How Fit Can You Be? How Much Weight Can You Lose?

Is it really just a matter of working hard? Wanting it badly enough? If it were, we’d all have fabulous bodies. Motivation, inspiration, setting your mind to it, programming your mind for success…when it comes to weight loss and fitness, none of it really gets the hard work done. Stuff like that can be a distraction and for some of us, even a discouragement.

I’ve received some interesting comments, posts, and emails on my recent blog post about images of extremely athletic people when used as “motivation.” The truth of our bodies is that we do not all start from the same place, our abilities are not all equal, and our bodies cannot all achieve the same results. In some aspects, it’s just not possible; in others, it’s just not realistic. I like to use myself as an example, because, well, I’m available for detailed study.

Back in 2009 my weight was very stable in the 170s and my overall health was great for a 49 year old woman. I’d maintained my weight loss for a few years by then and I worked out with a trainer regularly. I was expecting that my weight should be dropping but it wouldn’t budge. I got a bit ambitious and decided to try powerlifting to add some muscle. There was a really hardcore trainer at my gym so I switched to working with him. He recommended that I also work with a bodybuilding consultant he collaborated with so between the two of them I was on a very intense 12-week program of lifting heavy, daily cardio, and an extreme professional-style diet.

Earlier that year I’d had the extra skin removed from my upper arms. At a follow-up appointment, my plastic surgeon’s photos revealed the results of my exercise and diet regimen:

back change

Looks pretty impressive. But these photos don’t tell the whole story. First, what’s realistic. As the twelve weeks pressed on, I became increasingly stressed, struggling to maintain the intensity of the training and the diet. Yes the results appeared to be sensational (more on that in a minute) but I really was not enjoying the schedule. I’d made the commitment so I stuck with it but I really wanted to let up on it. The work it took to achieve these results was more than I was willing to do to maintain them when I factored in what’s physically possible.

What you don’t see in the photo has to be taken into consideration. The rest of me didn’t match my back. Because of my weight loss I have stomach flab. It’s not serious; it’s about what I’d have if I’d had a few children. I’d love to be able to get rid of it but until I can afford a basic tummy tuck, it’s live-able. So for all that hard work, I would not have a flat stomach, no matter what. And then there are my disproportionately larger hips and legs. It’s the way I am built and the way I’m going to stay unless I have a thigh lift which is a very difficult surgery. I’m really not sure how far down my weight would have to go and how hard I’d have to work my glutes, quads, and calves to dramatically alter the appearance of my lower body. I already know even if it were possible, it’s more work than I’m willing to undertake.

You may be shocked to know that my weight changed only four pounds by the end of the twelve-week regimen. And no, I didn’t drop below 170, the number my body seems to love the best. Being a woman and at my age, the weight change would be the combination of fat loss and muscle gain but the amount of muscle was probably about a pound and a half, if that much, in my estimation as an NASM certified trainer.

For many factors, including my gender, age, body type, and weight history, I could never have a ripped, athletic body, no matter how hard I worked at it. I’ve made the decision that based on what I learned from that incredible 12-week experience, there’s a limit to the level of physical (muscular) fitness I am willing and capable of maintaining. I continue to work conscientiously at maintaining excellent cardio health—that’s where I place my highest priority.


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    • JoAnn on August 7, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I definitely look better clothed! 🙂 Doesn’t matter that I’ve lost 115 lbs. Doesn’t matter that I lift weights. My husband says I’m bony. Unfortunately the skin sags over my thighs and stomach. It’s not from lack of hard work. It just is and I have to be good with it. My life is about health and pursuing health means my skin looks better, I have vitality and stamina. I have a bit more to lose, but not as much as I thought at the beginning because my body takes up less space than it did the last time I was this same weight. I try to be the best version of me. It’s very freeing to no longer worry about meeting someone else’s expection of beauty and perfection. My body does what I need it to do. Good enough.

    1. Your body does what you need it to do—I think that’s the key right there!! People could think that I ought to want to work really hard to have a muscular look and to lose more weight but it’s just not my priority. I can find clothes, I fit everywhere, I feel good all the time, I look like an average person, and my cardio health is great! I’m already covered on my real priorities!

  1. Hi Dagny, you look great on that photo! Anyway, so your goal is to have excellent cardio health, not so much having muscle and losing more weight then? That’s your choice, though I’m not sure why this is so important to you. I find the headlines to your posts a little confusing. For example, the first one suggested a post on why you thought cardio was critical to weight loss when it really was about the benefits of using a heart rate monitor. I expected something else from the above headline. Mostly,, it’s about you deciding that you want to focus on cardio.

    Also, you say: “For many factors, including my gender, age, body type, and weight history, I could never have a ripped, athletic body, no matter how hard I worked at it.” It’s true that those factors will have an impact on what kind of body you could achieve, but it doesn’t make it impossible. And I don’t think you can draw that conclusion from having only weight trained for 12 weeks. A year, yes.

    You say, “I’ve made the decision that based on what I learned from that incredible 12-week experience, there’s a limit to the level of physical (muscular) fitness I am willing and capable of maintaining.” But you’re willing to bike intensely for 2 hours a day? Again, this is all your choice and if it works for you, great. My original reason for tweeting was because I want to discourage ppl from believing cardio is the no. factor in weight loss when I see over and over and over again that it’s not. Your headline reinforces this belief. Just sayin’.

    1. You make a lot of assumptions on limited information, Julia. Yes I put a priority on heart health. I am in my fifties and have heart disease on both sides of my family. Cardio exercise burns calories so I don’t see how you think that’s some kind of compromise.

      What’s not possible is my willingness to devote myself to the level of work and time that would be required to be significantly more muscular at my age and physical condition (now menopausal).

      I rode an old lady bike with no speeds for an hour at a time around a gated country club community during a month of the nicest Florida springtime weather. Do you really think that’s anything like an hour of powerlifting training by a former professional competitor? Seriously?

      Julia I think you just came by to split hairs.

  1. […] I have to be aware of my particular situation. Weight loss has ALWAYS been a struggle for me, for various reasons. Now I am a 53-year-old, peri-menopausal female whose body experienced a significant physical change about eight years ago. My calorie needs appear to be rather low at this time so I need to be extra sure I’m choosing highly nutrient-dense foods. I know from using the Body Bugg that even with a workout, it can be tough for me to reach a 2000 calorie burn in a day. I’m also reminded of what happened when I undertook an extreme diet and exercise regimen back in 2009. I wrote a blog post about it recently. Read it here. […]

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