The juice is worth the squeeze – the long-term pitfalls to fat loss

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt, November 4, 1910.

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As regular as clockwork, the approach of the warmer months means that we are exposed to the inevitable: #shreddingforsummer, Instagram pictures of beaches/bikinis/budgie smugglers and Christmas songs piped into shopping centres 3 months out. Also as ubiquitous is the marketing of fat loss challenges or body transformation programs to ‘get you ready for summer!’ Approaching it cynically as a gym owner, summer provides an opportunity to capitalise on people’s insecurities, fuelled by either a winter of inactivity or long term mediocrity.

However, my view has always been the same; reality differs from the ideal and when that reality bites, it pulls no punches. I’ve been doing this long enough to know the truth – no short term fix will provide any long term benefit. So, before you go out and throw good money after bad on ‘cleanses’ or ‘30 day challenges’, you should understand that the reality of obtaining long term benefits from such programs is nigh on impossible. Further, the reality of fat loss in the long term includes challenges and factors which aren’t even contemplated by short term programs.

Frankly, I do not care where you train or what you do; what is more important is to remember that the reality of fat loss extends beyond time at the gym and has no defined period. It requires a systematic, long term approach. So in this vein, it is important to consider what might be holding you back from achieving your goals in the long term and acknowledge that encountering any of these does not give cause for you to drop your bundle and look for the short term fix.

Number 1 – Physiology

physiologySomewhat counter-intuitively, it’s best to deal with the most complex, yet least common limiting factor in achieving training outcomes. Usually the last factor to be considered (as most of us are naïve of our physiological condition, particularly when there is a lack of overt symptoms), the limiting effects of physiological imbalances can be the most significant in achieving our training goals. A small example of such factors are the likes of diabetes, thyroid deficiencies, insulin abnormalities, heart diseases or the impact of particular certain drugs for congenital disorders. If long term commitment to a training regimen proves ineffective, it may be worthwhile in obtaining blood tests from your doctor in order to ascertain what pathological or physiological factors that despite your commitment, cannot be trained through. In this instance, the best strategy is working around those factors and adopting an approach, both nutritionally and physically, in order to work best with the cards you have been dealt.

Number 2 – Psychology

psychologyToo many of us underestimate the effect our psychology has on fat loss and our general wellbeing. Psychological factors often manifest physically, including the anxiety and apprehension at the thought of visiting fitness facilities or the apprehension of placing oneself in an uncomfortable position during a workout. Even committed and experienced gym goers (myself included) can experience apprehension at the thought of a workout – that is but one example of the power of psychological limitation.

In the alternative, some people can be suffering from mental health issues that influence activity in the other direction, causing them to over-train, sleep poorly and not eat well. Living on this razor thin edge will increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol, a fat storing hormone that will impact the normal function of the endocrine system and negatively impact fat loss. So whilst they might be training hard and eating well, the results might not be what are expected considering their output.

Again, the simple answer in this scenario is to go see somebody. The first barrier is acknowledging that you have those issues; accept that you need help and you will be a hundred times better for it. You are not weak for going to see someone, you are in fact stronger that you realise you need help. Find a highly recommended therapist that you can relate to and work through those issues.

Number 3 – Injury/Illness & pseudoscience

7-ways-to-identify-pseudoscience-infographicThere is a difference between genuine injury and convincing yourself, based on others opinion, that you have an injury. This is not normally through fault of the aggrieved but for too long too many people have been provided what I call “catastrophized diagnoses.”

Pseudo-health professionals tell people they have a plethora of issues to in order to maintain repeat business. I am sick of hearing that “my osteopath told me my ribs are out” – in that case, enjoy breathing; or “my hips are out of alignment” – so, how is it that you are standing with that shear through the SIJ?; or “I can’t squat cause my physiotherapist told me it’s too hard on my knees” – as you get in and out of the car without pain! Frankly, any excuse resembling the above is horsesh!t.

While every injury has to be respected and treated on its merits, I cannot handle pseudo-practitioners catastrophizing niggles, influencing their clients into believing that they are beyond repair (or that repair can only be attained through said practitioner). If you go to a chiropractor, osteopath, acupuncturist or another alternative medicine practitioner, it is important to remember that very little of that advice has foundation in science; there is no research to suggest that any of these approaches works in the long term.

That being said, there is no discounting the impact of the placebo effect and if it works for you, then keep doing it. While I am a big believer in physiotherapists and doctors (or other sufficiently trained medical professionals), not all of those are without fault as many of us have had poor experiences with even the most trained medical professionals. For example, if a physiotherapist encourages repeat visits for everything, then its right to feel sceptical – their job is to stop you from having to see them and if they don’t have a plan for that, then they aren’t doing what’s right for you. The same can be said for a physiotherapist who suggests halting training altogether – too many physiotherapists put the handbrake on out of cautiousness, without realising that inactivity breads more injury. A good physiotherapist will instead will encourage alternative methods to avoid further injury but maintain the momentum of training.

Unfortunately, there are people who have genuine ailments and injuries that will inevitably make things more difficult. This doesn’t mean you can’t get better or you can’t get to where you want; what it means is that it may take longer or we have to adjust the strategy. Never see an injury/illness as fatalistic; it is simply that the path to, but not the end goal, which changes.

Number 4 – Nutrition

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Putting aside any physiological or psychological inequities or contending with pre-existing injuries, the remaining two factors are obvious, are factors things I’ve discussed ad nauseum and are often the most contentious and often unnecessarily confounding factors of all.

With so much conflicting, often unfounded, opinion out there (thank you Pete Evans for making yourself an easy target), I don’t blame the public for not knowing what to do. So let’s keep this to a couple of lines. If you are carrying excess fat around the mid-section then quite simply, you have taken the piss for too long particularly; you have had too much of these foods: excess sugar and simple carbohydrates (including pasta, noodles, bread and rice) and the devil of them all, alcohol. My thoughts on nutrition have been covered before and it’s quite simple – you cannot out-train a poor diet. There are exceptions though – some people commit to the cause and have a dedication to nutrition that many would envy, yet struggle to reduce fat or in fact, put on weight. In this instance, see point one – you may be one of the few that have issues that simply cannot be trained through.

Number 5 – Training Regime

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Simply, you either don’t move at all or don’t move enough and for the guys who don’t move, well this is simple – MOVE!

However, it is not enough to approach training as a walk and one session a week at the park with your trainer who does two handed boxing; while this is better than nothing, that mindset has to change. Invest in a trainer that knows what they are doing, who approaches things professionally and is constantly looking at improving their knowledge and not just a trainer who is pleasant, easy on the eye and the product of a 7 week course. This is your health and wellbeing you are investing in, so it’s best to approach it in the same way you would for major financial decisions – find someone that will put you on a path that will improve you not just for the here and now but also the future. I’ve previously spoken about what makes a good trainer and that opinion remains unchanged.

Finding your balance

In my opinion, without addressing anything else the two most controllable variables will always be nutrition and training. They may be number 4 and 5 on the list above but this does not reflect their impact – if anything, it reflects the fact that these two factors are the most obvious and should not come as any surprise to anyone. While being conscious of all other factors, consistency in nutrition and training will always be beneficial – sure, the other factors listed may mean that your results aren’t representative of your efforts but it is important to remember that nothing you do in terms of nutrition and training will ever be detrimental.

More importantly, consistency is always key – it means that you don’t stop those efforts on a Friday night and it the discipline doesn’t wane after 30 days/6 weeks/8 weeks. Things take time; it didn’t take you 5 days to get to where you are, so it’s not going to take that long to get to where you want to be. Knuckle down, get the work done and the rest will take care of itself.

By Matt Ham

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