Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss (where should you focus in 2023?)
With the new year upon us you've probably started thinking about making some changes to your health and fitness.
Maybe you have even set a resolution or two.
If you are like most, at least one of these resolutions will involve some kind of health related goal, typically in the form of weight loss.
If this is true for you, take a few minutes to read this blog as it will be paramount in the success of your efforts this year.
Let's start with weight-loss.
What is weight loss and what does it really mean?
Your weight simply refers to the number that shows when you step on the scale, reflective of your body as a whole. This means the weight we see on the scale is reflective of everything -- our bones, skin, hair, organs, muscle mass, fat mass, and water.
This number can and does fluctuate daily because it moves up, down, or stays the same for a variety of reasons like water loss, water retention, a large meal, stress, constipation, or poor sleep.
When the scale changes, it doesn't mean we've gained or lost fat. It means our body-weight has changed for one reason or another.
The issue with using only the scale to measure progress is that when the scale number changes, we don't know where that change is coming from. It is fat? Is it water? Is it slow digesting food? It is muscle?
As you can see, just because the number on the scale moved one way or another, it doesn't always mean you're any healthier than you were the day before.
Just because you lose, gain or maintain your "weight" doesn't necessarily mean you're making or not making any progress towards your goals.
Here are a couple examples:
You step on the scale and it reads 150lbs.
You then spend an hour sweating in the sauna and step back on the scale showing a 5lb weight loss.
In excitement you see the scale read 145lbs but what really happened?
Simply put, you only lost 5lbs of water due to sweating with no actual progress made towards improving your overall weight or fat-loss.
This can also happen with restrictive, very low-carb and/or low-calorie diets which cause you to lose water weight.
At the same time, how do you know you're not also losing weight in the form of muscle in these situations? A low calorie diet and lots of cardio exercise has been in countless studies to help you lose weight, but in the form of your own muscle. Sure you will lose some fat too but holding onto muscle keeps you strong, resistant from injury, improves workout performance, and gives you that toned look and feel.
Also, did you know the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn during the day? Yes, when you lose muscle, your metabolism slows down, making it harder to lose weight as you age.
Often times we step on the scale and might have lost "weight" but did we really do anything to improve our health and work towards our goals?
On the other hand, what if you're working hard in the gym, building muscle and burning fat?
You step on the scale after a month or two, only to see a weight loss of a few pounds or even a weight plateau.
Frustration sets in and you start to believe all of your efforts have been for nothing. This is where most people quit!
At the same time, other indications that you're on the right track might be happening such as your clothes fitting differently, more energy, and strength improvements but you've been conditioned to only worry about the scale.
The problem with focusing solely on weight loss is that you start to do things just to make the scale move, regardless of if it's actually getting you closer towards your goals.
Another issue is that this can often leave you discouraged, even though you might actually be headed in the right direction, which leads to a slew of possible negative outcomes.
The scale just does not show the entire picture.
We're going to change this in 2023 by shifting your thinking and the way you track your progress.
Enter fat-loss (your focus for 2023)
We begin all of our Nutrition Coaching Groups with baseline testing.
This involves a variety of tests like weight, circumference measurements and most importantly body-fat testing.
Body-fat testing gives us a percentage that shows how much of your weight is made up of actual body-fat and how much of your weight is made up of muscle (lean mass).
This is the most important test we do and the best way to track your progress in 2023 because it gives you a more complete look at where you stand.
Here are a couple of examples of how fat-loss differs from weight loss:
You complete a cleanse or restrictive diet and start a new cardio workout.
The number on scale starts to move down and you retake your body-fat measurements to find out how your body is changing.
You see a loss in fat however there's an even larger loss in muscle, showing a need for a possible increase in calories and strength training incorporation to your routine.
How does this shift towards fat loss look for someone doing everything right?
You exercise 2-3x/week, doing a combination of strength training and cardio.
You start to change your nutritional habits. You're feeling great!
Then you check the scale to see it's moved a couple of pounds.
Instead of getting frustrated like times before, you recheck your body-fat percentage.
The results show you've actually lost about 10lbs of fat while adding a few pounds of muscle --- SUCCESS!
On the surface, a few pounds of weight loss might not seem like a whole lot, but in reality the change in body-fat is HUGE for your health and physique.
This focus on fat-loss give you a much more accurate representation of how your routine is going.
It allows you to lose fat WHILE keeping and building both muscle and strength. These are HUGE for avoiding a plateau by elevating your metabolism, preventing injury, and improving workout performance.
Check out a few of our amazing body-fat transformations below.
So how do you focus on fat-loss? Here are 5 tips to get you started!
1. Test your body-fat percentage (stop obsessing over the scale)
Step #1 is to stop obsessing with the scale. If you do use it, use it with a grain of salt and understand changes aren't great or bad as we really don't know what they mean on a daily basis.
Instead, find somewhere like DSC who can do full scan on your body-fat percentage. This is something that can be tested every 1-3 months to make sure things are moving in the right direction. It's a great motivator as well.
2. Take progress photos + take note of how your clothes fit
A great addition to body-fat testing or if you don't have access to body-fat testing is to take progress photos and pay attention to how your clothes feel. Every day or every few days snap a picture of yourself in the mirror. Over time you will see incredible changes if you are losing fat and gaining muscle. The scale might not change a lot but those photos will along with how your clothes are fitting.
3. Prioritize strength training
Strength training is going to be HUGE for fat-loss. Why? First, strength training holds onto and builds both strength and muscle. Without adequate muscle and strength your workout performance will suffer, so will your results. Secondly, the more muscle you have the faster your metabolism will be to help you keep burning calories and fat throughout the day. Finally, strength training burns serious calories during your workout but also keeps you burning calories and fat for hours after your workout, compared to traditional cardio exercise.
4. Prioritize protein
Eat that protein! Protein is the building blocks of life and what make up your muscle. In order to build and maintain muscle, we need to have enough of it in our diet. Aim to eat .8-1 gram of protein per pound of body-weight. So if you weight 150LBS, you should eat 120-150 grams of protein per day.
HERE are some high-protein snack ideas.
5. Prioritize your sleep
Researches divided participants into two groups and each group was put on the same calorie deficit diet depending on their current weight.
The difference was that one group was allowed less sleep than the other during the study (5.5 hour vs. 8.5 hour per night).
At the end of the study, each group lost the same amount of weight which we would expect as they were both put on the same diet.
There was one big difference between the two groups though.
The group that got less sleep lost 80% of their weight from their fat-free mass or muscle, not their fat.
This is exactly what we don't want when we diet and are looking to lose weight. We want the weight loss to come from fat-loss while maintaining our lean mass.
The group that got the extra sleep saw only 17% of their weight loss from muscle.
Maintaining muscle is crucial for your overall health and longevity.
When you stop focusing on weight-loss and shift towards fat-loss something magical happens.
You stop focusing so much on the scale and start focusing on the things that help you make long-term changes and progress towards your goals.
You start to focus on things that really matter when it comes to seeing results -- improving your health and not some number on the scale.
Instead let's focus 2023 on losing fat and gaining strength through changing your body-fat percentage.