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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Fed up that I was not losing weight as fast as I could, I started skipping dinner and limiting my calorie intake as much as I could. I was actively doing strength training so my metabolic rate was high. I kept feeling hungry all the time and I just kept telling myself, “Burn the fat, burn the fat.” Pretty soon I was 10 pounds lighter. I was so proud of myself. But the bubble popped.

Date            Weight                Total Inch Loss               Body Fat %

6/14/2014    146 lb                  None                                  22.9
7/16/2014    145 lb                  Lost 8 inches                     19.8
8/25/2014    139 lb                  0 inches                             27


When my personal trainer took my measurements again the results told a different story. I had lost 6 lbs but my body fat percentage had increased significantly. She was so surprised that she did the measurements twice. But the results were the same each time.

My trainer told me that I had burnt up the muscle mass that I had built very quickly. She had always warned me against fasting especially after doing intense workouts. She would often emphasize on the importance of feeding the body just enough calories and eating as clean as possible so that the system can continuing burning fat and building muscle. I confessed to her that I had been skipping meals when possible. This explained the muscle loss and body fat percentage gain. By skipping meals I was effectively putting my body on starvation mode.

Let us look at the results again. In spite of my hard work the reason I had not been losing much weight in mid July was because I had gained muscle mass. I had lost inches but not pounds. I got frustrated because the bathroom scale was not tipping in my favor. So when possible I would skip dinner and have a light breakfast. So my body was entering starvation mode. When the body goes in starvation mode it will burn up the energy that it can use up most easily which is the glycogen stored in the muscle. As a result gradually the muscle mass begins to disappear. The body tries to increase the fat reserves because it thinks it is going into starvation mode. That is why by late August I had lost weight but my body fat percentage had increased. If you check the table you will notice that the inch loss from July to August was zero. The weight loss was not reflected in July because I had built my muscle mass and lowered my body fat percentage. Remember lean muscle is much more denser than fat so it weighs much more than fat.

The most important take away from this was to stop thinking in terms of pounds and start thinking in terms of inches. The goal is not just to lose weight but also to be fit, healthy and strong.

One of my classmates in my Body Pump class was a true inspiration. She was a Japanese grandma around 65 years. She did not have a single strand of black hair on her head and she would regularly do strength training three times a week. Believe it or not the Japanese super grandma would do bench presses with 40 lbs. on the barbell during the Body Pump class and I am almost half her age but I would struggle to do the chest track with just 25 lbs. on my barbell. She was a living role model of good health and clean living.

So don’t shy away from building muscle. Start today. Many women fear that strength training would cause them to bulk up. The truth is that women can’t naturally grow massive muscles like men do, it would take heavy weights, hours of dedication, the right nutrition, even years to get lean muscle definition and you still wouldn’t get bulky.

Men have more testosterone than women, that’s why they can build more muscle than us, and still, men will have to work hard for a long period of time, and eat right to see the muscle gains they want and maintain it. I have seen some really strong women in the gym who are really lean and toned.

There are several benefits of building muscle mass. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism. So this means you are burning more calories even while sleeping, as your body needs to use more calories to fuel your muscles, which helps you to burn more fat.

Resistance exercise can reduce bone deterioration and build bone mass, preventing osteoporosis. It has been proven to have a positive effect on insulin resistance, resting metabolism, blood pressure, body fat and gastrointestinal transit time, factors that are linked to illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. So don’t just obsess about your weight loss goals and get into fad diets. Make fitness and healthy eating a lifestyle choice.

Lakshmi Reguna lives in Fremont and works as a cloud engineer at Cisco Systems. She teaches yoga and is passionate about fitness. She loves hiking, swimming and blogging about fitness.