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One of the most important changes I’ve made in the way I talk to women about eating and exercising over the last number of years is that I don’t assume that every one of us has the same goals.
When I was first starting out as a personal trainer, I had tons of ideas about how I was going to help women lose fat, gain muscle, eat better, and feel stronger. Of course I still think about how to help my clients on a daily basis, but I place way more emphasis on listening to what they want, what their goals are and how they like to live their lives.
Which brings us to the point about fat loss and how to know if it is a worthwhile goal for you.
In today’s society, it is largely assumed that every woman wants to or should want to lose body fat.
Yikes! It’s no wonder we’ve got a body image, self-esteem and subsequent health crisis going on at the same time. We hear lots of marketing and constant messaging about needing to lose fat, get smaller and look more toned.
So let me spell it out for you: Fat loss does NOT have to be your goal. Regardless of the size of your body today, there are many other healthy, worthwhile goals other than fat loss.
Goals like running faster, lifting more weight, learning to live an authentic life, completing a long distance physical challenge, loving your body for exactly how it looks today or doing your first pull-up.
But, this doesn’t mean that if, and I want to highlight and not assume that ‘if’ fat loss is your goal that you should feel bad for wanting this outcome. Wanting to lose fat is not bad! But there are some important questions to ask yourself in order to be successful and smart with your fat loss goals, and to know you are pursuing it for the right reasons.
This is how to know if fat loss is a worthwhile goal for you:
The key to this first statement is YOU. This is not about your boyfriend, husband, mom, best friend or kids. Do you think about losing body fat and feel motivated to get to the gym, spend time on your food choices and prioritize sleep each day? If you do, then having a goal to lose body fat may be a great stepping stone to creating a consistent exercise routine. Being committed to a specific outcome can teach you amazing things about yourself.
If you think about losing fat and feel as though it is something you should really want to achieve, but it doesn’t light a fire under your butt, then I would ask you to spend time considering a goal that does spark you up. Remember there are no shoulds when it comes to fat loss. No shoulding all over yourself!
Sometimes a reduction in body fat will be a secondary outcome we’ll realize when we are in the process of pursuing a goal that we are really excited about. The key here is not taking on a certain goal like running a marathon, or doing a 30 day yoga challenge to lose body fat as these are not guaranteed outcomes. Pursue a goal for more than the physical results and you’ll learn how your body responds to certain types of exercise.
Perhaps you are genuinely motivated by losing body fat but the time you’ll need to be successful with this goal is just not available to you. Changing your body composition takes concerted time and effort, fat loss rarely happens by accident. You’ll need to spend some time exercising, some time cooking for yourself, some time reducing stress and some time getting enough sleep.
Exercise is a factor in losing fat, but nutrition plays an even bigger role.
How much time do you have to consistently commit to both?
If you have a massive work project on the go, have just given birth to a baby, are moving to a different country, or are mentally engaged in other worthwhile pursuits, perhaps it is time to consider putting your fat loss goal on the back burner for awhile. Please recognize that this doesn’t mean your health needs to take a back burner at these times, but losing body fat might not be a priority.
When you have the time, or when you are ready to make the time to commit more effort and energy to losing body fat, then go for it! But no beating yourself up for not being able to achieve a goal that you don’t have time for (or aren’t willing to make time for!).
We haven’t discussed much of the steps that are required to decrease the amount of body fat we carry, because I consider them to be level two knowledge. Level one is about determining if losing body fat is worthwhile in your life.
If you can enjoy the breathless cardio intervals you’ll be doing (I love these!), get pumped for the tough strength training sessions you’ll be completing, are excited about finding work arounds for your favourite treats, and genuinely want to count how many grams of protein you are eating then there’s another sign that fat loss and you might be great goal partners. Remember, different goals are right for different seasons of your life.
This is can be a tough one for some to embrace, but I urge you to consider that not everyone who has a body mass index (the amount of weight we carry for the height that we are) over 25 has to lose body fat, not everyone who is carrying ‘x’ percentage of body fat is unhealthy, and not everyone who doesn’t like the number they see on the scale should change their body composition.
You can be beautiful, healthy and strong at a great variety of weights, body mass indexes and body fat percentages. There are many measurements and factors that play into health, beauty and happiness.
I strongly believe that learning to love your body at any size is key to mental, physical and emotional health. It can be tough when we hear messages that seemingly tell us otherwise, but all sizes and shapes are beautiful and worthy of love. Pregnancy has been a good lesson in this for me!
Saying that once we have got to the point where we weigh ‘x’ means that it is time to lose fat is to miss the point entirely. Look at the last three steps!
Are you going to enjoy the process? Do you have the time in your life or are you wiling to make the time? And are you genuinely motivated to lose fat? If the answer is no, then save yourself and everyone else the pain of forcing something on your body that just won’t work and instead, spend time finding healthy foods and exercise that you love. Even if there is no body fat reduction, you will be caring for yourself and experiencing amazing health benefits.
I hope these four points have helped you to think about losing fat differently. It is not something we all have to do, and there are seasons where it can be an appropriate goal, and times when it won’t be appropriate. It comes down to taking an honest assessment of where you are at in your life.
Here’s some personal insight from me on knowing when losing fat is a worthwhile goal for me. When I feel pressure from outside sources like family, friends, colleagues or media to lose fat, it’s a big clue for me that I’m out of my own power and looking for validation from sources external to me. Chasing fat loss from a place of ‘not good enough’ never works out well for me. I don’t enjoy the process, I am way too critical of myself and I worry about what others perceive rather than focusing on me.
I’m certainly not assuming that we all need to lose fat, and so I hope you’ll do the same. In fact, fat loss is likely not a worthwhile goal for you if you identify with any of the following statements:
Happiness is an inside job. Learning to embrace all of who you are, the great, challenging and scary parts of yourself is the key to true happiness. If happiness is what you are looking for then spend time learning to communicate better with the people you love, learning what sorts of daily activities bring you joy and learning what type of lifestyle works with your unique personality.
If you’ve experienced body change in your life and felt happier because of it, I want you to think about something for a second. Was it the body change that made you happier? Or was it the confidence you gained? Or was it the person you became because you spent time on yourself? Or was it because you physically felt better?
There is a lot more to happiness than a lower body fat percentage, and most of it happens in between your ears!
We are only ready to change when we are truly ready to change. I firmly believe from my own experience and the experiences of my clients that forcing ourselves to change is a terrible strategy.
If you’ve wanted to lose fat for years and you are continually beating yourself up because of this, I think it’s time to do one of two things: spend some time learning to love you for who you are on the inside or sit down and examine where your priorities are. If fat loss is number six on the list, then it’s no wonder why you aren’t having success with your pursuits.
Fat loss will happen when we have the time, motivation and desire to put what it takes to see change. This doesn’t mean we are better people when we are engaged in the goal of losing fat, and it doesn’t mean we are lazy, bad or irresponsible people when we are not actively pursuing fat loss.
Losing fat hasn’t been a goal of mine for almost 2 years. Lately I’ve been working on my business, loving my family, moving to a different province, growing a human inside of me, nursing back and neck injuries and yes, still exercising and eating well. Before that I spent a solid 2 years putting in the time and effort to lose body fat and it was totally a worthwhile endeavour for me until circumstances changed and I wanted to put my efforts elsewhere.
So the take home message for today is that we can still take great care of our bodies and love the heck out of them when we aren’t losing body fat. We can also enjoy the process of losing body fat when the time is right and it is a worthwhile goal for us.
I navigate topics exactly like this one with the women in my exercise and nutrition coaching program the Blast Fitness Coaching Club. You get new workouts every 30 days, and tons of coaching around fostering healthy attitudes to exercise and nutrition. Join hundreds of women who have been a part of this program HERE. Doors are open until midnight MDT this Friday, August 31st.