Good or bad, many of us are in a relationship with our scales and often, we associate a lower body weight with improved fitness and health. But do we really understand everything the scales are telling us? The answer, often, is no.
But losing weight means we’re losing fat, right? Not necessarily. Weight loss and fat loss are linked – when we lose fat we often lose weight too – but the two terms mean very different things for our bodies and our health:
Weight loss is an overall reduction in body weight, this includes weight from fat, retained water and muscles. Fat loss, however, is the specific reduction of fat from the body (both subcutaneous and visceral fat, more on those later).
But which is better?
Generally, if you want to lose weight in the healthiest way for your body, you need to concentrate on losing fat. Not only is this the quickest way to get back into those old jeans, but also, by keeping your body fat percentage low, you can reduce the likelihood of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Healthy weight loss isn’t just about fitting into your old jeans, it’s about finding the healthiest way to get there for your body. If you lose weight by crash dieting, skipping meals, or choosing not to exercise, you’re at risk of losing weight from muscle mass and retained water, rather than from fat.
Basically, focusing your weight loss on fat specifically ensures that losing weight doesn’t also mean losing essential muscle.
Building muscle actually aids healthy weight loss. A high muscle mass increases your ability to burn calories at rest, will make you less likely to suffer muscle deterioration as you age, and help control blood-sugar levels and inflammation.
The best way to ensure maximum fat loss is to boost your muscle power. The more you encourage and support muscle growth during weight loss, the more fat you’re likely to burn.
It goes without saying that protein is where it’s at when it comes to maintaining our overall health – it supports our immune system, regulates our fluid balance and aids digestion, among many other things. When it comes to fat loss, a protein-rich, nutrient-dense diet will aid muscle repair and growth, and when paired with exercise and a calorie deficit, will encourage the body to burn fat.
Obviously, exercise is key to any kind of weight loss, but even more so when it comes to losing fat. Any activity that gets the blood pumping will work, but get your muscles working hard by adding in strength-building resistance training to your routine. Maximise results by focusing on compound exercises (i.e. squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-pull exercises).
To aid a fat loss goal when strength training, aim for progressive overload. This means that you continue to increase the weights you’re working with over time, as you get stronger, so you don’t stall your progress and continue to challenge your body. You want to give your body a reason to hold onto muscle, so that the extra calories burned are taken from fat stores.
And don’t be disheartened if the scales start to stick a little. Strength training will adjust your body composition, reducing fat and building muscle, which will have a great effect on your waistline, but not always on the scales every single week.
I know, I know, it’s obvious. Of course, we all know that a calorie deficit is the basis of weight loss, and it’s no different when focusing on losing fat. It’s easy for a high protein diet to become high in calories too, so make sure you’re tracking your calories and cutting back on high calorie and processed foods. There are plenty of high protein, low calorie foods out there too. If in doubt, your Another Round coach can help you set your calorie target.
If you lose weight too fast, you’re more likely to be losing muscle as well as fat. So take your weight loss journey gradually, focusing on your overall health as much as what the scales are saying, and don’t be too hard on yourself if the weight isn’t dropping off as fast as you hoped. You will get there. This will also reduce the risk of yo-yoing from crash dieting, losing lots of weight quickly, then putting more back on
When restricting calories or adding in new exercises to your routine, it’s important to listen to your body. Know when to push and when to hold back, and remember that food is fuel and should only be restricted to create a moderate calorie deficit. Above all, fat loss should be about keeping yourself strong and staying healthy.
Fats are an important macronutrient and one of the most important functions of fat in the diet is to provide a source of energy. Fats help to manage weight loss and essential structure and functioning elements to the body. Healthy fats such as nuts, eggs, salmon keeps you full but also ensures you’ll stay full for a longer period of time.
External measures such as scales, how our clothes feel and tape measures are great for gauging general weight loss, but fat loss is a lot harder to isolate.
Our bodies hold two different types of fat: subcutaneous fat (the fat we see just under the skin) and visceral fat (the dangerous fat that sits around our internal organs). It’s tricky to measure either accurately, although devices like callipers can help get an idea of the amount of subcutaneous fat, the visceral fat is almost impossible to see outside of a full medical scan.
There are a few ways to approximately measure how much fat you’re losing:
Do not underestimate the power of the good old fashioned tape measure. Measure waist, arms, thighs, hips, bum every two weeks and track it. Don’t get disheartened if those inches aren’t falling off as fast as you’d like them to. Everybody’s bodies change at different rates.
It’s simple, but how well your clothes fit is one of the best ways to track (and to feel good about) your progress. The jeans don’t lie!
This is not for the faint hearted. Callipers can be really accurate at measuring fat, but they are difficult to use correctly, and can only measure the fat that is under the skin, and not the more stubborn visceral fat that gathers around the organs.
Don’t discount your bathroom scales completely. Knowing your weight can help you set and stick to your targets, ensuring that you’re losing weight at a healthy rate. As long as you remember that weight alone is not the only measurement of fat loss, then the humble scales can be a really helpful tool.
Take progress pictures. Make sure you include your whole body, and keep the position, time of day and lighting consistent for the most accurate results. The changes to your body might not be that obvious day by day, but compare pictures between 2 and 4 weeks apart to really see your progress.
Body fat scales use bio-impedance (an electric current sent through the feet) to determine your body fat percentage. They are expensive and notorious for guesstimating the amount of fat in your body versus muscle and other tissues. They are an option, but honestly, a mixture of the methods above and a pair of inexpensive bathroom scales will be more accurate.
N.B. with all of the above methods, try to measure in the same state every time. Same time of day, pre or post workout (pre usually more consistent). I like first thing in the morning on an empty stomach for accuracy. 1-2x a week is perfect for most people.
In short, it is hard to tell exactly how much of the weight you’ve lost is in fat. But, if you’re gearing your food intake and workouts towards more efficient fat burning, the kilos you’re losing are more likely to be from fat (although not exclusively so).
Yes. Although it is likely you’ll lose some weight, focusing on building muscle during weight loss can lead to the scales sticking a little. However, even if you are plateauing, a healthy, protein-based diet with calorie deficit, alongside regular strength-based workouts is most likely to leave you leaner and more toned. So you might end up fitting into those old jeans anyway.
Focusing your weight loss on fat loss alone isn’t easy, but you can be reassured that by making a few simple adjustments to your diet and fitness routine – such as upping your protein intake and adding in strength training to your workouts – you can turn your body into a healthy, efficient fat burning machine.
Fat weighs us down, literally. It affects the way we feel inside and out. Of course, we need a certain amount of body fat to stay healthy, but a leaner body, with a lower body fat percentage and high muscle ratio will leave you with healthier digestion, a strengthened immune system, and enough energy to keep up the fight against excess fat!