Losing weight sucks. It’s awful.
A massive part of my fitness journey was the time when I realized that if I wanted to get serious about getting stronger, I’d have to bulk up. Over the first few years of my lifting, I gained maybe twenty pounds. Then I got serious and gained another thirty five. Going from a skinny 170 to a jacked 205 was the biggest change of my life, and it was what made me realized that I really loved lifting and wanted to do it as long as I could and as seriously as I could.
This summer, I decided to lean out a little bit. After all, I’d been bulking up for a long time and definitely had a little bit of loose weight around my belly. This was during the tail end of my Westside internship, and it also made sense because I knew that I was going to be semi-unemployed for a while. Eating less meant less in monthly food costs, so it would help keep my savings from dwindling too quickly. Just this week I weighed in at 180, a full 25 pounds down from my peak.
It has sucked the whole way down. I’ve lost a significant amount of strength, although I do in large part attribute this to changes in my training rather than the loss of weight. Certainly, the loss of weight has been a part of it. In the meantime, I don’t look much better than I did before. I’ve got more visible abs, sure, but no vascularity or extreme definition, certainly nothing to compare to a bodybuilder. People tell me I look a lot smaller than I used to, but I don’t see it. In my opinion, I look pretty much the same, just weaker and maybe a bit less flabby around the midsection.
Calorie deficits screw with your head. Back when I ate enough to sustain my activity level, I had high levels of energy. I could sleep when I wanted, taking two hour naps in the middle of the day with ease and falling asleep without a problem. Now I often lie awake at night, unable to summon the power to fall asleep even though I’m much more tired and drowsy during the rest of the day. I have less energy, feel more lethargic. When I do fall asleep, I can sleep for 12-14 hours at a stretch, and this sleep may even last me essentially for two days. When I lift, I generally feel far less motivated than I used to and can’t get as far into a workout before the strain of it makes me give up for the day. I’m frequently hungry, and will roam the house trying to find some little morsel of food that will satisfy my hunger even though I know that there aren't any. To prevent myself from bingeing, I’ve had to avoid purchasing ready-made or easy to cook foods so that I’ll be discouraged from eating them when hunger pangs strike.
Since your brain is a massive regulator of bodily homeostasis, it doesn’t like the idea of you losing weight. It will do whatever it can to protect your current weight level, whether that means cranking up the hunger, mucking with your metabolism, dropping muscle mass, or what have you. Your hormone levels plummet, making it harder to gain strength and muscle. Generally, the point of this is to encourage you to eat more and maintain your current weight.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes sense. It does everything it can to hold onto everything it’s got in order to keep you strong and lean and prepared to adapt to your environment. The problem is, the modern environment doesn’t really require anything out of you. The reason we’re flabby and weak and dysfunctional is that we live lives that don’t require us to function, and then our body adapts to that state and body size. Add that to a body that wants to hold onto weight in case you ever run out of food and you get a nasty combination.
Significant weight loss is difficult to achieve and sustain without totally changing your lifestyle in the process. The lack of success of Biggest Loser style crash diet and exercise plans is the best example of this, but the industry is rife with short-term thinking. Studies have consistently shown that it is very difficult for people to both lose a lot of weight and sustain that weight loss - most of even the largest success stories quickly fade in a year or two when the exerciser inevitably burns out and regains the weight.
This yo-yo cycle can potentially do more harm than good, shaving years off of your life and damaging your metabolism. Extreme calorie restriction or super-high exercise levels are generally not beneficial to the body, and if your weight loss program requires it then maybe you should reconsider your decision to lose weight. For some people, losing weight is simply more trouble than it’s worth. If loss of weight severely compromises your enjoyment of your life, then it’s probably not worth it. Exercise must be empowering and exciting, or you aren’t going to get much out of it in general. Obesity is pretty awful, but killing yourself not to be obese generally defeats the purpose.
For most people, a good program of moderate exercise, when paired with a reasonable diet, will probably not cause significant weight loss. You might lose a few pounds here or there, only to stall out. If there’s one thing it’s important to realize, it’s this: that is 100% ok. One problem with short-term thinking is that it fails to realize that long term, simply stabilizing your weight and preventing weight gain may be way more hugely beneficial than any attempt to lose ten pounds. If you’re going to sacrifice your long-term health for that short term loss of weight, well, unfortunately you’re doing it wrong. Health and weight loss are not identical, and you can live a relatively much healthier life with the addition of exercise even if it means you don’t lose a pound. Being comfortable in your skin, finding a good weight for yourself, and maintaining a good, long-term diet and exercise plan are all way more important than numbers on a scale or worrying about the way people are going to look at you.
Even for me, someone who’s very in shape, has a high metabolism, and is used to high levels of activity, dieting to lose 25 pounds in 3 months was hellish and awful. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone who isn’t in shape and has no clue what they’re doing. Weight loss sucks, and should be approached carefully. I am in no way denying that some people need to lose weight or would benefit from a weight loss program - rather, I simply mean to help people understand that they should approach their weight loss with a careful eye and really consider what they want to do rather than unconsciously following the paths society has set out for them.