The 15 Things I Wish I Knew at the Beginning of My Weight Loss Journey: Part 1
By: Raquel Phillips
I have been struggling with weight loss in the past three years since having our sixth son at thirty-five. Although I had previously considered myself pretty fit, it was not until after this pregnancy, while I was trying to figure out why I felt so bad physically and struggled to lose weight for the first time, that I truly began my fitness journey. Since the start of that journey, I have discovered a few things that truly mattered in prioritizing my health and deciding the quality of life I truly wanted to live as I approach 40. This is part 1 of the 15 things that I feel have been the most essential in understanding how to lose weight, change my mindset, and change my life.
1.) The Importance of Resistance Training
According to the Better Health Channel online, the definition of resistance training is increasing muscle strength by making your muscles work against a weight or force. Different forms of resistance training include using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands, and your own body weight.
If you read the preceding blog, "I Was Struggling To Lose Weight," I recount the first time I tried to go run after starting my fitness journey in 2020, after two years of struggling to lose weight after having my last baby at 35. I tried to go to our neighborhood park and run the trail, but instead, I almost collapsed and came home in a pool of tears. I now understand that there were many reasons I could not run. I was just too heavy at 5'4" and almost 200 pounds, my joints were stressed to the max, and I was also de-conditioned. In other words, even though I had run in years prior, the old epithet still held-- if you do not use it, you lose it. My cardiovascular strength was not there, and my lungs could not handle the sudden drastic request. The last and crucial reason was, I had lost almost all muscle in my body. Months of practically being on bed rest because of an issue with my pregnancy, two falls that limited my mobility during pregnancy. Then the months after giving birth where I had not exercised because I was exhausted with a baby, a toddler, four other school-aged children, and the purchase of a new home. It was the perfect storm, and the result was slow, but indeed I had very little muscle.
The bottom line is that we need muscle strength to do the things we do daily. I discovered that my knees were hurting when I walked or ran because of the muscles surrounding my knee. Including my calf muscles, my hamstrings, and even my glutes were weak. When my knees began hurting, I thought I needed to ice my knees, stretch, maybe even look into steroid shots to strengthen them. The funny thing is the more muscle I built over the past year, the less my knees hurt. I do not mean to insinuate that you cannot have issues where you need direct attention to your knees; however, I do mean to say that if you lack muscle tone and strength, your joints and bones may be paying for it dearly.
Resistance training focuses on muscle building. Muscle building means that our bodies are stronger and more durable. You do not have to lift hundreds of pounds to succeed at resistance training. The important thing is that your muscles spend time under tension regularly to be strong and efficient at doing the tasks you need to fulfill daily and for the duration of your life. In addition, if your goal is to look better in your clothing, you can build the body that you want using resistance training. There is more on this later in the blog.
2.) The Cost of Muscle Tissue
It costs more metabolic energy to build and maintain muscle than fat. The metabolic cost of muscle tissue means that the more muscle tissue you have, the more you will be able to eat. Calories are energy. Our bodies need to store muscle or fat as an insurance plan to sustain life. What we do every day tells our bodies which insurance plan we need. If there were to be a shortage of food, our bodies would use fat and or muscle as energy to burn in order to sustain life.
It is also important to note that what we do with our bodies most often also signals our body's metabolism regulation or how we spend our calories.
The example that I am about to use is purely anecdotal, and if you need to calculate your actual energy expenditure, please see the resources at the end of this section.
If I am mostly compromised of fat tissue and eat 1600 calories, I could be sitting still all day and burn 1500 calories. At the end of the day, I would be in a surplus of 100 calories, which would be stored as fat for later. Past research has shown
that there are roughly 3500 calories in 1 pound of body fat.
So in this example, if I ate that extra 100 calories for 35 days, I would gain a pound of body fat. If I continued to do that for 365 days, I would gain roughly 10.4 lbs of body fat.
By repeatedly sitting all day, I also signaled my body that it does not need to build muscle because I am not using my muscles. Instead, it sends signals to conserve fat and slow down my metabolism.
I have told my body what insurance plan to use and how to spend my energy or fuel with my actions. I have told my body to increase my fat cell storage and reduce my metabolism.
On the other hand, If I am mostly comprised of muscles. I could eat 1600 calories in a day and still spend 2000 calories on a day where I am sitting because my muscle tissue costs more to maintain. In addition, because I am regularly doing whatever activity built that muscle (ex. lifting heavy things), I am sending signals to my body that I need muscle to complete the muscle-building activity it's used to regularly doing (ex. picking up heavy things). My body now understands that I will need that muscle later. In addition, my body still tells my metabolism to move rapidly because it is used to me consuming more calories since I am regularly eating enough extra energy to maintain my expensive muscle.
The bottom line is the more muscle you have, the more you can eat, AND the more muscle you have, the easier it becomes to do physical activity daily. It also means that if there are times when you cannot or do not exercise, train, or complete a lot of physical activity, your body still will have expensive tissue to use for fuel, and furthermore, when you return to physical activity, exercise, or training your body will be able to more readily recognize that loud muscle-building signal and replenish your muscle storage. Your body recognizes which plan you wish to activate based on time and repetition of utilizing the muscle-building plan.
Activating the muscle-building insurance plan is one reason why your trainer will encourage you to do resistance training to lose weight. As you build muscle, you will start signaling your body to burn more calories and more rapidly because of your expensive muscle tissue. Your metabolism will get the signal to move faster, and you will be able to eat more to maintain your muscle (and not feel like you are starving), making it easier to find and sustain long-term success.
It is also important to note that a pound of muscle is smaller and more compact than a pound of fat. What does that mean? That means that you can have one person with a very low body fat percentage and a ton of muscle, and that person can look leaner and smaller than someone who is the same weight as someone with a high body fat percentage.
3.) The Difference Between Anabolic and Catabolic
Working with a personal trainer, whether in a gym or even on the internet, is essential because professionals know how to program. I have discussed muscle building and fat loss in this blog. It is important to understand that muscle-building involves an anabolic metabolism or a constructive process that builds the body. Fat loss is a catabolic process or a destructive metabolism.
It is very challenging to send a signal to your body to do two different, opposing processes simultaneously. That is why an appropriate program will focus on building muscle at certain times and fat loss at other times. As you build muscle, you cannot be afraid to see increases on the scale. However, as time goes on and you build that expensive tissue as we talked about, and you are eating more, you will be able to go into periods where you reduce your caloric intake and experience a change in your body composition. Meaning you will see your body get smaller; it will be a much easier process and a better long-term strategy for keeping the weight off.
Most cardio without strength training means that you are manually signaling your body to burn calories through aerobic activity. In other words, if your only strategy is cardio without more of the expensive muscle tissue telling your body to burn more fuel and more rapidly even at rest. You are asking your body to only burn more calories manually instead of using expensive muscle tissue as a compound strategy. The result is, at times in life where you are eating more or unable to do aerobic (cardio) workouts (i.e., manually burn those calories), your body will be more inclined to pack the fat cells back. You have told your body that its sole mechanism is manual calorie burn.
4.) Cardio Is Important For Heart Health, Longevity, And An Overall Sense Of Well-being
Resistance training is essential, but cardiovascular health is important too. Aerobic exercise is any continuous activity that uses your large muscles and makes your heart and lungs work harder. Aerobic exercise results in a more conditioned heart. Think about this; the average conditioned heart beats less per day than a de-conditioned. If you were in a heart shop and had to choose a heart which one would you choose? The one that has had to work less and become more efficient, or the one that has beat more and has had to work harder?
Aerobic exercise has also been shown to help relieve tension and anxiety and has been shown in studies even to alleviate depression. Cardiovascular fitness is essential. Choosing activities that you love is vital. It can be walking, running, biking, hiking, swimming, dancing, or any activity that gets your heart rate up for an extended period. Once you choose activities you love, find ways to make them a part of your regular life. Cardio does not have to happen exclusively inside a gym; it should happen as a normal part of your life.
5.) Muscle Building Signals vs. Endurance Building Signals
I enjoy running. Well, I enjoy running for the most part. Taking runs in my neighborhood or even on the treadmill allows me time to think. Running gives me a sense of accomplishment, boosts my mood, and overall brings me happy feelings. However, I did not understand that running and resistance training sent my body two different signals at the beginning of my journey.
If you think about the distance runners, most of them are very lean. They are built for endurance. If you think about the bodybuilders, you know, are you picturing the same body type? Probably not. I use this illustration to highlight my point— you have to send one signal louder than the other to tell your body what you want it to do.
So, think about your goals and make sure they are in alignment. If your goal is endurance, you want to have goals and a program that focuses on building strength for endurance. If you want a giant dump truck booty and thick thighs, you want goals and a program that focuses on building more muscle strength and volume in your leg muscles and glutes.
Understanding this helped me better structure my workouts based on what I want to focus on at each stage of the journey. Although I love running, and I did a lot of distance runs when I was losing my first 50 lbs, currently, I am focused more on strengthening specific body parts. So although I still run, I run less distance, perform more sprints, and incorporate them in my functional workouts. I want the signal for muscle building to be louder than my signal for endurance at this stage of my fitness journey.
Read Part 2:
Read Part 3:
Raquel Phillips is a writer, digital creator, CPT, certified group fitness instructor, and entrepreneur. She is a wife and mother of 6 amazing children. She resides in Virginia Beach, VA.
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