Weight loss and weight management are major bugaboos for the fitness/wellness world, not because they’re not useful draws and marketing ideas but because they’re so very hard to do, like breaking up.
As I’ve posted so many times before, the science of weight loss is still very much in the air with really only one highly-confirmed conclusion: that you have to consume fewer calories than your body needs. From there, any article or any book has to navigate the general discomfort of food deprivation. In other words, you have to diet but you just have to figure out how your body, and mind, can deal with less calories.
For some, it’s eat more protein; for others it’s eat more fat; and for others it’s eat less or different carbs. The medical community doesn’t like restricting any particular macronutrient for fear you may miss out on a few essential ones. Of course, you could take a multivitamin and maybe some other supplements to compensate for what you cut out, but we all know you can’t always get what you want but you can often get what you need. (Please don’t tell Mick Jagger I bastardized his line here, ok?)
Another well-recognized component to weight loss is exercise. Many studies, and many of my posts, have addressed the role of exercise for weight loss. Much to the chagrin of us fitness pros, it takes too much commitment to counter the foods we eat.
For example, a slice of 14″ pizza from Domino’s may be 120-150 calories. By usual activity standards, that’s anywhere from 1.25-1.5 miles of jogging or 1.5-2 miles of walking. So if you have 3 slices, you’ve got some serious hoofin’ to do to make up for it. And that doesn’t include your drink and salad, etc.
But exercise has proven value when it comes to maintenance of weight lost and maintenance of a healthy weight. Too many studies have shown that once you’ve lost weight with a low-calorie diet, those who keep it off tend to have accommodated their lifestyles to include 60-90 minutes of near-daily exercise.
However, now a new study has come out that shows, for older people, diet (negative 300 calories/day) plus resistance exercise was the winner of three weight loss options offered to the participants. One group dieted only, another did the same diet plus aerobic activity, and the third did the same diet plus resistance training.
As this New York Times article summarized it, “The weight trainers had lost about two pounds of muscle and 18 pounds of fat, while the walkers had dropped about four pounds of muscle and 16 pounds of fat.”
In other words, equal gross weight was lost by the two exercise groups but the percentage of fat lost was greater among the weight trainers (90% fat lost vs 80% fat lost in the walkers.) Furthermore, the weight trainers lost less muscle mass than the walkers. Both exercise groups not only lost more weight but also lost more and a higher percentage of fat, retaining more muscle mass so as to sustain basal metabolic rate.
This is pretty stunning, not just for the results but for the way the study was conducted in both numbers of subjects and duration of the study as well as the control of diet; the diets were designed to yield a caloric deficit of about 300 calories/day so that they’d lose about 7-10% of their initial body weight.
However, if you’ve been reading my stuff lately, you know that I try to be fair and bust myths equally. In this case, a very well-controlled study done with lots of different subjects over a long period of time is just that – a study. How effective a weight loss program is outside a ‘lab’ situation is very variable. Studies have shown that that individual variability is such that on average subjects don’t lose all that much weight. In fact, one study (and I’m sorry I can’t find the reference) showed that the average weight loss was zero but that some folks lost a lot and others actually gained a lot!
In other words, in the real world, people tend to compensate, substitute or ‘cheat’ and gain or simply not lose weight while others successfully implement the program recommended by the study’s leaders and lose weight.
Thus, the key may be the degree and extent of emotional and interpersonal support that successful weight losers get, not the diet or exercise program per se.
So if I were a marketing expert, I’d be telling my clients and future clients that the best way for older folks to lose weight is to eat slightly fewer calories daily and to do 3 days of weight training each week.
If I were an honest broker of fitness-related news, I’d tell these same clients and prospects that a very well-controlled study proved the superiority of this kind of program but that it all depends on how well controlled and regulated you, the client, are about food intake and how consistent and regular you are about your weight training program.