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Exercise Doesn't Always Mean Weight Loss and That's OK

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I have a confession to make -- I love the original Beverly Hills 90210. When I say love, I mean LOVE. Luke Perry (a.k.a. Dylan) is still one of my favorite actors. (I like him so much I listened to his interview on a sports podcast called the B.S. Report. It is a little bit pathetic considering that none of the sport references meant anything to me, but it is the truth nonetheless.)

My love of 90210 may seem like an odd introduction in a fitness blog, but stay with me, it is relevant. It meant I read the issue of Health magazine with Jennie Garth on the cover.

I don't usually read Health. I tend to gravitate more towards niche fitness magazines such as Runners World or Triathlete, but I made an exception for Jennie. (View her entire interview here.)

I was underwhelmed. One article in particular frustrated me enough to inspire this blog. In big bold type on the cover of the magazine is the statement, "Lose 12 pounds this month. Fast! Safe! For good!" Since these types of grand weight loss promises are ubiquitous within health and fitness magazines, the statement probably should not have surprised or annoyed me. Most of the time I just roll my eyes and move on, but I think my love of 90210 gave this issue of Health a greater significance. I sat up and took notice.

Losing 12 pounds per month is not a safe and realistic goal for everyone. The closer you are to your ideal weight, the harder it will be for you to lose three pounds per week. A heavier male may easily lose three pounds per week, but a smaller woman will have a hard time loosing three pounds per week. This is especially true if she has already lost a considerable amount of weight, or has always been a healthy weight.

Statements like "lose 12 pounds this month! Fast! Effectively and safely" imply that everyone can, and should lose 12 pounds this month. News flash -- it is not healthy for everyone to lose 12 pounds of weight. Obviously, I strongly believe everyone should exercise, but exercise should not be synonymous with weight loss. Lots of people should exercise without the intention of losing weight. Some people are thin and weak. What they need is to gain muscle. Others may have already lost weight. To lose another 12 pounds might be unhealthy.

Generalized weight loss goals are not useful! The amount of weight one needs to lose has to be understood as relative to where you start.

Statements that imply that losing 12 pounds per month is realistic set many people up for failure -- they don't facilitate long-term dedication to health and wellness. If you initiate your health quest with unrealistic expectations, these unachievable goals will make it impossible for you to succeed. When you don't reach your goals, a negative domino effect can occur. You just revert to the unhealthy habits you were trying to move away from.

To lose 12 pounds in a month means losing three pounds per week, which is a lot. For long-term, sustainable weight loss I usually recommend my clients aim to lose between half a pound and two pounds per week.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone who is aiming to get healthier is to set yourself up for success by abandoning unrealistic goals. Miracle diets may be enticing, but they don't work in the long-term. Establishing healthier habits is a marathon not a sprint.

Take the time to set yourself up for success by:

1. Establishing realistic, specific and measurable goals. Determine what your healthy weight would be based on your height, age, gender and fitness history.

2. Focus on becoming stronger and more fit, not just weighing less.

3. Establish a support network: get an exercise buddy, tell your friends and family about your goals and/ or join fitness related social groups.

4. Outline a detailed plan of action: write your goals down and keep track of your progress.

5. Establish a positive internal dialogue. If you do have setbacks don't feel guilty and beat yourself up. Learn from your mistakes and move forward!

Lastly, remember that the faster the number on the scale decreases, the more likely the weight you lose is muscle or water, not fat. It is challenging and time consuming to lose 12 pounds of fat. Twelve pounds of muscle and water is easier to lose, but will not change your body shape as drastically. All weight loss is not created equal. In addition, when you lose muscle your metabolism decreases which makes it more likely that when you put the weight back on you will replace the lost muscle with fat, which simply makes it harder to lose weight in the future.

Main take-aways:

1. Care about fat loss, not just the weight on the scale!

2. Losing 12 pounds per month breaks down to losing three pounds per week. That is a lot. Make sure you have 12 pounds to lose before attempting to lose that amount of weight. Remember the amount of weight one needs to lose, and the amount of weight one can lose has to be understood as relative to where you start. Factors that will influence how much weight you can and should lose are your age, gender, your metabolism and your past weight loss history.

3. Take the time to set yourself up for success!

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