The path to a beach body
Now that summer is in full swing, everybody is rushing to get a beach body, and let's be honest, with our holiday coming up in the next week or so, we need a hot body, and we need it now!
The internet is full of quick diets that will get you the weight loss that you're after, but I will always remember what one of my PT teachers said once - You want to lose 10kg fast? Just chop off your leg!
OK, it might be a bit drastic, but from a trainer's point of view, losing 10kg in just a couple of weeks via a fad-diet, or cutting off a limb, feels a bit about the same, you're losing total weight, without any care for whether it's smart, healthy or sustainable (although let's be honest, losing a leg feels pretty definitive).
The example/joke above is just a funny illustration of the type of conversation I end up having with many potential clients, week in, week out. Everyone wants a quick fix, they want to lose weight fast, and look amazing, but nobody is willing to put in the hard work and consistency required to get there.
Don't get me wrong, if you suddenly started eating 600 kcal a day just in shakes, you would definitely lose weight (and no, I'm not advising you to do something like that ever!), but not only it would be a risk for your health, but as soon as you went back to eating normally, the weight would be back on.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a deficit between 500 kcal and 1,000 kcal per day in order to achieve a safe and sustainable weight loss. Considering that we need a deficit of about 3,500 kcal in order to lose half a kilogram (or one pound), that would mean that we can only really lose between half a kilo and one kilo per week, in a safe and healthy manner - and one that will be sustainable in the future, i.e. we won't just get it back as quickly as we lost it.
Can't we lose weight any faster and still be healthy?
As with many questions regarding health and fitness, the answer is it depends. If you've never done much exercise before, lead a pretty sedentary life and don't eat very healthy, and one day you decide to become a healthier person, start moving everyday, reach your 10,000 steps (although that's currently a hot topic in the fitness and medical industry), discard the fast food and start eating home-cooked meals and salads, chances are the weight is simply going to drop off you. You won't be able to keep losing weight at that same rate indefinitely until you reach your ideal weight, because your body will become more efficient, and then you'll be back to having to keep an eye on how much you burn versus how much you consume, back to ACSM guidelines.
In order to have a ripped body, women and men work slightly differently, for men - women need more essential body fat in order to function. Anywhere between 10-20% for women, or 2-13% for men would get you a ripped-to-defined body. However, keeping that body shape requires a lot of hard work, and when I say a lot, I mean a crazy lot.
If you haven't watched The Perfect Physique on Netflix or YouTube, I seriously recommend it. It will give you an idea into what's needed to maintain the god-like bodies of some of the fitness models in magazines and bodybuilders out there. Here's the trailer.
So what can be done?
As a personal trainer, we often have to deliver bad news to our clients. They come to us expecting quick results and it falls to us to make sure they understand it's not that easy. Unfortunately, the media is not on our side. You open any magazine and you get bombarded with quick-fix diets that promise fast results, and a plethora of five-, ten-, 15-minute workouts that are going to give you the body of a god(dess). And it makes me sad because we, as consumers, fall prey of this marketing plot and believe everything they tell us.
I had a client who came to me because she was following a fitness expert on Instagram who had short workouts that were easy to follow. My client had been religiously copying this trainer, but was failing to see changes in her body, so she was upset that maybe it was her eating, her metabolism, or anything else. I asked her to show me one of these videos so I could see the type of training that she was following... Well, I certainly didn't expect what I saw.
This fitness expert was doing about 10-minute workouts in which she was using 1-2kg dumbbells to perform a couple of upper body exercises but mostly full body ones. She barely broke a sweat during her own workout, if at all, while training in the sunshine near a swimming pool. The girl looked very slim, and a little bit toned, so essentially, the body shape many women aspire to. My client, a regular woman, curvy, with a real life, office job, the full works, didn't understand why she was not losing weight. She basically didn't stand a chance.
I could have laughed at how little she knew about what really goes on, and become quite judgemental, as some experts in different industries might do, but let's be honest, she was being led on by this so-called fitness expert. Let me be brutally honest with you here, if you see someone that claims you can do an easy 15-minute workout and get the body of your dreams just by doing that, they're lying to you. It takes dedication and commitment, hard work with exercise, and also in the kitchen. You might be able to lose some weight if you really sweat it, but you won't get a nice, defined shape, for that you need to build muscle.
I started training this client and already after our first session she realised what an actual workout should feel like (and no, I didn't beast her). After a couple of sessions she started to notice changes, not necessarily losing weight, but she felt stronger, like she was actually doing something, and more motivated.
Don't get me wrong, you can do a 15-minute workout, and call it a day, as long as it's high intensity interval training (HIIT) or similar, or something that will challenge your muscles and your fitness. Sometimes the workout is about core training, and it's a kind of workout that might not make you sweat buckets, but will give you a nice soreness the following day.
So to finish the topic today, can we lose a lot of weight in a short period of time? The short answer is yes, but I would never recommend it, because chances are, you will also lose muscle mass, definition and possibly the will to live if you're in a crash diet (very low calorie intake). It's better to plan ahead, and lose weight in a manageable time-frame, keeping your goals realistic, and achievable.
If you're reading this while you're about to go on holiday soon and are desperate to look fit at the beach, I can only recommend to start making healthy food choices and get a sensible workout programme planned for your specific requirements. You won't see drastic changes all of a sudden, but you will feel better about making good choices and start changing your lifestyle.