Want to Lose Weight? Start With Strength Training Before Dieting

The diet and weight loss industry is worth billions annually. It sells all manner of quick and simple “solutions”, appealing to the human desire for fast and permanent weight loss with minimal effort. These marketing promises are embedded with lies, yet they’re lies most people crave to be told. We want fast and easy without discomfort. 

This isn’t reality. 

Maybe you understand that intentional fat loss:

-Requires time and effort.

-Requires commitment to change how we eat for the long run.

-Requires periods of greater discomfort as we navigate fatigue and cravings.

-Can’t involve perpetual restriction.

-Still holds some risk of long term weight regain plus more. 

The mistake most people make is dieting without strength training.

Let’s also differentiate between two major approaches to “dieting”:

1) You get frustrated and try a popular fad diet. Maybe it’s your cousin or coworker raving about keto or maybe you saw a weight loss ad. On impulse you sign up or start thinking you can summon the willpower to grit your way through a few months of restriction, lose the weight, then go right back to living the way you did before. This is a bad idea. The old way of living is what caused the weight gain to creep up on you over the years in the first place.

Also worth noting, devotees to popular diets like keto and intermittent fasting sometimes behave like evangelists for their dietary ideology. Have you ever noticed with some people a diet takes on religiosity? Have you ever been around someone and feel pressure to “convert” to their belief system? Is their chosen dietary ideology in their Instagram bio? Sometimes this happens because people like to feel justified in their choice. Converting others to the cause validates their choice, especially if their choice isn’t working so well. 

2) You plan a set period to reduce calories. You schedule 8-12 weeks of lower calories with a clear plan to switch back to maintenance intake so you don’t feel restricted for too long. You proceed with intention, knowing this more aggressive effort won’t last forever. You are less susceptible to willpower fatigue and falling off plan hard into prolonged periods of unrestrained high calorie intake. 

You plan around higher calorie treats that you build into your weekly calories while being more mindful about not eating mediocre crap out of boredom or habit. I elaborate on this concept in this article you can read: https://andrewcoatesfitness.com/how-to-lose-body-fat-feel-healthier-and-fix-your-nutrition-with-this-simple-tactic/

The first approach rarely works for long, while the second is a great strategy for long term success with intentional fat loss. Most people default to approach 1 or are so limited in their nutrition knowledge and skill that they just follow trends. This is also why you hear a lot of statistics like “95-99% of all diets fail”. Not only is this number more myth than truth, it’s heavily weighted by desperate people trying the wrong approach and quitting out of frustration.  People with an intentional and evidence based approach to “dieting” have significantly higher success rates.

“Exercise Doesn’t Cause Fat Loss”

Well intentioned fitness professionals have been sharing research that suggests exercise doesn’t cause fat loss. While ever so technically true, this is a slightly misguided narrative that requires a little more depth. Exercise isn’t efficient at burning excess body fat on its own. True, again sort of. From personal observation strength training is one of the best ways to build a long term sustainable approach to health and wellness. Instead of tolerating a diet, you fall in love with the process of getting stronger. It builds mental toughness, confidence, and can be powerful in creating a new identity around being strong and active. This foundation is a great linchpin for other healthy lifestyle behaviours like sleeping better, drinking less alcohol, and improving lifestyle nutrition. Many clients who start working out soon notice that they’re making better nutrition choices on their own without pressure or prompting. Being more active in any form usually sets the foundation for better nutrition. 

Better nutrition is essential to:

1) Stopping the bleeding. Some people feel discouraged that they aren’t losing weight right away, but often fail to notice and appreciate they’ve also now stopped the long term gradual weight gain. This plateau is a demonstration that you’ve achieved some initial success and serves as proof the plan is working, if you’re willing to stick with it. 

2) Shifting the calories in/calories out equation in favour of calories out, which is essential to fat loss. 

Something else people forget about doing more exercise, it usually cuts into the time you would otherwise be sedentary and snacking on high calorie food. Half the battle is cutting down on the latter behaviour, and if you can find productive ways to cut into those opportunities, the net positive outcome is magnified.

Why is strength training so important?

Strength training, resistance training, lifting weights, or even bodybuilding, whichever phrase you prefer, builds and maintains muscle mass. When we diet we provide fewer calories to our system to maintain weight. Without the stimulus to preserve our muscle, our body is efficient and will take from lean and fat tissue. So while we see the scale going down and celebrate this result, we’re often losing muscle along with body fat. 

The danger here lies in muscle’s role in our resting metabolic rate (RMR) and total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). Muscle is metabolically active tissue. Muscle requires energy to sustain and move. Though trainers often overstate just how many extra calories a few added pounds of muscle burns, it’s very unwise to lose muscle because we burn fewer calories while at rest. This means we need to eat fewer calories to maintain body weight (something that was already a long term problem with our lifestyle before we decided to diet and lose weight). We do gradually lose muscle as we age, another reason why strength training is so important as we get older. 

If dieting is approached gradually and sustainably, while prioritizing high protein intake, we’re less likely to lose significant muscle. Less likely if we have an active lifestyle, and less likely again if we regularly strength train. The training stimulus sends the message that our body requires more strength and muscle for life, and allocates energy and nutrients to build and sustain muscle. When we are in a calorie deficit, the weight lost is almost entirely from fat stores(and water). 

If dieting is approached aggressively, using extreme calorie restriction, or cycling between popular fad diets, along with being sedentary and not strength training, we risk losing significant muscle mass. The participants of the Biggest Loser show were tracked years after their appearances. Not only did most of them regain all the weight they lost and gained even more, many saw significant drops in their resting metabolic rate from the show weight loss, and their metabolisms never fully recovered. This is what happens when you crash diet. Metabolic rate drops aggressively and may not fully bounce back when weight regains.

We’re now seeing similar issues with the rapid rise in use of Ozempic and similar GLP-1 agonist drugs with people who take these drugs but don’t strength train. Without strength training these drugs effectively work like a fad diet. Their primary mechanism is appetite restriction. People eat less. If we eat less(especially if we eat less protein) without providing a stimulus to build and maintain muscle, our body will lose overall mass without differentiating between body fat and muscle. While initially we’re happy because we see the number on the scale go down, long term this muscle loss leads to long term issues including lower resting metabolic rate. If you’re using Ozempic, it’s essential you lift weights. 

When we lose weight gradually, our metabolism slows somewhat. Weighing less, regardless of your ratio of body fat to muscle results in lower calorie expenditure on average. If we regain the lost weight our metabolism tends to increase in proportion. When we lose weight rapidly and aggressively, then regain it later on, our metabolism may not increase in proportion.

It’s not that our metabolism is “damaged” but in practice if we increase calorie intake rapidly after dieting we’re more likely to gain a higher ratio of fat to muscle. 

Here’s where the true long term insidious problem lies. If you diet aggressively, especially without strength training to preserve muscle, you risk a slow down of your metabolism that doesn’t recover. If the diet is too aggressive and unsustainable you risk falling off hard and going back to the old lifestyle that led to the weight gain in the first place. Only now with a slower metabolic rate the fat comes back faster and easier. There are also physiological, hormonal, and psychological factors that drive you to eat more and regain the weight. If you’ve regained more weight than where you started and have a slower metabolism, you’re worse off than before.

Our evolutionary wiring doesn’t understand that you’re deliberately trying to lose fat. It only interprets a scarcity of calories in your environment and sends hormonal signals to make you think about food, feel hungry, and engage in food seeking behaviour. In ancestral times you relied upon whatever was available. Now we have supermarkets full of high calorie options and near endless fast food. We’re wired to seek the highest calorie options, and plenty now exist within easy access and in supernormal combinations of sugar, fat, salt, and calories never before found in nature. This means the deck is stacked against us. 

Then what happens for most people? Try either the same old aggressive fad diet that helped drop the weight the first time(except it wasn’t sustainable), but tell yourself this time you’ll have more discipline and keep doing it forever. Only you can’t keep it up and with less muscle and a lower metabolic rate it’s harder to lose the weight. You eventually get frustrated, quit, and go back to the old eating behaviour. You’ve also lost even more muscle this time, further slowing your metabolism. Leading to faster and easier body fat regain, plus more than ever. 

This cycle dooms people to yo-yo dieting, weight regain, perpetual weight gain beyond their original starting points, and eternal frustration. This cycle isn’t physically or mentally healthy.

Some individuals misinterpret this as evidence it’s healthier to never try to lose weight in the first place. Though the wise focus is to prioritize getting strong, making sustainable lifestyle and nutrition changes, and create an environment where improving metabolic health and losing excess body fat are byproducts of the effort to get strong.

Solution: Strength Training 

Strength training is the best solution against the cycle of restrictive yo-yo dieting for a number of reasons:

1) We shift focus away from losing weight toward pursuing strength.

We shift focus away from a short term outcome goal, to a long term behaviour and process goal. Focus on weight loss is rarely sustainable long term. It’s a difficult process and people rarely approach it in a sustainable way. Mentally, weight loss becomes an unpleasant chore with aggressive temptations at every step. If we can change the focus to the pursuit of strength, we can shift toward a fun, rewarding, confidence building effort that’s much easier to build a new identity around. Building the identity of someone who is strong and enjoys a lifestyle of continuous improvement and activity, is the easiest road not only to losing the excess fat, but keeping it off.

2) Focus on strength builds and preserves muscle mass, which preserves resting metabolic rate.

Preserving muscle mass by pursuing strength, not only preserves existing existing metabolic capacity, it increases the amount of calories you burn. More muscle means more calories burned at rest. Regular workouts means more calories burned while working out. And regular strength training workouts means elevated calorie burn for a few days after the workout as your body recovers and repairs from your training. Some fitness professionals like to downplay this effect, but even subdued it adds up over time and is vastly preferable to the alternative. 

Where to start?

I have several options for you to consider:

1) Message me directly on Instagram at @andrewcoatesfitness and I will answer your questions. I’m happy to recommend a great in-person or online coach I believe would be a great fit for you from my extensive network of trusted professionals. Or I’m happy to discuss if I’m able to help you personally online or in-person if you’re located in the greater Edmonton, Alberta area or visiting.

2) I have a free push, pull, legs program template with demo videos on my YouTube channel. This program gives you a framework, instruction, and an understanding of the basics that can carry you forever. It’s free if you subscribe to my email list on www.andrewcoatesfitness.com. (make sure you catch the confirmation email that can sometimes get into spam/junk folders).

3) I have a guided 6 week beginners program for women, with everything a beginner needs to get started, including demo videos. This is guided and progressed across 6 weeks to get you started. It’s free if you signup for my email list for my Forever Strength email list, part of my full women’s strength program.

4) I have a low cost high value 13 week women’s strength training program called Forever Strength. It’s a group program, guided and progressed across 13 weeks, with 4 programs and intakes per year. The first starts at the beginning of January and each subsequent starts the Monday after the previous 13 weeks finishes up. This program has been popular and has helped hundreds of women get strong and learn life long skills. It’s also great for people who want a low friction program that holds them accountable, that they show up for an execute, all with access to coaching form and answering questions to find solutions to challenges.

If you’re reading this right at the time of publishing, I have a program starting July 1st and registration is now open. 

My flagship 13 week women’s online group strength training program offers these benefits:

-I make most of the choices, you show up and follow the plan.

-My 13+ years of experience and 24,000+ hours of one on one in person coaching created a plan that works to get you stronger.

-I’ve created a supportive community of women who have done our program or are doing it right along with you.

-You show up on your schedule. You get the tools you need and support when you need it. I don’t complicate the process or add a lot of friction. Life has enough complexity and friction. 

-Life happens. You get sick, your kids get sick, you go on vacation, work gets intense, and you sometimes fall off track. One of the most pleasant surprises I keep hearing from members was how our program and it’s structure and accountability allowed people to get right back on track instead of falling off only to realize months have gone by and feel like you’re starting at the bottom of the mountain all over again.

-This program is also popular with coaches. Great coaches know they benefit from coaching. When you’re so focused on your own clients, your goals and fitness sometimes get pushed to last. I have you covered. The bonus is you see how we built and deliver on our program. I challenge you to take the lessons and create something even better for your career to serve your community.

Here’s the link to join: https://foreverstrength.ca/join-now/

Fat loss isn’t everything 

Fat loss isn’t everything but if it’s an important goal for you it should be respected and guided with resources to help you be successful in achieving your health and physique goals. Strength is the best foundation for any lifestyle, health, or aesthetic goal. If that goal is fat loss, the best way to sustain a lean physique is by building and preserving muscle mass, bone mineral density, and resting metabolic rate while staying strong. Falling in love with strength training is a great path to keeping the excess weight off long term and getting off the restrictive cycle of yo-yo dieting. 

If you’re ready for a better way, contact me here, start my free 6 week strength program, make the commitment with my full 13 week program women’s online strength program(next one starting July 1st 2024 and running every 13 weeks), or ask about working with me one on one for something truly individualized for you.