Weight, bio-impedence and circumference measurements give a rough idea, but are actually an inaccurate and misleading way of analysing composition. They are, however, an extremely effective way of depressing mood and self esteem.
Body weight, unless you are preparing for competition in a weight-classed sport, is rarely relevant to your training. Unless you count competitive bodybuilding, size and leanness are not performance metrics in sport. Time trials, VO2 max testing, weights lifted, sports-specific task completion, competition results – are all ways to measure athletic progress and achievement. Body measurements, even if sometimes vaguely relevant to performance, are not a way of measuring performance.
1200 calories a day is enough... if you’re 4’6’’, 40 kg and don’t move. Attempting to restrict your intake by that much only to wake up at night to eat a tub of ice cream IS NOT FAILURE - it's evolution taking the wheel. You are the latest model of a 2 million-year old survival machine, and starvation is a red alert problem. It will pull out all the stops to make sure you eat. In cases of actual starvation your body will make you want to eat dirt for the minerals it needs to continue basic function. In a massive energy deficit, the irresistible compulsion to eat more is not lack of self control - it’s the body ensuring you survive. And not just survive miserably, but thrive, dominate and have the strength to reproduce.
The fault was in deciding that less than 1500-2000 calories would do, not in picking up the spoon.
You can’t “cure” cellulite because Cellulite. Is. Not. A. Disease. It’s as normal as freckles. There is nothing wrong with it and you’re in good company - up to 90% of women have it. Can we instead talk about the sick, twisted business decisions that have deliberately turned something that nine out of ten women naturally have into a ‘problem’ so that the cosmetic industry can sell more products?
You CANNOT ‘spot reduce’ fat.
The amount you can ‘spot increase’ muscle in any one area has a limit.
For example: any self-respecting strength program that results in gluteal hypertrophy will also add mass to the quads, hamstrings and trunk and produce adductors that crush “thigh gap” into oblivion. Butts are made of muscle and fat and if you have a big chunk of that in one area of your body you’re usually going to have it all over. While some people can be naturally lean with booty, it’s the equivalent of winning the genetic lottery on similar odds as having different-coloured eyes or several sets of teeth.
Way more often, that booty is totally fake. If you don’t believe me I need you to familiarise yourself with Detox or Kalorie Carbdashian from the Rupaul Drag Race alumni.
Amenorrhea, or not having your period, is not some sick badge of honour that you’re ‘really fit’ or ‘thin enough’. It’s a sign that conditions have become so bad that reproduction needs to be shut down because either the offspring, the parent or both would die. That is serious fucking shit. Organisms don’t care about how jeans fit or bikini pics or careers or sports or anything. They only care about surviving and even that is only in order to reproduce. If that gets shut down THINGS ARE NOT OKAY.
Irregular periods or missing a few is not a cause to worry. But going extended periods of time without menstruating can have serious impact on hormones, metabolism, bone density, psychiatric health and many, many other things.
Less than 10% body fat is a critical health problem for women. Amenorrhea is most often observed at 11-13% and less. Six packs are usually visible on women up to around 15%. Again: the normal range is 20-30%.
In order to lose weight, you must be in an energy deficit. That is, consuming fewer calories of energy than you are expending. This causes your body to break down cells in order to have the energy it needs. You don’t get to choose what type of cells – some muscle will go along with fat.
In order to build muscle mass, you must be in an energy surplus and training for hypertrophy and you will also put on some fat with that muscle.
There is no way of arranging your macros, nutrient timing, fasting or supplementing that will allow you to lose significant fat while simultaneously gaining significant muscle.
At the end of the day, your body either has too much food energy available and it will store it or it doesn’t have enough and it will use stored energy.
There is no product or method that will make you lose weight without being in deficit. Only the supplement/diet food industry wants you to believe that.
Weight gain is from the body squirrelling away energy stores for a rainy day; it doesn’t want to give them up easy. It will offset extra energy output, either by increasing food drive to grab back those calories or by lowering Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT is a term for all energy expenditure except basic metabolism (digestion, circulation, etc) and exercise. NEAT could go down simply by feeling the need to keep a jumper on during the day, spending more time in bed before getting up, or fidgeting less. This being impossible to accurately track means that the old ‘calories in - calories out’ equation is an obfuscation.
Extra exercise will make you fitter, stronger and healthier and happier. However if you’re trying to measure everything to the last wretched calorie it may not create as much of a deficit as calculated. Boosting your NEAT is usually a more effective place to start. Only the exercise industry wants you to believe otherwise.
We have become so saturated with images of “perfect” bodies that things made of steroids, peptides, clenbuterol, implants, injectables, surgeries and disordered eating have stopped being unattractive and abnormal and become admired. And there is an imperceptible layer of posing, filters and editing on top of that. At this point we literally have no way of knowing what goes into an image. When in doubt, assume total fabrication.
Delete. Unfollow. Choose aggressively ethical influencers. Or no influencers; follow puppies instead. Spend your time and money on things that make your life or someone else’s better.
The worst of these industries, their advertisers and those who peddle this slow poison should be in prison. And no, that is not hysterical and I will not calm down.
It’s hard to even see it because all of our brains have literally formed steeped in this marketing, and the line between advertising and everything else is getting blurrier by the day.
But luckily the economics are simple: if starved of attention they will have to change their content or go out of business.
And that, my friends, we can do.