I used to only care about numbers on the scale, letting my weight motivate me rather than how healthy I felt. I dieted to lose weight on the scale, and exercised to burn calories rather than building calorie-burning muscle.

At 5-foot-6, I set a goal of being 120 pounds. This number fell at the low end of what might be considered healthy for my height. Even when I achieved it, my regimen was so strict I could never maintain my results.

My weight was constantly going up and down. I was starving myself and doing hours of cardio to stay ahead of the dreaded weight gain. And still, it wasn't enough.

As I stated in my previous article "You Can't Out-Diet Your Training," unless you can follow a diet for the rest of your life, the diet will fail you.

Finding a Better, Healthier Way to Stay Lean Year-Round

Cutting calories and spending endless hours on the treadmill won't keep you lean long term—so, what will? Well, muscle burns fat for energy. If you want to stay lean without starving your body or working out to excess, you must add muscle.

Here's what I've learned since I finally broke my allegiance to the scale and embraced the idea that gaining muscle is good:

  1. Too much emphasis is placed on scale weight, and too little on body composition.
  2. Too much emphasis is placed on burning calories, and too little on building calorie-burning muscle mass.
  3. The way you train significantly affects your body composition and long-term results.

I've gained 25 pounds and nearly doubled my daily caloric intake—and I feel amazing! And by the way, becoming fitter and stronger are incredible confidence boosters.

When You Train, Train With Purpose

I now have very specific goals motivating me to consistently train and fuel with purpose. It has been so satisfying to fix muscle imbalances, improve mobility, break performance records, and learn new skills such as pull-ups, handstands, and Olympic weightlifting.

Training this way keeps me coming back for more. Ironically, it wasn't until I shifted my focus toward performance and away from aesthetics that I was able to significantly change my physique.

I used to struggle to maintain a weight of 120 pounds by eating 1,200 calories per day. I now eat 2,000 calories each day, perform weighted pull-ups and Olympic lifts, and I'm more shredded weighing 145 pounds than I was at 120. I've never looked or felt better, and I'm proud of what I can do.

Why You Train Matters

Being balanced and pain free is very important to me. A major reason why I quit worrying about the numbers on the scale and switched to strongman training is because it improves my muscular imbalances so I can move better. I think strongman training is a great option for beginners because it's simple to learn. Anyone can pull a rope or carry a sandbag!

I'm also a huge fan of bodybuilding (especially lat pull-downs and bench presses) because it helps me overcome muscle weaknesses and improve my athletic performance. I also like to do CrossFit because it has significantly improved my self-confidence, it keeps me stimulated, and let's face it, it's fun!

And let me clarify one thing: I'm not anti-cardio. Cardio is a big part of my training regimen. The difference is why I do cardio. I used to do double-unders to burn as many calories as possible so that I could weigh as little as possible. I even wore a heart rate monitor to track the calories I burned.

Now, my heart rate monitor is stashed away in a drawer and I'm trying to beat my record for maximum unbroken double-unders. My current personal best is 198. How many can you do unbroken?

Ask yourself why you want to be fit, beyond just looking good. Do you want to move better? Be stronger? Have more energy?

You've seen what gaining weight has done for my appearance, but it's all just a side effect of chasing personal records, improving the way my body moves, and having fun working out—all of which are a lot more motivating than tracking numbers on the scale.

About the Author

Dr. Sara Solomon, BSc. PT, DMD

Dr. Sara Solomon, BSc. PT, DMD

Dr. Sara Solomon received her B.Sc. in Physical Therapy and her D.M.D. in 2001 and 2005 respectively. Learn more about this Oxygen Magazine success...

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