Geoff Starling, Every Body STRONGER
The other day I was at an event and introduced myself to the person next to me as a fitness professional. “Oh, that’s great!” She responded enthusiastically. “How much weight do your clients typically want to lose?” My answer hit her like a wet fish across the face, “I don’t give a shit what my clients weigh”.
She was perplexed. “So, do you offer nutrition consulting?” she enquired, trying to find the gap in my business model. “Absolutely”. The awkward silence that followed was resolved by another member of the group joining the conversation and the topic changed.
You see, I’m a strength coach. I make you strong. Stronger when you walk out the door than when you walked in. Stronger in your mind to be bold the next time you’re confronted with a difficult decision. Stronger in your body to feel capable when you’re faced with a daunting physical task. Stronger in your spirit to give you confidence the next time you’re in a challenging situation. Being strong has nothing to do with what you weigh, and everything to do with what you can do. I’ll say it again…
“Being strong has nothing to do with what you weigh, and everything to do with what you can do.”
So many people perceive themselves as failures when they use weight loss as the only measure of success when starting an exercise routine that it’s heartbreaking. The sad truth is, only about 5% will ever see sustainable changes in their weight over time no matter how many reps they do or how hard they sweat. We are faced with so many opportunities to feel like a failure every day; failure to look a certain way, think a certain way, act a certain way. Failure to be the best parent, spouse or friend. Failure to get your work done on time. So why add another platform where you can feel like a failure when there is a much healthier alternative?
The solution is simple; expand what it means to be successful and commit to practices that are sustainable over the long-term.
Wouldn’t it feel amazing to wake up ready to greet each day with a smile and a high-5, free of pain, with the confidence that you are going to live a longer, stronger life than your sedentary friends? That regardless of what your bathroom scale tries to tell you, that the conversation you have with yourself in the mirror is about how damn good you look, not what’s wrong with you? To have your friends constantly ask if you’ve just been on vacation because you’re always radiant?
The principle issue with setting weight loss as a goal is that we have so little control over what our body weighs.
We all have areas of our lives and periods in our day where we have higher and lower levels of control. For example, you have a high level of control over what time you wake up in the morning - you set the alarm then choose how many times to press ‘snooze’ - but a low level of control over the traffic. You have a high level of control over what you buy at the grocery store but not always when and where you’ll get to consume what you purchased.
Our bodies also have areas where we have higher or lower levels of control, and some where we have no influence at all! We can choose how much activity we get in a day but not how tall we are. We can invest in higher quality foods but not the colour of our eyes. We can carve out time in our day to meditate but not whether we live with a mental illness.
We can also run, bike, swim, lift weights and eat nothing but carrot sticks all day and still not influence the amount of space our body resides in.
Why? Because it’s not that simple. The doctrine of “eat less + move more = lose weight” has never been comprehensive enough to cover the complexities of the human body or the environment we exist in. If it was that easy wouldn’t everyone be doing it?!
If exercise isn’t going to deliver weight loss, then why do it? It’s hard, it hurts and I don’t like it.
Remember how we talked about factors that are inside and outside of our control? Here’s the cool thing, if you perform more exercise you will become more fit. If you lift weights you will get stronger. It’s that simple. Pick the weight up + put it back down = get STRONGER.
“The doctrine of “eat less + move more = lose weight” has never been comprehensive enough to cover the complexities of the human body or the environment we exist in.”
There are also tangible benefits to your medical health that are directly influenced by regular exercise, including:
Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
Reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
Strengthening your bones, muscles and joints
Reduced risk of some cancers
Improved ability to perform daily activities and prevent falls
The magic doesn’t stop there, either. When you zoom out a bit further, the inanimate number on your scale really pales into insignificance compared to all the other benefits:
Time for yourself
Improved mood and energy
A feeling of freedom
Joy in moving your body
A sense of wholeness between your body and mind
Shifted attention from how your body looks to what it can do (and how it feels doing it)
Setting and accomplishing challenges
Going on adventures
Getting time outdoors and connection with nature
Making social connections
The ability to be spontaneous, say “yes” when your friends/family/colleagues ask you to participate in physical activities
Improved sleep and restfulness
And on, and on, and on…
Which of these stand out as the most meaningful to you? Have I missed your favourite one? Drop me a note in the comments and I’ll add it to the list.
The exercise also doesn’t have to be strenuous. Research shows that many of the above benefits can be realised with as little as 30 minutes of moderate physical activity performed in blocks of 10 minutes or more on 5 days of the week. If you make it important, you’ll make the time.
Why do TV shows, magazines, and social media tell me that I can’t enjoy life to the fullest unless I’m thin?
In a nutshell, because they have ad space to sell, pages to fill and eyeballs to keep glued to them. Advertisers have been inventing ‘problems’ that they can then provide ‘solutions’ to forever. Weight loss products and services support billions of dollars of industry that actively preys on our insecurities around body image. Those models you see in their ads represent .003% of the population. And there is about the same chance that this will become you as a result of buying their products.
But my friend went ‘Keto’ and worked with a trainer and lost 30 pounds!
That’s a significant shift, and I’m willing to bet they worked their tails off for it. How many other times have they lost that same 30lbs? How long did it last? I’ll be surprised if you say longer than 3 years. Could they realistically remain in ketosis with a calorie deficit and work out 5 days a week for the rest of their lives? What happens when that all stops?
You can have a chance of using physical activity to influence your body weight if you have the ability to invest what research demonstrates is a minimum of 370 minutes per week or 50min per day. Every day. Forever. Unless you really REALLY like to exercise, that’s going to be a hard sell.
“If you looked at every other measure of their health besides their weight, you would give them a 5-star rating.”
Far more sustainable long-term is finding an array of activities that you enjoy doing and sticking with them. These could include social sports, group fitness, weight training or working with a coach who takes the time to understand your personal goals and drivers of success. Each have their place in a balanced lifestyle and many even come with benefits like an expanded social network, time to yourself and scheduled breaks from work and home.
You can only play with the hand you’re dealt
Genetics play a big role in our ability to influence our weight as well. Thanks to our ancestral DNA, we are internally programmed to consume energy-dense foods when they are available. And some of us are equipped with the tools to regulate these signals more than others.
It has only been in the past few decades that we have even needed to worry about this with the abundance of fast, easy calories. Accompanying this shift has been the proliferation of sedentary jobs and the reduction of our active hours. Both of these trends playing directly into our predisposition to consume and conserve energy.
My doctor says I need to lose weight for my health.
This happens a lot, especially when BMI is used as a measure of health. Do they really want you to lose weight, or do they want your health to improve? The two are mutually exclusive measures - and often not connected at all. I have clients living in bodies that receive the same recommendations on a regular basis. If you looked at every other measure of their health besides their weight, you would give them a 5-star rating.
I also have clients who live in bodies that would appear to be the picture of health based on their BMI, but scroll down the page and you are met with a different story. Reams of joint pain, high blood pressure, poor sleep, stress, anxiety. The markers that have a profound impact on their ability to engage in life in the ways they want to.
"Most often, it’s the changes you make in your lifestyle that lead to shifts in your health rather than weight loss specifically.”
Next time your doctor suggests that you lose weight for health reasons, ask them why that is important. If you are experiencing some of the symptoms often associated with obesity e.g. high blood pressure, joint pain etc, then you likely need to address some of your lifestyle habits and your doctor can be a useful resource for that (but not always). Most often, it’s the changes you make in your lifestyle that lead to shifts in your health rather than weight loss specifically. Try to view a reduction in your body weight as a possible side-effect of healthier practices rather than the end goal.
Ok, ok. So no weight-loss goals. Now what?
In my ten years of practice, I have consistently had clients and patients be successful at influencing their physical and mental health through exercise without any significant change to their weight. This is not a failure to lose weight, it is a triumph of redefining what it means to be victorious.
Through regular physical activity and strength training, clients have recorded lower blood pressure readings, resting heart rates and improved blood-sugar control. We have seen decreases in the number of daily medications taken, with some breaking free of pillboxes altogether.
We have also celebrated many of our tribe competing in their first ever athletic events, from 5K walks to obstacle course races. Tri-it triathlons to downhill mountain biking. For those who are less inclined to running around outside, we have witnessed the confidence earned from working for months to achieve weightlifting goals and smash through comfort zones.
“I have consistently had clients and patients be successful at influencing their physical and mental health through exercise without any significant change to their weight”
When I told my neighbour at the event that I didn’t give a shit what my clients weighed, I wasn’t being facetious, I was being genuine. None of the measurements that we use as indicators of success at Every Body STRONGER involve body weight - except when totalling how many multiples of it that you can push across the room on a sled.
You can live in a world beyond weight loss goals if you choose to. The most powerful way to make this discovery - as with most life-changing realisations - is to figure it out for yourself. Not alone, but in the way that speaks to you the most clearly.
To help you navigate this new philosophy, or to learn more about the benefits of regular exercise and strength training, please subscribe to Every Body STRONGER, follow us on social media and/or contact us for coaching. We look forward to having you on our team.
Geoff is a writer, speaker and fitness professional in Calgary, Canada. He is a strength athlete, husband, and father of two busy kids.
Geoff Starling CSCS