Our New Year Traditions

Every year, we set ourselves up for transformation. As someone whose professional career revolves around supporting individuals, corporations and leaders with such transformational evolutions, I appreciate the sentiment – and the impetus that Jan 1 gives us, each year.

What breaks my heart each year is that so many of the resolutions made revolve around behavior change, without any attempt to resolve what is actually underneath the manifestation of behaviors.

Moreover, so many of the physical aspirations we set at this time of year consist of what we think are health goals, but are actually just aesthetic ones. And it is this travesty that this article focuses on.

Countless people will have woken up today with the intention of an aesthetic weight-loss goal. Perhaps it’s comparison culture, perhaps it’s because we’ve been taught now that obesity and overfatness creates health consequences. And undoubtedly, sometimes we could do with losing a few pounds. 

When it comes to men’s health and reducing adipose fat, there’s always a rate-limiter in that men often simultaneously desire muscle mass. Rarely is a man’s goal just “lose weight”. Often it’s “lose fat, gain muscle”.

And this should be women’s goals too. Instead, I still see the example of an incredibly lean, low body fat percentage, low muscle mass being portrayed as healthy.

Knowing About Risk

When it comes to their bodies, what I don’t think women have been taught about is risk. Every weight you live at, throughout your life, contributes – in either a positive or negative direction – to your risk for developing illnesses later in life.

I wish our girls were taught this in school. I wish our parents were taught to teach our children this. And I wish that every magazine article and online blog that came out today promising weight loss hacks and encouraging over-leanness in a way that minimizes nourishment and simultaneously lowers muscle mass, actually explained the real consequences of women carrying incredibly low body fat, low muscle mass percentages.

The immediate consequences are perhaps obvious: loss of or difficulties with menstrual cycles, difficulty conceiving (which is both hormonal, but also to do with nutritional status) or carrying a baby to term, lack of strength.

Then there are less obvious immediate consequences.


A DEXA scan can show us a variety of things – including total body mass, lean mass, fat mass, visceral fat mass and bone density.

Someone who cosmetically looks incredibly lean, would be hired by a modeling agency instantly and is the picture that many women might be putting on vision boards today with a sense of envy, is likely to have a DEXA scan which shows worrying potentials. Even if that woman is working out, potentially even taking peptides or supplements, there could be all sorts of health consequences.

Whilst her total body and visceral fat mass may be low, her bone density is likely low and her appendicular lean mass index (the measure of lean mass, i.e. muscle tissue, in arms and legs) is likely to be very low – indicating generalized low muscle mass.

These findings will be caused by overall low calorie intake, coupled with high cardio output with no strength training (or ineffective strength training due to low power output).

Importantly: these findings will also be caused by low protein intake.

In fact, the majority of the problem with food restriction of any kind – including poorly managed caloric restriction, intermittent fasting which over-limits food consuming opportunities and macronutrient restriction which favors fat – is the underconsumption of protein. I’ll return to this when I share my resolutions at the close of this article.

Longer Term

The longer term consequences to over-leanness are actually vast. Bone mineral density (due to undernourishment and lack of sufficiently activating strength training) can lead to higher fracture risk in old age, immune deficiencies, increases in chronic pain, worse surgical outcomes and even higher all-cause mortality rates.

Suffice to say, what no-one tells those aspiring to leanness is that the type of leanness, and the way you nourish your body to get there, really, really matters.

A Personal Share

Anyone who knows me knows that I have had a long and complex journey with my body. I was emaciated for years, incredibly over-lean for many more – and now I sit at overfat with weight retention and excess adipose tissue that won’t shift given what I’ve tried.

But the “what I’ve tried” has been affected because I have a complex relationship with food: I have a digestive tract which can be fussy at the best of times, and downright un-complicit at others. I also have had a lot of food phobia: I fear the consequences of eating given how sick I can be.

And yet, during this period between Christmas and New Year, after a year that has changed an enormous amount for me, I have been working on the underlying mechanisms of that phobia. The details of that journey are for another day… but what it does is stand me in good stead to set myself a New Year’s Resolution of losing weight.

But do you know what my actual goal is?

Not losing weight. Not even ‘be more healthy’. Not leanness. Not a target weight, nor a target size.

The root of the problem – for me and everyone else – is Nourishment.

So the goal must be about regulating, balancing and supporting the Nourishment piece of all of this. And that isn’t actually about restriction (nor will it be about over-exercising, though strength training will come into it).

Nourishment & Protein

My priority is on eating. For me, actually eating more. Eating well.

And, vitally: eating enough protein.

Because whilst my body type doesn’t match the one described above – I sit in the same category of undernourished and undermuscled. So the solution – for all body composition related goals, not just mine – is to restore nourishment to balance, and restore protein synthesis to optimal.

(FYI: if you’re not undernourished but overnourished, the likelihood is that there’s still a protein issue with your intake – so focus on upping protein intake* (which will naturally support lowering total calorie intake, though you may need to track for a while), add strength training and some Zone 2 and 5 cardio exercise and the results will be balance).

So my New Year’s Resolution, such that it is, means doing the one thing someone once banned me from doing (for completely inappropriate reasons, but that scarred me nonetheless!). I’ll be downloading a macronutrient tracker, buying protein powder and focusing on actually nourishing my way to healthful outcomes, appropriate leanness – and also actually enjoying food and my body, potentially for the first time in my life.

So if you’ve set yourself any kind of weight loss goal this season… my guidance would be to remember the long term risk of undernourishment.

With that in mind: adjust your metrics, goals and aspirations accordingly.

Happy New Year everyone… !

* protein intake needs to be 1.8-2g per kilogram of body weight. If you’re obese, maybe adjust this to 2g per kg of lean body mass, or 2g per kg of target weight

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