Weight and Body Composition Challenges

Lots of people have questions regarding weight and body composition. I know there are a lot of myths and false information out there regarding these two things and I would like to set a few of them straight.

The topic of weight for many is a sensitive one. Some people struggle to lose weight and struggle to keep the weight off. It's almost as if they only have to look a food at it suddenly materialises around the midsection. This seems rather unfair, as some people can eat as much as they like and never put on any weight. There is a lot of talk about genetics, sluggish metabolism, medication, various illnesses, and other factors that may cause weight gain or inability to lose it. Read on and make up your own mind.

Point 1 - You can change it all

The current situation you are in is not permanent. Your body at any given time is a reflection, a sum total, of your life until that point. What ever you have done with and to yourself is reflected in the mirror in the morning. It is also reflected in the genes that are currently expressed, it is reflected in the various measurable body metrics, such as weight and body fat percentage, lean muscle mass, and basal metabolic rate. You can change it all; however it will not happen instantly. Crash diets claim 3 Kg/week weight loss, which probably will take place if you only eat half a carrot and some dust each day. The reason why the weight comes back on is because this is not sustainable. It's too sudden. There is not enough time for the brain to make the necessary alterations in the physiological variables and processes nor the body image (your perception of yourself). Here is the scoop. Transforming the body into a lean high performance racing machine takes years. So get out of the outcome and start enjoying the journey. The result will come. Persist. Persevere. Be diligent. Most importantly - have fun and enjoy exploring your limits and pushing the boundaries.

Point 2 - It's all in the diet.

Wrong! Simply dieting like mad will lead you to lose weight, but there is no revving up of the metabolic engine that comes with variety of exercise. As the daily calorific input decreases the body goes into starvation mode. Literally all you eat gets stored, not much is burned, which leads to low energy levels and health problems. That is why it's not sustainable and it leads to the yo-yo effect with the weight as the starvation mode doesn't end as you start to eart. The storage continues for a while just in case there is another shortage around the corner. Don't get me wrong, eating the right things in correct quantities is very important, but as it turns out pretty much all of the diets out there don't really work. Since we all start from different places, our requirements are different at any given time. That is why everything has to be tailored to you specifically. No one can do it better than you. I encourage you to read up on nutrition and even to read diet books. Take inspiration and influence from some or all, depending on what feels right, and once you have more knowledge build your own eating plan. That is how you make it our own. It becomes sustainable when the choises you make are based on knowledge and educated choise - not when someone tells you to eat 4Kg of cabbage per day.

Point 3 - It's all in the exercise

Wrong! Exercising like mad and eating lots junk may make you fitter but it doesn't allow for the body composition change to take place and will most likely lead to various health issues down the line. Again knowledge is power. Here though, what most people struggle with is motivation. They get all fired up to start going to the gym or running or doing Insanity or Cross-Fit workouts at home. Then they get a bit sore and skip a day. The days turn into two or three. Then a week. When the initial enthusiasm has fizzled out and they are back to square one, but with the burden of yet another failed attempt under their belts. The solution is two fold. 1) Set yourself a fitness/sports/adventure goal. It has to be meaninful to you and it has to be that little bit scary. Something that will make you feel awesome as you reach it. Maybe something that you always wanted to do but never dared. Give it a date. You need to make it specific. Otherwise it will just be another 'would like to do one day' wishy-washy day dream. 2) Do what you enjoy doing. If you cannot stand going on the treadmill in the gym - stay away from the gym and run in the forest. If you really like rowing - join a club. If you enjoy cycling - buy a really nice bike and ride it like it deserves to be ridden.

You are more likely to stick to exercise that is fun and stimulating as opposed to something that is dull, boring and not enjoyable. The combination of fun exercise and a worthy goal is very motivational. 

Point 4 - Not all calories are created equal. 

There are a lot of people out there loudly proclaiming the virtues of this, that and the other. How eating one thing has made a huge difference and how excluding another has brought then bliss undreamed of. I would always take these claims with a pinch of salt. They are probably trying to sell you something. Even if it worked for them, you may be different. Instead tailoring your eating plan to your specific requirements is much more satisfying and will always yield a better result. Here you must be specific again. Your goal becomes very important in dictating your nutritional needs. If your goal is a fast short duration race or even power lifting, then carbs and protein are your best friends. If, on the other hand, you are looking at an endurance challenge then your best course is to steer towards fat and protein as your main sources of calories. Of course, reducing the short chain carbohydrates generally is only going to be a good thing due to the multitude of health benefits. But there it lies again. You must have a goal. "Just trying to lose a bit of flab" is not a goal. It means nothing and therefore it is impossible to achieve.

Point 5 - Variety is the key

As far as event specific or sport specific training goes, yes specialisation is important. If running a marathon is your goal, then you have to run. Same as with water polo, climbing, canoeing, cycling, and just about everything else. BUT! Adding variety into your life and training will only help you. Only doing the same thing over and over soon leads to a plateau and motivational struggle. Doing a variety of exercise not only keeps it fresh and exciting, but keeps you brain and body developing your athletic ability (Which leads to increased fitness, strength, coordination, economy and efficiency, as well as reduced likelihood if injury). Human beings developed to be the ultimate athlete. We possess a range of capabilities other animals cannot match. Yes, we lack the short burst speed of the big cats, we lack the massive strength of the gorilla, and we not as agile as the mountain goats are. What we lack in one, we definitely make up for in versatility. It would be a shame to only swim, or to only do archery, or only run - you can do it all.

Point 6 - Find out where you are starting from

Here is the rub. We all embark on our journeys from a different platform. Like I said before, your current situation is a reflection of your life until this moment. What that means is, that you need to figure out where you are in order to move forward. Most of us are ok. Normal, in other words. There are no medical or physiological hindrances to keep you from advancing. For some of us the first step on the journey is to get tested to find out what is wrong with us. If you are struggling (seriously struggling) with something just not feeling right and not getting the benefit from your hard work then chances are that something needs to be sorted first. Seeing a professional is a good thing, as they can usually guide you in the right direction relatively quickly and save you a lot of time and aggravation trying to work it all our for yourself. Whether your problems lie in the physiological, emotional or chemical fields, they will all exert a major influence on your nervous system, which controls the body. When injured, we feel low and grumpy and tend to comfort eat. When emotionally upset and in turmoil, we get wound up and tense, the sleep patterns suffer and out hormones go all wonky. When we are chemically in trouble we don't absorb the nutrients from our food and the healing and repair processes slowly grind to a halt. It's all important and it's very much worth finding out what the matters is and sorting it out.

Baseline Test:

1) Take a blank A4 and draw a line down the middle. In the left hand column, write in red all the negative things in your life at the moment. In the right hand column, write in black all the positive things in your life. (Finances, relationships, work, house, holidays, diet and nutrition, drink, hobbies, exercise, training, weather, films, music, art, anything else that comes to your mind)

2) Next have a look at all the positives in your life and see if you can make them even better and/or increase the time spent doing it or the effect that it has on your life. 

Then have a look at all the negatives. Circle the ones that you have control over, i.e. you can in some way alter and reduce or remove their negative effect. The ones that are completely beyond your control, that you simply have to endure, just cross them over. If you cannot change it, stop worrying about it. 

3) Take action! Increase the positives, turn as many negatives into positives as you can, erase as many negatives as you can, and allow yourself the freedom to not delve on stuff beyond your control.

Point 7 - Pace Yourself

After finding out where you start from, and taking the actions to correct any underlying problems you need to listen to your body. You need to cultivate the awareness to understand what your body is trying to tell you. If you have massive cravings for certain foods, there is a reason for it. If you are constantly tired and often get the sniffles, again it happens because of what you are doing. So, learning to take ques from the body will allow you to enjoy the journey every day, rather than making it another source of stress and suffering. It is not about following the path of least resistance, since that leads nowhere, rather it is reconising when you are trying to steer in the wrong direction and maybe trying to go too fast.

Example: Bob has is 45. Bob is unfit and carries a heavy work load, some family stress, a bad foot and stiff hips as well as a few extra kilos. Bob was chatting to his buddy Jim in the pub the other night. Bob has decided he wants to do Ironman and be like Jim. Bob bought a training plan book and thinks he can pull it off with 30 weeks preparation. Bob is not clever. Don't be like Bob. 

Let's be sensible here for a minute. Bob needs to first and foremost get his legs sorted to he can train without blowing up. He then needs to assess his fitness levels. Based on the assessment he needs to make a working plan. He needs to make the Ironman a three year goal and break it down to smaller chunks. First start with surviving a sprint Triathlon, some 10Km running races and learn to swim. Next year he should be conditioned enough to train for Olympic distance Triathlon and maybe even a full marathon. The year after he should be able to tolerate the training load required for Ironman Triathlon. That's what Jim did. Jim has suffered no injuries. Jim enjoys what he does and takes care of himself. Be smart - Be like Jim.

Coming back to the weight and body composition theme of the blog post for a minute, if I may. When you are moving in the right direction and at a sustainable speed, the weight simply falls off you. You will develop that lean and muscular body and it will feel relatively easy. Personally I have taken the long road. I have slowly transformed myself into an Ironman athlete. My weight has only dropped a few Kg, but my body fat percentage has reduced from 19% to 6% over the course of about 3 years. I have suffered zero injuries despite pushing myself hard when the time has been right. I have learned a lot and I have enjoyed every minute of it. At the moment I have embarked on another journey and commenced my treatment programme for my persistent gut issues. At the moment I am finding it a bit tough going, but I know that I will prevail and emerge a healthier and stronger person.

Point 8 - You CAN do it

I have been taught a lesson over the last couple of years. I have seen extraordinary things happen. Feats of persistent effort and tenacious dogged determination to not give in or to give up. Getting through what ever the cost or how ever much effort it takes. Willingness to put ones body on the line in order to excel. Because the result was already a foregone conclusion - no other option existed. I have watched my two kids learn to crawl, to stand, walk and run, to talk, to swim and to ride a bike. The beauty of it all is that they decided that they wanted to do it and then proceeded to learn. They dedicated all of their waking (and sometimes sleeping) hours to practising their new skills. And they have prevailed - every time! So can you. You need to have a goal. Then you need a plan. Then you simply need to stick to the plan. Everything will fall in place once your course is set. There is lots of help out there for all the stages and don't be afraid to ask for it. Most of us have been there.

Yours in Health,


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