How Did We Get Overweight and How Do We Get Back?
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you probably have heard that everyone wants to lose weight these days. The CDC states that 35.1% of adults over age 20 are obese and 69% are overweight or obese (2011-2012). These numbers are slightly higher than they were when I finished school, meaning the trend isn’t stopping. Overweight and obesity are trending. So what do we do about it?
The correct answer is not to join the club. It can be tough to go against the flow in society when everyone is encouraging you to use food as socialization. There are office parties every other week, restaurants with huge portions, general lack of knowledge about nutrition, and peer pressure to drink more than you want. People generally lack ideas on how to socialize without food.
Some also use food for reasons other than physiological nutrition. It is a comforting. It is rebelliousness. It is something to have when you are happy. It’s something you do when you watch TV. There is pretty much always a reason to rationalize eating beyond what your body needs.
It is thought that weight gain occurs due to a reduction in physical activity with no change in diet over time. Overeating and emotional eating are also reasons for weight gain. Does this mean you can just increase exercise to take the pounds off?
Unfortunately, no. It takes a LOT of physical activity to burn a small amount of calories according to a review. Significant weight loss only happens with greater than 225-420 minutes (3 hrs and 45 min to 7 hrs) of physical activity a week (defined as 5-7.5 kg or 11-16.5 lbs). Most people have trouble meeting the 150 minutes a week recommended in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
I know that when I run a mile on the treadmill in about 7-8 minutes as a 170 lb man with high lean mass, I get about 150 Calories burned. Most people cannot do this unless you’re already in shape. In comparison 12 fl oz of orange juice has 168 Calories and one 12 fl oz container of Coke has 140 Calories. Which is easier to produce a caloric deficit with?
Additionally, unless you know how to cross train and periodize your workouts, you could risk an overuse injury from excessive exercise combined with trying to cut calories. Now you’re out of commission and burning fewer calories than you typically do because you can’t exercise and still haven’t learned how to balance food intake. This could lead to even more weight gain. Combine the fact that most people are not in the best shape of their life and there is limited time in a week, we come to the conclusion that exercise is not the best way to lose weight.
Now don’t get me wrong! Exercise is very good for you. It can increase your lean mass, make you stronger, faster, more agile, make activities of daily living easier, increase bone density, reduce blood pressure, improve your good cholesterol, improve blood glucose sensitivity, reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and help prevent weight gain. It’s just not the best for weight loss.
Now we come back to the original question. Should you hire a personal trainer or registered dietitian for weight loss? Unless your personal trainer has formal training and experience working with people with nutrition, you’re more likely to get the number to go down on the scale with a registered dietitian nutritionist working with you. Personal trainers are not trained to do nutrition work. The minimum requirement in most NCCA accredited certifications is 1 chapter in a textbook that translates to a few random questions on an exam they took at one point in their life.
RDs on the other hand have a university education in nutrition, a rigorous 1200 hour supervised practice program working with individuals and groups on nutrition, and an exam that is not a joke. They are trained to do nutrition counseling and work with people on making nutrition behavior changes as well as knowing the science behind it.
So how did we get overweight in the first place? It was likely decreased physical activity while eating similar to how you used to. It could also be overeating, mindless eating, or emotional eating. How can weight come off?
Eat a bit less than you usually do over time. Pretty much, you do the opposite of what you did to gain the weight. There is no crash dieting, complete food group restriction, bad foods, or fasting necessary. It’s all about decreasing calories from dietary sources while adding exercise to keep it off and increase your physical capacity to keep it off.
It can be pretty hard to do this on your own. Accountability for your actions is a huge part of weight loss. The weight didn’t come on overnight. It takes time to lose it in a healthy way. Additionally, if you lose it too fast, you may not allow time for your skin to readapt to your body. If you do it without exercise to build up lean mass, it can also leave some excess skin.
In future posts, we will discuss why sometimes exercise interferes with weight loss through dieting and how that happens. Be sure to follow and share if you liked this post!