If you’ve spent any time reading about health or weight management, you’ve probably seen the terms “weight loss” and “fat loss” thrown around. It’s easy to assume they mean the same thing – after all, most people who are trying to lose weight want to get rid of extra fat. Although these two terms have completely different meanings, the key to getting the body you want is to understand the definition of the terms. Keep reading for a complete explanation of why you should aim to lose fat, not just weight.
Weight Loss: An Ambiguous Term
Most of the time, when someone talks about “losing weight,” we understand that they’re trying to shed the extra pounds of fat. But our bodies are made up of a lot of different substances, not just fat. Muscle, bone, and water are also factored into the equation, and they may complicate the idea of losing weight a bit.
When we diet, we presume our body would only burn its own fat stores for energy. It is a false assumption since it will start burning our muscle along with our fat stores for energy. The amount of muscle burned depends on the person’s caloric deficit and activity level, as well as the nutrients they’re eating.
That’s why “losing weight” is an ambiguous term. If someone says they lost five pounds, there’s no way of knowing the percentage of muscle and/or fat they have lost. There is a huge difference between the two. The best way to lose weight is to shed fat while maintaining our muscle.
The Difference Between Muscle and Fat
You’ve probably heard that muscle weighs more than fat. It is a fact because, pound for pound, muscle is much denser than fat. On average, a pound of fat is about four times bigger than a pound of muscle. This is why some people look so different at the same weight. Since their weight takes up less “space”, a muscular person may look slimmer and more in shape.
Fat and muscle also affect the body differently. It takes your body only about two calories per day to maintain a pound of fat. On the other hand, to maintain a pound of muscle, your body needs to expend about six calories. This is why muscular people can sometimes eat a great deal without gaining weight – their body burns more calories just by existing.
Don’t Believe Everything Your Scale Says
Once you understand the difference between muscle and fat, it’s easier to see why the amount you weight isn’t everything. In fact, someone who prioritizes losing weight over losing fat might see more negative effects than positive ones. If you lose ten pounds (much of it was muscle mass), you might not look that much thinner or more toned than you’d hoped for. This is why some people look “skinny-fat” after losing a lot of weight. They did lose fat, but they sacrificed their muscle in the process.
On the other hand, don’t get discouraged if your scale hasn’t budged after a few weeks. You should consider looking in the mirror instead. If you’ve started working out, you may have put on some muscle while losing fat – this is what’s known as body recomposition (http://physiqonomics.com/body-recomposition/). If you look and feel better than before, there’s no reason to worry about the number on the scale.
How to Make Sure You’re Losing Fat
What’s the best way to lose weight without getting weaker and flabbier? There are a few things you can do to maximize your fat loss while protecting your valuable muscle:
- Eat plenty of protein. Your body needs protein to maintain muscle.
- Work out – in your own pace. If you overdo it at the gym, you could attenuate your muscles.
- Aim for a small calorie deficit. You’ll lose weight in a slower process, but you’ll also preserve more muscle.
- Limit your cardio. If you go for long runs or bike rides, your body will start burning muscle for energy.
It’s important to understand the difference between losing weight and losing fat before getting on a diet plan. Focus on losing fat, and you’ll look and feel better at the end of your weight loss journey.