What is the difference between weight loss and fat loss? Here’s what you need to know about body composition and why the number on the scale isn’t the only one you should focus on.
Looking to lose weight? Or do you want to lose fat? Here’s what you need to know about body composition and what numbers to focus on for total fitness.
A lot of us focus way too much effort on the number below our feet: Our Weight. While weight may be important in the grand scheme of things, but there is a number that is much more accurate than this at providing a measurement of health: Body Fat Percentage. These three little words can change your entire attitude towards wellness. Your Body Fat Percentage is a number that provides you with the amount of stored fatty tissue compared to the amount of lean tissue (bones, muscle, organs etc..) in/on/and around your body. This number can be high or low; regardless if you are skinny, fat, or anywhere in between. Just because you have dropped below 120 lbs, your Body Fat Percentage may still be above 25, which can create a lot of problems in the long term, especially if you have to cut out a lot of calories to keep yourself at what has been marketed as a ‘healthy weight’. Even the term ‘Healthy Weight’ needs to be updated, it should always be referred to as ‘Healthy Body Fat’, which can be found as defined by below:
From the American Council on Exercise
As you can see, if you are 140lbs, and at 18% BF you are still considered healthy. This means that you may be technically heavier than what you would like, but what you ‘like’ is based on an error in education! I want you to be as educated as possible, and this means understanding why a ‘healthy Body Fat Percentage’ is so much more accurate of a goal than a ‘healthy weight’.
The ideal body composition–the ratio of lean muscle to fatty tissue in our bodies–is low in fat and high in lean muscle. We become unhealthy when our percentage of body fat is too high because of excess fat and because of muscle loss.
Muscle naturally declines with age unless we maintain it. Loss of muscle is linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, and high blood pressure. Muscle is more dense than fat, an important fact to consider when stepping on the scale. If your weight loss plan includes weight-lifting or resistance training (as it should), your best incentive is to judge your progress by the fit and feel of your clothes rather than your weight. The photo below demonstrates this truth. As you can see you’re actually better off weighing more on the scale if you’re able to maintain a healthy fat mass-to lean mass ratio. The more muscle you have in your body, the more metabolically active you are. You’re less likely to develop joint problems, osteoarthritis, heart disease, diabetes and more.
Here are a few real reasons why you should focus on Fat Loss vs Weight Loss and aim for Fitness vs Skinniness for – health:
- Body Fat isn’t just on the outside, it’s on the inside too. Visceral Fat is the tissue found inside the body, between the organs; and if it builds up it can restrict the heart from beating properly when stressed, it can prevent the lungs from fully expanding to provide oxygen, and it requires more blood which takes away from the nutrient delivery to organs that require energy to operate! Having a Fit body means your organs are able to operate freely without being cramped for space.
- Restricting Calories to Lessen Body Weight will diminish the body’s ability to fight illness and disease. Having a fit body means you are fueling it properly and each of the body’s processes are operating to their maximum ability.
- Often working on being ‘Skinny’ requires a sever deficit of calories, and Bone Density will begin to diminish right away; which if left over time can create issues with Osteoporosis – a condition where your bones are left brittle and easily breakable, and since you aren’t able to combat illness or disease as well, your chances of a full recovery are slighted. Having a Fit Body means your bone density will remain in the healthy zone, which will be resistant to breaks during most falls or collisions.
- With less lean muscle-tone, your metabolism is going to be moving much slower, and since your metabolism slows naturally as we age, each day your body will be more prone to easily put on weight, and less able to take it off. Maintaining a fit body through exercise means the added muscle-tone provides for an increased metabolism 24/7. This also means that more of the foods you eat are used as fuel, while the extra is passed and not stored. And of course, continuing to exercise will aid in keeping your metabolism boosted so that you continue to feel younger, and look your best.
- With all of the above considered, you must understand that your chances of becoming Obese (which is a medical classification, not a judgmental adjective) are much higher when you only focus on being ‘skinny’; where when you work on strength training, you will continue to ward off obesity, and all the diseases associated with it.
Here are a few ways to improve your Body Fat Percentage:
- Get tested: Have a fitness professional test your body fat for you at your local gym or test yourself at home using this protocol.
- Pump it up: Research shows that muscle strength declines by 15 percent per decade after age 50, and 30 percent per decade after age 70. As expected, along with this decline in muscle mass is a five percent decrease per decade in our metabolic rate. You should adopt a well rounded exercise plan that incorporates strength training to maintain lean muscle mass and keep your metabolism running fast. Do not overdo cardiovascular exercise — it can damage the muscle fibres that you are working so hard to build and maintain. Read up on why you should lift weights to lose weight here.
- Protein: Protein is the building block of muscle and it is essential for repair after workouts. According to a recent study from the University of Illinois, a higher protein intake during weight loss can offset negative effects on muscle mass by maintaining more muscle relative to the amount of weight lost. Women who ate more protein lost 3.9 percent more weight and had a relative gain of 5.8 percent more thigh-muscle volume than woman who did not. Read more on Harnessing the Power of Protein.
- Practice stress management: Elevated levels of stress hormone (cortisol) can have a negative effect on body composition by increasing the breakdown of muscle mass and increasing the deposition of fat around the abdomen. For helpful stress reducing strategies, read my “Don’t Medicate, MEDITATE” article.
- A balanced diet, regular exercise routine, and positive state of mental health will help you look and feel your best. Read my Top Ten Tips for Healthy Weight here and be good to yourself!
This post is not meant to say people shouldn’t lose weight, with the obesity epidemic we do need to encourage our world to maintain a healthier weight. It’s also not meant to critique anyone’s natural body size. Small, tall, curvy, and thin we all were made with a unique design. This post is simply meant to argue that it’s not weight but your body composition that is important in assessing health and achieving wellness. It’s also meant to argue that cutting calories, excessive cardio, and ‘weekend juice cleanses’ aren’t the right solution; the right answer is a life of fitness – daily activities, a nutrition plan rich in natural & healthy food choices, proper amounts of hydration. All of these things add up quickly to provide a healthier body composition and a happier picture of wellness in the long-term. It’s like the old adage–it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And that’s what I’m all about, lasting health from the inside out 🙂
Yours in health,
My mission is to empower feel good fitness inside and out. I am here to be of service in your wellness and help you get your mind, body, and spirit in shape so you can love your life. Lets work together and live well. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to build a balanced body? Check out my book, Balanced Body Breakthrough and get your mind, body, and spirit in great shape so you can love your life.
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