I normally have an injury-prevention focus in my writing, but for once, I want to focus on actual weight loss. In my upcoming book, Injury-Proof: Building an Invincible Core, I actually tackle the idea of obesity getting too much blame for back pain. I want to address that first:

If you think about people with back or knee pain, what is most likely the instinctive image that comes to mind, besides an older person? Probably someone overweight.

The most common advice for people struggling with joint issues involves “weight management” – taking the pressure of gravity off of the joints in order to find relief. Traction, despite having little to no scientific support for effectiveness, persists as a folk (and infomercial) remedy for back pain, operating under the traditional assumption that the pressure of gravity is what does the most damage to joints.

Is there truth to the correlation between obesity and degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis? Absolutely. I would be irresponsible as a health and fitness professional if I did not emphasize that maintaining an ideal weight specific to the individual is crucial for overall optimal functioning. Osteoarthritis is a legitimate condition in which years of obesity wear down on the joints, especially vulnerable points in the knees and lower back. People who carry too much weight on their frames can experience serious alignment issues in posture due to the body’s imbalance, and ligaments throughout the body can suffer tremendously. Additionally, inappropriate excess weight has an inflammatory effect on joints throughout the body, including non-weight-bearing areas such as the hands.

However, blaming weight is not the whole story. Our culture has experienced for decades a visceral fear of fat, but the reality is often much more complex. While back and knee pain often do affect people who carry excess weight, the truth is that highly active people at medically healthy weights, even very lean people, also can experience back and other joint pain and ligament injuries. How do we explain their maladies? Because the magnifying glass is often shifted way from thin people, many “in shape” individuals are baffled by their own stiffness, joint pain, and mobility issues, and do not know how to address it.

There’s no doubt that there’s a correlation between obesity and conditions like osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, coronary heart disease, and more. If you take all of our cultural body dysmorphia and fear of fat out of the picture, it’s clear that we have an overdependence on sedentary lifestyles, processed food, and high-paced schedules that short-change sleep.

The bottom line is: yes, love your body, but love it through action by doing your best to support its thriving at medically healthy levels.

Have you been trying to lose weight but have hit a plateau? You’re doing “everything” right but the needle stays stuck on the scale? Here’s where food-tracking comes in…

The secret is that you probably eat more than you think. Small snacks, condiments, and side dishes add up quickly. 200 calories here, 100 calories there, and you’re up to an “almost-meal.” Food-tracking can be done on paper or with a helpful app like “My Fitness Pal.”

I live this advice for myself. Anytime I feel “stuck” in my fitness or performance, I know it’s time to take a look at my actual eating. Not what I think I eat, but what I actually put in my mouth throughout each day. The results of food tracking are always more than a little surprising – I always find that I have gotten a little off-track, a little more habitually permissive, and keeping track of what I eat helps me to re-focus on my fitness goals.

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you probably know that I am not a big fan of weighing yourself or counting calories. I am not contradicting myself with this post, because here are the following tips that I would use while food-tracking in order to avoid obsessive calorie counting and shame-inducing behaviors:

  • Skip the scale. If you’re making good decisions with your food, why weigh yourself? You know you’re making progress when your clothes feel different and you feel better. If you feel the need to weigh yourself, try to limit yourself to once every two weeks or once a month. Weighing yourself is not necessary to track progress.
  • Focus more on macronutrients, fiber, and sugar than on actual calories. While calories are a reliable indicator of total caloric intake (and expenditure, when it comes to exercise), it’s important to remember that not all calories are created equal. Focus on getting enough protein and fiber, as well as  cutting sugars as much as possible. Don’t forget to mind your carbohydrate and saturated fat intake, too.
  • Focus on exercise that is fun and feels good while getting your heart rate up. Concentrate on simply moving it, and avoid perfectionism with exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, varying your routine daily between cardiovascular endurance exercise, cardiovascular interval sprints, bodyweight strength training, and resistance strength training. But the key is to pick something you like and keep it varied.

Want to share your experience with food journaling? Leave your ideas or questions in the comments below!

Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

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