Strong is the New Skinny, Part 1

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Joleen Wilson - Dietary Manager

Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS

Written by Joleen Wilson, Registered Dietitian, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician, and Certified Brain Injury Specialist for Pathway at Brookhaven Hospital

When you walk into a gym like Gold’s or LA Fitness, you will likely see a segregation of males and females using the weights and cardio equipment, respectively.  By focusing solely on cardio for our workout, women are getting it wrong. Picture a 120 pound woman with a lot of lean muscle.  Then picture another 120 pound woman without much muscle definition but who appears to have a higher body fat percentage.  They look completely different.  Why?  Because muscle takes up less room than fat in our bodies.  Muscle is also more metabolically active than fat, meaning it burns more calories at rest.  Many women come to me in their thirties and complain that their “metabolism has gone down” and they have “gained so much weight”.  What else is going on in the life of a 30 year old?  They may have a career, children, or other hobbies that keep them occupied, while exercise and maintaining strength take a back seat.  The average person loses ½ pound of muscle per year after age 20.  This rate of loss doubles after age 60.  Every year that you are not active in your 20’s and beyond is another year that you lose ½ – 1 pound of muscle which is replaced by fat.  The result is less active tissue (muscle) and more storage tissue (fat), therefore decreasing metabolism over time.  This issue is compounded by those who follow fad diets, which often result in cyclic weights (up and down).  Most people go on a restrictive diet, stay on it for 6 months at the most, and then regain all the weight they lost plus about five pounds more.  Often, muscle tissue is not recovered if the individual does not strength train.  As a result, each subsequent attempt at dieting becomes more difficult.

In the coming weeks, I will discuss common exercise routines that have been helpful in building lean muscle and tend to increase the self-confidence of the persons engaging in the activity.  I will also touch on common pit falls with exercise and eating that can lead people down a slippery slope until the tragic moment they realize they are dealing with an eating disorder.  This three part blog series will focus on the inter-relatedness of diet and exercise and, often mindfulness.

Here at Pathway to eating disorders treatment at Brookhaven Hospital, our approach is to stop the focus on weight and dieting and start focusing on health improvement and preservation.  Whether you weigh half your ideal weight or over 400 pounds, ANYONE can take steps to improve their health.  These include: 1) eating adequate calories to provide the opportunity for the body to function optimally, 2) moderate exercise, as long as it is supported by adequate nutrition and hydration, 3) eating foods from all food groups, 4) drinking enough fluid, and 5) getting enough sleep.  Doing these things switches a person’s focus from FAILING at dieting to succeeding at being healthier, even if the person’s physical weight loss progresses at a slower rate.  Remember that the things that make us healthy will eventually adjust our weight as well.  Progress, not perfection, is what counts.

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