Weight Loss Questions

  • Are Weight Watchers, or point system diets, a good weight loss approach?

    I've heard very mixed reports about Weight Watchers (WW).  WW do target the average person - not people who are sports orientated.  Sure their methods may work for some (most diets will work for some), but after speaking to someone who tried WW for herself, I really started to question the methods that they employ. 

    They really take a very superficial approach to nutrition - a point system.  Okay it's simple and that's great as an introduction to weight loss, I agree.  But for long-term sustainability and general health you really need to understand nutrition on a slightly deeper level. 

    The mention of sugar, carbs, protein, vitamins, glycemic index (and so on) is enough to scare most away.  It seems confusing and completely overwhelming at first...but it is really very straight forward.  When I initially joined a gym, I didn't have a clue how a carbohydrate differed from a protein.  I now know first-hand that some basic understanding goes a very long way. 

    A lot of the diets that are available take advantage of the lack of nutritional education amongst the general population.  Rather than explaining the basics - many diets will resort to employing simple 1-2-3 plans to lose weight in the short term.  These plans deviate from the science of nutrition and tend to provide an alternative quick-fix plan.  Once the client deviates from the 1-2-3 plan, the long-term sustainability of weight loss becomes a task and a half. 

    So anyway back to WW.  I was speaking to someone who undertook this program and was very concerned about the methods she was explaining to me.  I haven't looked at this program in any great detail, so this information is based purely on what she has told me. 

    On this points system, she could consume UP TO 16 points per day.  A glass of wine was X points, a piece of bread was Y points, some meat was Z points and so on.  This works on the basic "calories in versus calories out" theory which I explained in the course I'm publishing: 

    LESSON 101 - Fundamentals to Weight Change  

    As far as this person could tell me, calories in versus calories out was not explained at all, adding to the confusion of nutrition itself.  Calories in versus calories out really isn't rocket science after all. 

    Now she further explained that she had a limit of 16 points per day.  But she could eat less than that if she liked.  She could eat 14 points, or 10 points, or 2 points or none at all.  Okay I couldn't believe this and I asked her again, "Based on your understanding of the program, you can consume NO points at all and that's allowed by the program?"  And she said yes.  I cannot stress highly enough how important it is to eat. 

    She mentioned that there was a strong emphasis on plant foods - particularly vegetables which I think is great.  However there was no explanation of and differentiation between carbohydrate, protein and fat.  This is where I really dislike the program as a personal trainer. 

    When you are losing weight, it's simple - just consume less calories than what you expend.  But what many of us often undermine is our general health.  Yes, losing weight in a healthy manner (typically if you are overweight or obese) will aid your general health phenomenally.  However care should also be taken to ensure that you consume a balanced diet.  A balanced diet consists of carbohydrate, fat and protein.  Using a points system - you cannot differentiate between these nutrients.  Ultimately you could consume a diet primarily consisting of carbohydrate with negligible protein or fat which could have some consequences to your health and wellbeing.  This, I find is of particular concern.  I listed the benefits of each macronutrient in another lesson: 

    LESSON 103 - Macronutrients in Detail  

    Finally, I was advised that points could be saved up.  So if she only consumed 14 points on one day, she had 2 points left over for another day.  Consider this - based on her understanding, for a week straight she only consumes 8 points worth - leaving a total of 56 (8x7) points left over.  That's a pretty big binge session...imagine what that's going to do for the metabolism! 

    At the end of period with Weight Watchers, this person did in fact lose over 10kg on Weight Watchers.  This was a big achievement and there was a very big physical difference.  However that was 12 months ago.  Since then she has gained the weight back.  I asked her why.  She admitted to me that the point system was too hard to follow when she left Weight Watchers.  It was too hard to go out to a restaurant, consume a meal and know how many points that meal was worth.  Foods in the supermarket don't have point values and she finds it too hard to keep track of everything. 

    I asked her if she would prefer to have some basic nutritional knowledge so she can understand nutritional labelling.  She said yes.  Finally, I asked her, do you have any intentions of returning to Weight Watchers?  She said no. 

    Ultimately it comes down to the individual.  In my opinion, the biggest problems associated with a point system program such as Weight Watchers are: 

    • Lack of nutritional education
    • Long term sustainability
    • Too much emphasis on weight loss, undermining the importance of general health & wellbeing

    For further reading on the topic, I suggest you have a read of a couple of articles I published:

    Fad Diet, Fad Result

    Yo-Yo Dieting - No-No Dieting 

    Also for an introduction on the topic of nutrition, I strongly suggest that you go through the Amino Z Course - Introduction to Physical Freedom.

  • If I lose weight will my chest/bust size decrease? I'm concerned about looking less feminine.

    At the end of the day, you can't spot reduce.

    Females will store fat around their chest, thighs and butt primarily. So it doesn't make sense that no fat would be lost from your chest and all fat would be lost elsewhere - that's kinda like the opposite of spot reduction...losing fat from everywhere BUT the chest.

    So yes, expect a reduction in bust size. If femininity is the issue though, it is far more attractive and feminine (in my opinion) to be in shape with a slightly smaller bust, than to be overweight with a larger bust.

  • I am on a restricted carbohydrate diet. Will intense exercise result in excessive wastage of muscle tissue? Should I stick to endurance cardio?

    That's a very good question.

    First and foremost, I would not recommend a low carbohydrate diet, particularly when you are performing some type of exercise.  I highly recommend that you have a read of a course that I'm publishing, entitled "Introduction to Physical Freedom" which explains how fat loss is achieved and why carbohydrates are so important in your diet.  However, assuming that you want to stay on a restricted carb diet (for whatever reason), I'll answer your question below.

    Adipose tissue (ie. body fat) is broken down during long sustained periods of exercise as a source of energy.  During shorter periods of intense exercise, carbohydrate is the primary source of energy.  However after high intensity cardio activity, more adipose tissue is broken down.  What results in greater fat loss overall is therefore short intense bouts of exercise.

    However when you throw muscle into the equation alongside a restricted carbohydrate intake, things get a little more complicated.  On a low carbohydrate diet, you will have very limited access to carbohydrate for energy.  Fat tissue is not broken down quickly enough in intense bouts of exercise as an energy source.  Therefore more muscle tissue would be broken down as a source of energy during the cardiovascular exercise period.

    Carbohydrates are still utilised during longer endurance cardio - particularly in the early stages as a source of energy.  However the magnitude of carbohydrate utilised would most likely be less if your intensity isn't right up there because you are expending less calories (ie. using less energy).

    You can dig a little deeper though.  L-carnitine is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that is required in order to break down adipose tissue in order to be used as energy.  So this would suggest that, if you are deficient in L-carnitine, the breakdown of fat during an extended period of exercise would be inhibited.  Since the body needs to obtain energy from somewhere (otherwise it will just drop dead) - muscle is next on the list to be broken down.  Therefore significant muscle can also be broken down over an extended period of time.  This is not so much an issue with short intense cardio that use carbohydrates as a source of energy.

    In summary, either way you can expect some breakdown of muscle mass.  On a restricted carbohydrate intake, an extended form of exercise is probably the way to go.  Your fat loss will not be as effective, but there may be less muscle wastage (maybe).

    The other thing is, on a restricted carbohydrate intake, intense exercise may not be too wise since carbohydrates perform a very important role with regards to recovery.  The more intense your exercise is, the more recovery that is required.  This includes a significantly increased carbohydrate intake.

  • I am very pear shape and am losing weight from my top half, but not my butt and thighs. I have been using the treadmill and bike for cardio. What can I do?

    Well you're off to a great start performing cardiovascular exercise.  Cardio (no matter what form) will assist in fat loss - so long as your diet is in check too.  Unfortunately you cannot choose to lose fat from your butt and thighs area though - your body will naturally choose where to metabolise fat from.  So, if you're losing most fat from your top half, don't worry - this is just your body naturally losing fat.  Eventually your bottom half will begin to change significantly too!

    You can perform resistance training to build muscles in your legs.  (We're not talking bulk here, more tone).  So, once you have lost any excess fat, you'll have better developed leg muscles to produce a more toned effect.  Remember, fat covers muscle - like a blanketing effect, so no matter how many leg exercises you perform, you won't be toned whilst the fat is still there.

    Squats are an excellent exercise to stimulate muscle growth.  Other excellent leg exercises include leg press and lunges.  Often the most effective leg exercises are those that use a whole collection of muscles.  For example, all of these exercises will use your quads, hamstrings, glutes (butt), calves and lower back primarily.

    I have a few Q&A's that may explain this topic in a bit more detail:

    What are the best exercises to tone up the back of your arms? 

    I want to tone my chest. Are there any magical tricks? 

    How do I lose my butt?

  • I disagree with some points you raised in a previous Q&A regarding the safety of The Biggest Loser and would like to hear your response.

    Q: The Biggest Loser has never been touted as a "long term solution" though one would hope that the contestants would go away with enough knowledge to self maintain at a healthy (if not their final) weight.

    A: True that. However I feel that there is a very strong implication by the show that once the weight is lost, the contestants will be rid of any weight issues for the rest of their life. This is just my interpretation and I totally see your point. However this idealistic view that "shed the weight as quickly as possible and it's gone forever" is completely inaccurate and is what fuels the massive dieting industry.

    Q: Exercising to the point of throwing up is not in itself dangerous, and coming from the low baseline of activity that these people do, is almost inevitable. Respect to Alex for going the distance should be given.

    A: Exercising to the point of throwing up is not in itself dangerous. Exercising to the point of throwing up upon leading a sedentary lifestyle, in my opinion, is a very clear warning sign that they are being pushed way too far. I cannot comprehend how the body can safely cope with going from 0 to 4 hours of high intensity exercise per day. This is why such adverse reactions seem to be occurring - throwing up, fainting, being sent to hospital.

    As I mentioned in my answer, I hold a very great respect for all the contestants for a variety of reasons. It must have taken some real mental strength to be able to endure what Alex did (I assume Alex is the one who threw up? Not good with names lol). However he was under the instruction of a trainer - it is the method of training that I have a problem with.

    Q: Artie did have gall stones removed, these "could" have been due to weight loss but were more likely due to his extreme overweight in the first place. Also Artie is now self maintained in his diabetes without medication due to his weight loss, a far more beneficial outcome.

    A: It is hard to conclude that gall stones was the direct result of weight loss.  However, I did quote the doctors in stating that it was due to weight loss (as quoted in my Q&A).

    There is some very strong evidence to suggest that gall stones result from rapid weight loss. I recommend that you have a read of an article I published which discusses the health implications of rapid weight loss at:

    Yo-Yo Dieting - No-No Dieting

    I also recommend that you check out those references as you will find them to provide some very strong evidence for the arguments purported in that review.

    You raise a good point regarding diabetes and weight loss. According to an array of research, an obese individual is at a far greater risk of contracting type II diabetes. Weight loss is of great health benefit if performed in a safe manner. So, losing weight is absolutely imperative for an obese individual in order to reduce the risk of type II diabetes. However, rapid weight loss (in excess of 1kg per week) can pose further health risks that are not necessary.

    Q: Weight loss in the 5-10 kilos per week range if coupled with the healthy diet and exercise, again going back to these peoples previous exercise levels is not in any way exceptional or dangerous. Even the change of eating pattern from greasy fast salt laden sugary foods to plain veg and salads, would enable these people to lose 2-3 kilos per week, with only light exercise.

    A: I have to disagree with you here. There is a quite a substantial amount of research on this topic to suggest that rapid weight loss may pose very serious health implications including:

    increased risk of gall stones, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, increased long-term weight gain, binge eating, reduced physical activity, reduced energy expenditure, increased hunger levels, altered hormone levels, changes in substrate utilisation, increased fatigue, increased disposition toward fat storage and depression

    Please refer to the article quoted above for more information along with an array of references.

    I absolutely do not dispute that changing their eating habits is not a positive step forward. Their nutritional improvements are absolutely vital for improvements in body fat levels, health and wellbeing. My stance is that they are very restricted in their caloric intake relative to their a. body mass and b. daily activity.

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