Weight Loss and Fat Loss: The Scale Doesn’t Say Everything
There's a BIG difference
When most folks think of losing weight, their minds goes straight to the bathroom scale.
You see, many people base all, or at least a significant majority, of their weight loss progress on whether or not they lose or gain "scale weight."
Believe me - I know from personal experience that watching that digital three digit number slowly works its way down can become addicting over time.
My entire daily mood was influenced by a higher or lower than normal morning weigh-in. Luckily, I've since learned a valuable lesson about the accuracy of a body scale.
Scales don't account for fat loss
"Wait, Carter, aren't weight loss and fat loss the same thing!?"
Not even close! - There's a BIG difference between weight loss and fat loss that most folks losing weight are either unaware of or simply neglect.
Focusing on weight loss alone can lead to inaccuracy in progress. This, in turn, can result in false hope, unnecessary disappointment, and undesirable physical outcomes.
You know... the stuff no one wants when losing weight.
The Problem With Focusing On Weight Loss Alone
As stated earlier, most people only track their progress using the scale.
They base the effectiveness of their regimen and hard work on whatever number their $24.99 plastic square tells them.
Now don't get me wrong, the scale has a place for tracking progress. However, some things can have a noticeable impact on your day to day weight such as:
- Water retention
- How many carbs you ate the day before (more glycogen and water in the muscles)
- Higher or lower than average salt intake
- Muscle gain from strength training (if you are doing it... which you should be!)
These things aren't inherently unhealthy (say that ten times fast...) and are natural responses to stress, water intake, and other factors.
The problem is that they cause people to think they are magically gaining or losing 2-3 pounds of fat per day.
What's more, is that weight loss isn't always a good thing.
If you are chronically eating extremely low calories and dropping 3-4 pounds a week, I can almost guarantee that a good chunk of the weight you are losing is coming from muscle too.
This is the last thing you want when leaning down.
This type of crash dieting can quickly result in the "skinny-fat" look that a lot of folks who've lost a significant amount of weight end up dealing with.
I've searched the web high and low looking for a decent "skinny-fat" picture, but there are literally zero available.
Instead, think of that person in your life that is skinny in the arms, shoulders and legs, but has a "beer belly gut."
How to Ensure you Lose Weight From Fat and Not Muscle
There are lots reasons to lose weight (duh), but "looking good" is typically at the top of the list for most people.
Personally, I see nothing wrong with wanting to look more attractive. In fact, it can be a powerful extrinsic motivator for short-term weight loss.
By retaining muscle and losing fat, you'll experience quicker progress towards a more muscular, lean physique that if you were to diet alone.
So how can you ensure that you are losing weight primarily from fat and not muscle?
Make sure you are doing these three things:
1. Utilizing Strength Training
Strength training is my favorite form of physical exercise because it helps you burn more fat and build more muscle.
In fact, I think strength training is the most important factor for retaining lean body mass (aka muscle) while losing weight and eating lower calories.
If you want to make the majority of your weight loss come from fat and not muscle - Strength Train. (source)
While it's easy for me to say "just start lifting," I know there are a lot of guys & gals who have a genuine fear of the weights section of their gym.
Two common reasons are from the worry of getting too "muscle-y" (usually the case for women) or being judged by others.
If this is you, check out this article I wrote on the topic. It can definitely help you eliminate any fear you may have.
2. Eat Enough Protein
This isn't a major issue for most people - We tend to get enough protein naturally when we are eating higher calories. (source)
However, I have come to find that the first macronutrient to go when restricting calories is commonly protein.
The importance of protein increases as your calorie intake decreases. A higher protein intake helps boost your metabolism, increase satiety and regulate weight loss hormones (hunger signals).
Protein is also essential for retaining and building muscle on a diet. (study).
I don't recommend that you go crazy on protein, as too much can be a bad thing. However, a good rule of thumb is to get around .64-.82g per pound of body weight, especially if you want to build/retain muscle while dieting and strength training.
(I previously wrote a more detailed article on the topic of protein - how much you need, how much I recommend, myths associated with it, etc. Click here to read it.)
3. Don't be too restrictive
Being too restrictive with your calorie intake is always a recipe for disaster...
Going too low in calories ( greater than 25% below your maintenance calories) can result in a slower metabolism, muscle loss, and increases your chances of getting sick. (source).
Chronically eating low calorie also negatively impacts your psychological health - leading to greater depression, lethargy, and a worsened mood.
I recommend no more than a 20-25% deficit.
How severely you restrict your intake will also depend heavily on your current weight.
For example, someone who has an obese or overweight BMI can typically get away with a more restrictive calorie intake whereas someone who is just looking to get rid of 10-20 pounds should go closer to the 20% mark.
Don't Let a Number Define You
Far too often we get obsessed with our scale weight. For some people, their mood, energy, and general well-being are heavily influenced by a higher or lower morning weigh-in.
Chronically eating extremely low calories and having 4-5 pounds disappear from the bathroom scale every week can be crazy addictive... trust me, I know.
But keep in mind - most addictive things in life (food, sex, alcohol, drugs, excessive caffeine) feel good at first, but can quickly turn bad if abused.
Forget about dropping scale weight as fast as possible. Instead, focus on fat loss and maintaining muscle.
You do this by focusing on weight training, eating in a moderate deficit and getting enough protein.
Also - be sure and utilize other ways of tracking your progress other than the scale too. (click here to read the article I wrote on tracking progress).
If you are interested in learning more about my weight loss approach and want to take your progress to the next level, Click Here.