Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss

Weight loss is an all consuming topic in our nation. Americas’ obesity epidemic is on the news, in magazines and spreading like wildfire. There are thousands and thousand of books on weight loss, thousands of diets, and hundreds of gadgets to help you lose weight.

What if I told you weight loss isn’t your primary goal. That actually we want to focus on fat loss. What’s the difference, you ask, isn’t weight loss fat loss and vice versa? These two terms are often used interchangeably which can cause confusion when in fact weight loss and fat loss are two very separate things.

Weight is the sum weight of your bones, muscles, organs, body fat, and hair. It’s your body in its present state. By present, that means your weight fluctuates during any 24 hour cycle based on some of these factors: stomach/bowel/bladder content, water loss/retention, muscle loss/gain, and fat loss/gain.

Body fat is the total amount of fat in your body. People who are similar in height and weight can look completely different if one has lower body fat than the other. A certain amount of fat is essential to bodily functions. Fat regulates body temperature, cushions and insulates organs and tissues and is the main form of the body’s energy storage.

BMI (body mass index) is a common measure of body fat. BMI is calculated using only height and weight to determine body mass. It does not take into account the amount of lean muscle mass a person has or their bone structure. Therefore people with larger frames or who are muscular are likely to be classified as fat. Many experts think the BMI method is flawed because it doesn’t take lean muscle mass into account.

Finally, there is the scale. The least useful tool in your body transformation toolbox.  Clothes, pictures, a measuring tape, and body fat calipers are your best friends. These tools won’t lie to you. The scale can become your worst enemy by misleading you and killing your motivation.

Here are 2 reasons you can’t trust the scale:

1. Carbohydrates and water. Carbohydrates bind to water. Eating fewer carbohydrates will help you lose weight through water loss. When you are on a diet, like Atkins, you lose weight but it’s mostly water. When you increase your carbohydrates you will gain weight due to water retention.

2. Muscle gain and fat loss. In this program you will gain muscle while losing fat because we do total body strength training. On the scale it will look like you’re not making progress because your body weight might not change or the changes are small.

Keys to losing fat and not muscle:

1. Get Stronger. Strength training builds muscle and prevents muscle loss.
2. Eat Healthy. Eat whole unprocessed foods 90% of the time.
3. Track your progress. Use body fat measurements, circumference measurements and pictures to keep a record of your progress. It won’t happen overnight, but you will achieve the results you desire by staying committed.
Limit cardiovascular training. Don’t overdo it. Cardio can cause muscle loss if it’s not properly balanced with strength training.

Common myths about losing body fat:

1. You can lose body fat by spot reducing. Many people believe that you can get rid of fat if you engage the muscles underneath that fat. You’ve seen the infomercials promising to get rid of tummy fat just by working out with the amazing abdominal gadget. The truth is that your body decides where to put fat and where to remove it, and it’s largely determined by your genetics.

2. Starving yourself burns body fat. Depriving yourself of necessary daily calories puts you in physical “starvation mode.” Your body will think that there isn’t enough food available and that you’re starving. When you go off your diet, your body will store even more fat in reserve against future lean periods. It’s true that when you don’t eat enough calories, your body will break down stored fat to use as energy. However, when you start to eat normally again, you’ll gain all that weight back.

3. Body fat comes from fatty foods. Fat in foods doesn’t equal fat on your body. Fat comes from calories; it doesn’t matter if those calories come from a burger or a salad. There are many foods that contain essential fats that we need, like avocados, and there are many foods that are bad for us like fried foods or fast foods. If you eat more calories than your body needs, it will store them as fat. To keep off body fat, don’t overeat any type of food. Instead, eat small and balanced meals.

4. A little exercise is all you need to lose body fat. You have probably seen the advertisements for weight loss in just five, eight or ten minutes a day. Unfortunately this is untrue. Those ads gloss over the fact that your body won’t burn stored fat unless it needs to. If you exercise for 10 minutes you will not burn fat. You will use the energy from the food you ate that day. Your body doesn’t burn energy stored in fat cells until your other resources are depleted. In fact, your body won’t begin to use fat as fuel until you’ve been exercising for at least 20 minutes. These factors also contribute to breaking down fat and using it as energy: type of workout, intensity of workout and duration of exercise session.

So, how much body fat is healthy? As we have discussed above, body fat percentage is simply the percentage of fat your body contains. If you are 150 pounds and 10% fat, it  means that your body consists of 15 pounds fat and 135 pounds lean body mass (bone, muscle, organ tissue, blood and everything else).

General Body Fat Percentage Categories*:

Classification     Women (% fat)     Men (% fat)
Essential Fat      10-12%                2-4%
Athletes            14-20%                6-13%
Fitness              21-24%               14-17%
Acceptable        25-31%                18-25%
Obese              32% plus               25% plus
*American Council on Exercise

Knowing your body fat percentage can help you determine if your weight loss goals are realistic.  Remember, weight loss doesn’t always mean fat loss.  For example:
130# woman with 23% body fat. Goal: lose 20 pounds
Initial body fat: 130# x 0.23 fat = 30# body fat
Lean body mass: 130# total - 30# fat = 100# lean body mass
Goal: 130# - 20# = 110 pounds

A 20 pound weight loss goal is not realistic or healthy.  At 110 pounds, this woman still requires 100# of lean body mass (bones, organs, etc.), but would only be carrying 10# or  9%  body fat.  From the chart above, you can see that this is a dangerously low percentage.

A better goal would be for the woman to reduce her body fat from 23% to 18%.  In this case:
130# x 0.18 = 23# body fat
100# lean body mass + 23# = 123# goal weight

To achieve a lean, but healthy 18% fat, she would need to lose only 7 pounds of fat, reducing her weight from her current 130 pounds to 123 pounds.  Losing more than 7 pounds means losing lean body mass.

When you decide to lose weight, remember that your “body weight” consists of both lean body mass and body fat.  It is far healthier to lose body fat and increase lean muscle mass. You will be healthier, stronger and fitter in the long run.

If you want to effectively lose body fat, take part in one of our challenges or join our Body Revolution class.