One of the most asked questions about fitness in Google is....
WILL I LOSE WEIGHT BY DOING
(...fill in the blank...)
Whether you are asking about Zumba, Pilates, Yoga, HIIT or any other type of workout, the answer is fairly similar, but actually (like all things in life) it is not just a yes / no answer. There is a lot in between and it is worth understanding this part so that you can move in the direction you want to. This is a long blog, apologies, but there is a lot to cover, so get comfy!
So first of all, question, when you say you want to lose weight, are you meaning:
You want the reading on your scale to go down
You want to lose body fat and look toned in your swim suit?
You want to breath more easily when walking up the stairs?
You want to feel attractive & sexy?
Think of it this way, a body builder and an obese person can weight the exact same on the scale, yet their body composition will be totally different. So look at those questions again and think about what you really want to achieve as you start or continue with your fitness journey.
GOAL: Scale Reading to go DOWN
I don't think I have shared this with many people in my adult life, but as a child (maybe 12 - 16 years old) I was obsessed with the scale and would weigh myself several times a day. As a dancer I felt a lot of pressure to be thinner, not healthier or stronger, just thinner. I mean this was in the 80's & 90's so it's understandable that the goal was just to be thin right? At the time, being young, I could miss dinner one night and have a flat stomach the next day and the scale would tell me I had lost 4 lbs which was amazing. It didn't matter that the weight loss was from loss of muscle or hydration, it was just important to weigh less. I started missing more and more meals, taking diet pills (way more than you were supposed to) and I would live on eating these disgusting diet bars with no nutrition in them but they were low in calories so they must be healthy right? The scale kept going down but I felt horrible. My energy & strength was down, I wasn't my bubbly self, my immune system wasn't that strong and I was tired and moody all the time. After a while my body started holding onto fat because that is what happens when it goes into survival mode but because I was losing muscle from low nutrition, the scale kept going down. My goal of reducing my weight on the scale was achieved, but I looked grey and unwell. Most of all I felt like sh*t.
I'm not saying that using a scale is all bad, I am merely trying to make the point that there is a lot more that goes into 'losing weight' than just the number on the scale.
GOAL: Losing Body Fat & Looking More Toned
Now this is a goal I can get behind... first of all, understand that we all need fat in our body to survive, however there is a healthy range of fat that we should have.
Essential Fat (ie to ensure your body functions properly) - going under these percentages is extreme dangerous.
MEN: 4-5% WOMEN: 10-13%
However these figures are only ever achieved by professional sports people and are literally the bare minimum of fat that you need in your body to survive. So let's rather look at the healthy range:
MEN: 5-20% WOMEN: 15-30%
More than you thought?
So how do you know what your body fat percentage is? Well there are two ways. You can visit your doctor's office or your local gym where they have body fat calipers which measure how much fat your can grab in your mid range. You then look at a chart taking into account your age and gender to work out your body fat percentage. The second way is by using a body composition scale that measures several elements of your body, like muscle mass, body fat percentage even your hydration levels. I have had a few over the years but am currently using the Arboleaf one which has an added convenience of having an app where my husband and son can set up their own profiles as well. Plus each time I use it, my measurements are stored so I can see my graph to gage whether I am moving in the direction I want to or not. Now I am not sponsored by this company, but I am sharing it with you in the event you are looking for a product that I've tried and tested. There are however many body composition scales out there so take a look around.
OK so how do we lose body fat and how do we get toned?
First and foremost, when it comes to losing body fat your diet is more important than your exercise! You heard that right. However, getting toned, well that is all exercise!
Getting a balanced eating plan is so key to your fat loss goals. Now this is a huge topic and one that I will need to write a separate blog on, so let me just say for now that if you stick to fresh foods (ie the foods on the perimeter of the supermarket) you will be taking a big step in the right direction. Drinking more water and also reducing your portions if you think you might be overeating are two more ways to reduce your body fat.
Now exercise is still important, just not as important as your diet when it comes to fat loss. I know you don't want to hear it, but just doing Zumba is not going to be your answer. Zumba plays a part as it is cardio which is great for cardiovascular health (the goal to being able to walk up stairs without huffing and puffing) and it is WONDERFUL for mental health, however if we are looking at fat burning workouts, we actually need a mix of activities. If we look at the classes I offer, I have chosen classes to give a well rounded exercise plan - so cardio (Zumba), flexibility & stress relief (Yoga), fat burning & strengthening (full body workouts, pilates & barre). However there are many types of activities out there that you can do to give yourself the full spectrum of workouts, so mix it up.
When we look at toning our bodies, fat loss is important because no matter how strong your muscles are, if there is a thick layer of body fat over the muscle you won't look toned. However getting the muscle strong is where exercise is KING!
To tone your body, using weights (heavy if you want to build muscle or light if you want to burn fat and tone) is the only way. In the fitness industry we often hear women say that they don't want to do weights because they don't want to be muscular - and actually once upon a time, I would say that too (before I knew better) but now I absolutely love using weights, resistance bands and pilates balls. By using equipment we are doing so many wonderful things in our bodies like building lean muscle mass which in turn helps our bodies burn fat faster as we increase our metabolism. We are also increasing the density of our bones which helps ward off osteoporosis (especially important for mums!) Right now in our classes we have been using low weights and high reps, but we will be introducing higher weights (still under 10lbs) with slightly lower reps as we build our strength.
GOAL: Walking Up Stairs without Huffing & Puffing
You may have been told by your doctor that you are not fit and that you need to lose weight - the above information will still help you, however to specifically increase your fitness levels so that you don't tire so easily when doing daily activities is down to your cardiovascular system. This is where cardio can help you. Depending on how unfit you are, you may need to start with gentle walks along a flat path, building up to a hill, building up to a brisk walk, then a jog then a run. Eventually to really increase the strength of your cardiovascular system, HIIT is key. This is where you do a high cardio activity and then a gentle activity. Each activity can take between 20 & 40 seconds. So you may do high knees for 40 seconds and then do some bicep curls for 40 seconds to let your heart rate come down. In some classes, you may take a complete break in between segments. Now actually you will see that there are cardio classes that loosely use this format - even in Zumba, we don't just do high energy song after high energy song. There is a flow to the class. The energy can build slowly, get to a peak and then slowly reduce until you get to the stretch; sometimes you can do a high energy dance then a low one, then a high one and so on. So the instructor is basically lifting and lowering your heart-rate throughout the class. This isn't HIIT, but it follows the same idea of lifting your heart rate then letting you recover. HIIT is just a bit more extreme.
GOAL: Feel Sexy & Confident in My Skin
Now if I thought the previous topics were long, this is one that I can talk on for days, and I will in many blogs to come...
Feeling sexy and confident in your skin is not a place you get to with just exercise and diet. This is a mindset and a practice of learning to love, respect and be kind to yourself.
You may have seen an IG post of mine recently that 91% of women are not happy with how they look. As it turns out, that number is fairly similar for men. Yet when you look around you, there are WAY more than just 9% of good looking people. I think if we can try to let go of the crazy goals of looking perfect, we will be happier people. If we can stop comparing ourselves to photoshopped images we will be happier people. If we can love and appreciate ourselves, we will be happier people.
In London many years ago I went to a friend's 40th birthday at a burlesque club. There were three women who came on stage at different times of the night. The first lady was insanely gorgeous, with legs almost as tall as me. She did all her moves and entertained us really well, however there was no sparkle to her. The second lady came out. Very pretty, beautiful body. Again, no sparkle. The third lady came out, and to be honest if I had seen her in the street, I would not have thought, wow she is sexy and gorgeous... but she started dancing and WOW! She was so confident that she oozed sexy. I will never forget her. She made such a lasting impression on me that night, that literally confidence in yourself can be the sexiest thing of all.
So for this goal, yes work on a healthy eating plan, get a good mix of exercises but most of all be kind to yourself. Appreciate your body and how it has served you. Find the things that you can love about yourself and focus on those things whilst you work on the things you don't like. Being in that kinder place will help you with your journey.
Much love always - thank you for reading to the end....I know it was long!