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Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss, Pt. 1

Posted April 6, 2010 by

Scales are often considered our worst enemies, due to the tendency for us to focus on our weight as a benchmark of our current health and fitness level. However, this view is somewhat misguided, because weight is really just an arbitrary number. What really matters is what you look like and how you feel. Would you rather weigh 105 lbs and be weak and “skinny fat,” or weigh 130 lbs and be lean, toned and healthy?

Consequently, it is important to understand the difference between “weight loss” and “fat loss.” Your goal in a weight-loss effort should always be to lose fat, not just to lose overall weight. Your body is made up of a mixture of fat and lean body mass (your muscles, bones, connective tissues, organs, etc). Thus, you are either going to lose weight from your fat stores, your lean body mass or some combination of both.

Muscle takes a lot of energy to maintain—much more than fat does. Your metabolism (the amount of calories that your body consumes for energy each day) is very much in part determined by the amount of muscle you have.  Reducing your muscle mass is going to lower your metabolism, which is going to reduce your daily caloric needs. This is counterproductive to your efforts because although you’re going to be losing weight:

  • you’ll be losing aesthetically-pleasing muscle instead of fat
  • you’ll be setting yourself up for rebound weight-gain by lowering your metabolism

What I mean by rebound weight-gain, is that if you continue to eat the same amount every day, but your body experiences a continual decrease in the amount of calories it needs, at some point you’re going to either have to reduce your intake or you’ll be eating an excess amount of calories. If you’re already eating a low number of calories, this means you’ll be moving into starvation territory.

The key to productive dieting is to focus on your metabolism rather than your calories. Don’t get me wrong—total caloric intake is important in that it determines whether you can lose the weight in the first place, but keeping your metabolism high is the key to keeping your weight loss in the fat-burning territory and avoiding muscle loss.

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