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Why weight-loss is the wrong fitness goal

Making weight loss your primary goal is not merely erroneous but dangerous too

Strength training will add muscle, which is better for overall health than losing weight
Strength training will add muscle, which is better for overall health than losing weight (iStock)

All of us have made the right decisions for the wrong reasons at some point in time or the other. Choosing to exercise and diet for weight loss would top that list. Making weight loss your primary goal is not merely erroneous but dangerous too, say health experts, nutritionists and doctors. Improving your health, aiming for a better lifestyle and increasing your functionality ought to be your goals when you turn to exercise and good eating habits.

When you choose to exercise and eat right, your main goal should be health because an active lifestyle strengthens the body and immune system while leading to efficient weight-loss, says Deepti Khatuja, senior clinical nutritionist, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram. “It also helps in social and mental well-being and builds confidence too,” says Khatuja.

Keep an eye on muscle mass

Sandeep Sachdev, the winner of reality show Biggest Loser and co-founder of Mumbai’s Easy Human fitness studio and cafe, found this out the hard way. Sachdev, who lost a little more than 50kg in four months to win the inaugural contest in 2007, went in with the sole aim of losing weight and that almost cost him dearly.

“My weight loss [using a cardio-only approach] was excellent but I lost muscle so rapidly that it nearly led to my disqualification. From a training perspective, one tends to focus a lot on cardio-based workouts where the goal is always high calorie loss. The results are quickly visible and this can become addictive, because of which you start ignoring other dimensions of exercise, such as strength training, endurance workouts and flexibility,” warns Sachdev, who had to work long and hard to make the switch after the reality show.

The body is a complex network of multiple organ systems that requires us to be dialled in on all fronts to attain health and fitness goals, explains A.K. Abhinav, founder of Namma Crossfit in Bengaluru. “Weight loss is simply a number on a scale. Focusing on just that is dangerous and should be avoided,” says Abhinav.

Instead of weight loss, says Sachdev, focus on fat loss. While fat loss means reduction of fat in your body, weight loss is a combination of a drop in your body’s fat and muscle. “Losing muscle is the worst thing for health. Every fitness regimen should only focus on fat loss, which is the healthier way,” he adds.

Holistic fitness routines

Muscle increases functionality and enhances the process of using energy stored in the body. If our fat stores increase, there is a likelihood of illness or disease. Hence, if your focus is only weight loss, there is a danger of weakening the immune system, says Abhinav.

“Due to an obsession with losing weight on the scale, you might be unaware of loss of muscle mass alongside an increase in fat weight,” he adds. “Any well-rounded fitness programme will always ensure that your muscle mass increases with a corresponding decrease in fat weight.”

Rapid weight loss could lead to health complications ranging from fatigue to heart problems. “Malnutrition is a common problem associated with weight loss programmes. It results in deficiencies of various nutrients which can then lead to other diseases. People focused on weight loss have also complained of memory loss, fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, irregular menstruation, irritability, mood swings, low blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms,” says Khatuja.

Our obsession with weight probably started with the introduction of the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale, used to classify a population based on weight and height. “Unfortunately most of us also, mistakenly, use this as an indicator of our health,” says Abhinav. “A weightlifter with a height of 5’4” weighing 77 kg would be obese on the BMI scale. It does not take into account her muscle weight (muscle is heavier than fat) and her levels of strength and power.”

Health has a very wide definition with many measurable parameters, which keep fluctuating based on the lifestyle choices an individual makes. “The measurable markers of these parameters like blood pressure, resting heart rate, cholesterol levels, et al indicate the status of the body. Weight is just one such parameter and cannot be taken in isolation. These markers serve as an alarm for us to take charge of our health,” says Abhinav.

Health is much more than a number on the weighing scale and hence the pursuit of health should always trump the pursuit of weight loss.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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