Why you get fat, and what you should do about it.

A couple of things before we get started. What you should do about it? Well.. that depends. What do you want to do about it? Do you even want to do anything about it? If you do, read on.

Here’s me in the gym a couple of weeks ago.

I chose that title deliberately to set things up so I could make this point. It’s not about what you “should” do according to some guy (me) on the internet who doesn’t even know you but thinks he knows what’s best for you all the same. It’s about what YOU want. If your motivation is more about how other people see you, society’s expectations and so on… well, the bad news is that there are always going to be jerks out there who’ll have an opinion no matter what you do. Too fat? People will have an opinion on that. Start making some changes, making progress and feeling good about yourself? There’ll be some jerk out there with an opinion on that too, trying to take the wind out of your sails.

So, is this something that matters to you? Something you want to take action on? If it isn’t, everyone else can take their opinion, shine it up real nice, turn it sideways and stick it straight up their… whatever. Make this about what you want and choose to be motivated by enthusiasm and positivity rather than anything else.

Now… it’s a little hard writing an article for a general audience but trying to give a specific answer to each reader, but I’ll try. If you’re overweight or obese, one of these scenarios is probably correct.

If you’re overweight or obese, not very active and not paying much attention to your eating habits.

This a common situation. It’s also common for people to overestimate how active they really are, or perhaps if they do participate in regular activity in theory, they underestimate how often they skip out on it for some reason or other.

Now, the issue with such an inactive lifestyle is that your body doesn’t really have a use for very much fuel. People try to find more elegant or elaborate explanations and some of them make a lot of money doing so, but the simple truth is that if you consume more energy (calories) than you have a use for, you gain weight as the energy is stored as fat.

When you have an inactive lifestyle, this happens very quickly. You might only be eating a “normal” amount, but in this case it is excessive, as you are not of a “normal” level of activity.

In this situation people are not only prone to over estimate their level of activity, but they’re also likely to under estimate just how much they are actually eating. If you’re in the habit of snacking, usually these are foods that it is easy to eat a lot of (because they’re delicious), and also pack a lot of energy into a small serving size. It’s very easy therefore to end up greatly in excess of an amount that your body has any use for, and your body will become very efficient at taking all of that excess and storing it as body fat.

That’s the cold, hard, inelegant truth of the matter and there’s no point trying to dress it up or in denying it. But don’t be discouraged at this point. People need food, so I’m not about to tell you the answer is some horrendous “three leaves of lettuce for lunch” type diet or anything like that.

So the first step in resolving this issue to is to increase daily activity levels. However, in my opinion we should do more than just try to “be more active” as if to make up for eating a normal amount of food. What we really want to do is train more productively, in a manner that makes our bodies want to take those resources that we give it through food, and put them all to good use in building stronger bones and more lean muscle tissue, at the expense of any body fat stores.

Increasing incidental activity, for example by taking the stairs instead of the lift, by getting off the bus a stop early and so on is a great idea as well. Really that is just the icing on the cake though, and an effective training strategy is the real difference maker.

Ha — “icing on the cake”. No bun intended.

“bun” — get it?

So, anyway. We burn more calories through increased incidental activity, but we train with a much greater purpose than just to “burn more calories”. We’re training to actually build a strong, healthy and lean body condition. It’s not about the amount of calories we burn while training, it’s about how we want our bodies to utilise the resources we feed to it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Now that we’ve got the activity situation sorted out, we still need to make sure we’re consuming an appropriate amount. It is possible to out eat a good training program and active lifestyle! What a lot of people don’t realise though, is that if you fail to provide sufficient resources (aka, eat enough) you really can’t expect to see great and consistent results from training, either. For this reason, with my clients I always focus more on ensuring we meet (and exceed) an appropriate minimum calorie target.

Like I said, people need to eat. We need to provide enough resources for our body to adapt to training with the production and maintenance of lean mass (muscle and bone) at the expense of fat stores. So, it’s not “three pieces of lettuce” and no snacks ever. You can still eat a normal amount, and it’s just a matter of learning your requirements, how to meet them with your choices of foods, and how much of the more indulgent stuff you can squeeze into your plan.

So, a little planning and mindfulness is all that is really required on the eating front. Scheduling regular meals and snacks within the context of a plan to meet (but not exceed) your requirements will see you making steady progress, without going hungry, without feeling like you’re on a diet, without really feeling like you’re doing much of anything special or difficult at all.

If you’re already quite fit and active, but still overweight and not really seeing any changes in body condition.

This is also very common, and people unfortunately interpret this lack of results as meaning that their body works differently to other people’s, and they’re just not cut out for the same results.

This is incorrect.

Now, if you’re not mindful about your eating habits it’s possible that you’re still eating too much and are in excess of an amount that your body can put to use even with your active lifestyle. In my experience as a coach though, this usually isn’t the case. In my experience, the people who are already fit and active but have stopped seeing results are actually not eating enough to provide sufficient resources for continued results from training.

That’s right, I’m saying they actually start losing weight again after I increase their minimum intake target.

So which is it for you? There’s not much point in guess work, when you can be certain one way or another. I have an article over here which will explain how to run the maths to determine your calorific requirements. Or you know, you could always take advantage of my professional services as a Flexible Dieting Coach if you’d like me to help you out.