To be clear, this is not an argument against pursuing fat loss to improve your health, or confidence, or because you want to increase muscle definition.
Problems arise, however, when fat loss turns into a dominating obsession. When it’s the only reason you exercise and make healthful food choices, and it creates increasing levels of stress and frustration. This can lead to:
- Guilt from eating your favorite foods
- Chronic dissatisfaction with your body
- Stress from relentlessly fighting against your body
- Seeing exercise as punishment or something you do just to burn calories
- Feeling less than
These are unacceptable byproducts from a long-term, single-track focus on fat loss.
How can you know if it’s time to stop focusing on fat loss? Easy. If you are currently doing any of the following nine things, it means you could benefit from going beyond fat loss to fuel your food and fitness choices.
1) Losing fat was the reason you first joined a gym or started working out.
If you’re like many women, losing weight was the reason you first joined a gym and started exercising. Perhaps it’s also the same recycled New Year’s resolution you set year after year.
There isn’t a thing wrong with wanting to change how your body looks or seeking to reap the health benefits of losing excess body fat. But, if fat loss is the only reason you work out and it’s the only goal you have driving your efforts, you may quickly burn out (or burn out again if you’ve obsessed about fat loss for long periods and end up frustrated and discouraged).
If you don’t know what it feels like to be excited to go into a workout knowing it might be the day you set a personal record, or working out quite often feels like a chore rather than a privilege, it’s time to focus on something beyond fat loss.
2) You feel anxious or uneasy about the number on the scale.
Does the number on the scale have any effect on your self-worth? Does it have the power to affect your mood? Too many women answer this question with a resounding “Yes.” We’ve become conditioned to intertwine our self-worth with numbers like our bodyweight, or body fat percentage.
When I was working on my exercise physiology degree, a collegiate swimmer volunteered to be the test subject for the hydrostatic tank (a test for determining body fat percentage) during a lab course. She spent hours every day in a swimsuit and in water, so she was happy to be tested.
She put on her suit, got in the tank, did the test like it was a normal day. But once the results were in and she was told her body fat percentage was in the low 20s, her face sunk. She appeared stunned; the previous smile on her face quickly vanished. That number — twenty-something percent — affected her, sucking out her self-confidence in an instant like an industrial vacuum.
What is it about numbers like bodyweight and body fat that have an immense power over us? The moment they’re revealed our mood can shift from despair to elation or from joy to gloom.
The competitive swimmer went from confident and relaxed to timid and uneasy with the revelation of a single number. The number was obviously higher than expected, but it had no realistic affect: It didn’t change the fact that she was strong, healthy, and a high-performing athlete. And yet, knowing that number changed everything. It was like she was a different person after being told her body fat was in the low 20s. It’s heartbreaking that a number can paralyze use like a powerful sedative.
If the number on the scale or body fat percentage has ever had a similar effect on you, it’s time to shift your focus to something other than fat loss. These numbers say nothing about your potential, strength, abilities, or self-worth.
3) You say, “I’ll be happy when I weigh …”
Too many people hold their happiness captive, expecting it to be set free once they reach an ideal number on the scale, like their pre-baby weight or perhaps what they weighed before starting their career (or, in my case years ago, what I weighed before succumbing to disordered and binge eating habits).
There’s a tremendous difference between losing weight to increase your health, confidence, and quality of life and hating your way to a number you think will provide happiness and a greater sense of self-worth.
If you’re expecting the fat loss journey to conclude with you finally loving your body and a welcoming sense of elation, think again. If the fat loss journey is defined by hatred toward your body, you’ll likely end up moving the target further once you reach it.
The woman who does manage to reach her ideal weight, for example, may feel momentary joy, but will quickly find other “flaws” to fix or improve, or set a lower bodyweight as the new ideal. It’s a treadmill of goals; you move a ton but never actually go anywhere. If your happiness is dependent on a certain outcome and you’re hating your way there, you’ll only move the goal post further out once you reach it.
4) You’re constantly fighting your body to fit a preconceived ideal shape or weight.
Countless women will go years, some their entire lives, disliking their bodies. They always find something to criticize or lament.
“I want the body of a ballerina: tall with long legs and arms,” I’ve heard women say who have the complete opposite body type. Well I want a serving of peanut butter to be one cup instead of two dinky tablespoons, but that’s not going to happen. Wanting something that’s impossible is a waste of time and energy.
If the only things you say about your body upon seeing yourself in photographs or reflection in the mirror revolve around traits you don’t like or things you want to “fix,” then it’s time to take a different tack.
Think about it: What would be possible if you devoted that focus and effort on outcomes you could affect? What if you focused on being more, not less?
5) You focus on how far you still have to go and the goals you haven’t yet reached.
If you only think about what you can’t do or haven’t achieved while entirely neglecting what you can do and what you have done, you will always feel less than.
In the pursuit of fat loss, it’s not uncommon for women to relentlessly chase their target: fitting into a smaller clothing size or specific number on the scale. And throughout that process, all they can think about is how far they are from the goal, and they ignore all the work they’ve put in, all the achievements in the gym they’ve earned.
Don’t let the goal of fat loss blind you from seeing, and appreciating, all the work you’ve already done: the habits you’re forging, the workouts you’ve performed, the health benefits you’re reaping along the way. Don’t allow the obsession over future goals prevent you from taking a moment to look back and proudly say, “I’ve done so much already, and I’m proud of myself.” This can help you break free from the ugly side of health and fitness.
6) You perform an extra or more grueling workout as punishment for overeating or indulging in “forbidden” foods.
If you’ve said something like, “If I eat this food then I must perform a workout to burn it off,” or “I can’t eat that food unless I perform a workout to earn it,” then it would benefit you to reevaluate the reasons you work out.
There’s nothing wrong with balancing your food and exercise choices, but a workout should never be a tool of punishment or currency in response to food choices.
Make no mistake, there’s a tremendous difference between choosing to go for a walk because you know the extra movement is good for you after enjoying a larger-than-expected feast and performing an extra workout out of guilt and panic from overindulging because you think the extra calories will instantly make you gain body fat.
There are tons of reasons to work out and eat nutritious foods that have nothing to do with fat loss. Those reasons are worth exploring for yourself.
7) Physical activities that were once enjoyable have been reduced to simply being tools for burning calories.
I’ve heard stories from women about an activity or hobby they once did for enjoyment or self-care (fitness classes, jogging, biking, hiking, skiing, even strength training) has morphed into a must-perform chore that’s done for its calorie-burning benefits. I know personally what this is like too.
What was once an activity they looked forward to doing became an activity done just for burning calories to, hopefully, spur fat loss results, or to prevent regaining weight that had been lost.
This is what happens when a long-term fat loss mindset becomes a pervasive parasite that feeds on our insecurities. Fat loss becomes the lens through which we view and value physical activities and food choices. Hopes of fat loss or an ideal bodyweight, or fear of losing hard-earned results, become the fuel sources for our actions.
8) You view foods as fat-loss friends or foes.
Do you often wonder Will this help me lose fat? or think I shouldn’t eat this because it’s “bad” and will make me gain weight when analyzing food? Do you feel obligated to give your favorite foods and recipes a healthy makeover?
The dichotomous view of food — labeling some “good” and others “bad” — not only causes stress and frustration, but can forge a fear of food. And fear should never influence your food choices.
There are numerous reasons to eat nutritious foods that have nothing to do with losing body fat, or preventing weight gain. And, no, declaring food simply “fuel” and saying, “How it tastes shouldn’t matter!” is equally ridiculous. As with many things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. In this case, between the extremes of deprivation and unchecked indulgence.
If fear influences your food choices, it can be helpful to start erasing the harmful “good” and “bad” labels we’ve been conditioned to attach to food and, perhaps, try to simplify how to eat healthy and eating less-nutritious foods in moderation. And while you’re at it, learn how to not feel guilty for eating your favorite foods.
9) You haven’t known reasons to work out that have nothing to do with fat loss or changing how your body looks.
Exercise and nutrition are often tremendous sources of frustration for women; tools simply meant to alter the appearance of their bodies, fix so-called “flaws,” attain an “ideal” shape perpetuated by social media.
And that should be unacceptable!
Think about it: Exercise and nutrition should be tools that create a health-promoting lifestyle that make you feel great about yourself. Tools to create a high-quality life that allows you to do and experience the things that are important to you.
Your healthy lifestyle should be flexible so you can adapt to whatever circumstances life throws at you or as your preferences change. It should lead you to discover the amazing things your body can do instead of making you feel like you’re constantly fighting against it. It should help you break through the artificial boundaries that have restrained you instead of creating, and reinforcing, them. Nutrition and exercise should alleviate stress, not augment it.
If you’ve never known the satisfaction of getting stronger, increasing your endurance and work capacity, appreciating your body for what it can do, looking forward to workouts because you know you’ll set a personal record, then it’s time to explore those reasons.
Go Beyond Fat Loss
Perhaps the nonsense and narcissism disguised as health-promoting information has distorted your perception of food and fitness. Maybe you’re stuck in old habits and just don’t know any goals other than weight loss that are worth pursuing.
Or, perhaps, you’re fed up with feeling less than and want a better, empowering and enjoyable, health and fitness lifestyle that makes you feel great about yourself.
That’s a damn fine goal. Go beyond fat loss and begin by asking worthy questions about exercise and the health-promoting habits you want to establish:
- If fat loss was irrelevant, why would I work out?
- Instead of a specific outcome like reaching a certain bodyweight, what actions can I regularly practice that will establish the healthy lifestyle I want to create?
- How can I reclaim a hobby/activity I once enjoyed that’s been relegated to nothing more than a calorie-burning activity?
- What performance-based goals can I set for cardio, or how can I make cardio more enjoyable?
- What performance-based goals can I have with strength training? How strong can I become?
Don’t be afraid to say, “Screw fat loss!” and find reasons beyond the number on the scale to move your body and improve nutrition habits.
Interested in a done-for-you guide and workout program that revolves around the Screw fat loss! mentality? Want a plan that makes you feel great about yourself and actually has you look forward to workouts? Join the newsletter below to be notified as soon as the new program is released. (Don’t worry — it will be stupid affordable.)