Losing Fat or Losing Weight: Feel the Difference
Losing weight is a very fashionable topic in our world increasingly dominated by people with comfortable padding around the belly. But “losing weight” is not necessarily the best name for the process in which we are losing fat. Besides, some of the metrics used to measure a healthy body are also off. Body mass index, for example, is used as the Holy Grail of fitness, when it was designed only to observe tendencies in large groups of people. Let’s take a look at some of the terms we misuse day by day in the world of fitness.
Body Mass Index and Losing Weight
The body mass index (BMI) was introduced in the early to mid 19th century to measure the ratio of body fat proportional to the height of an individual. The formula is defined as “the body mass divided by the square of the body height”. Depending on how big a percentage of the individual’s body consists of fat, and then categorize the person depending on the result into one of its four classes – underweight, normal, overweight and obese.
The problem with BMI is that it was designed as a statistics tool that looks at large groups of people. This means that it’s not fit for what it’s used today – to determine the healthy weight of a person. Besides, the formula looks at metrics like height and weight, but doesn’t look at the percentage of lean muscle and fat in a person’s body. This, again, makes BMI nothing but a statistics tool.
Take a look at the BMI calculation for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, for example. He stands 6 foot 5 (196 cm) tall and has an (official) weight of 262 pounds (119 kg). The official BMI calculator of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute translates this values to a BMI of 31.1, which is well into the “obese” category. But take a look at a picture of The Rock: does he really look like he’s obese?
Losing fat while gaining weight
I usually measure myself at the beginning of my workout routine and once again when I’m done. The difference is usually somewhere around 14-15 oz – that’s how much weight I lose during a workout. Hooray – or is it? I’m a guy who sweats consistently while working out, and my weight loss is mostly due losing water (which is heavy).
Otherwise, even if I can observe improvements on various body parts – especially around the belly – the scale shows almost exactly the same weight week after week. I’m routinely burning at least as many calories as I consume day after day, so my weight should be going down, right? Well, not exactly.
Muscle is far denser than fat, so it takes up less space while weighing less. So, working out – increasing the ratio of muscle in your body – might not have any influence on your total body weight, but can change the proportion of fat and muscle in your body. This means that even with your weight unchanged you can be losing fat deposits – sometimes inches of your belly circumference.
Keep yourself motivated – forget about the scale
Don’t let the scale be the only thing to motivate you to train. It can be a disappointment when you measure yourself day after day and see that you haven’t lost an ounce. Instead, focus on the mirror and your clothes – they will show you that you are losing fat. If last year’s jeans – a perfect fit at the time – will start to get loose on your belly, you know that you are on the right track.
Cardio will speed up your fat loss, but for the best results you will need to couple it with strength training. Cardio will not build muscle – it moves the legs, but does nothing much for the rest of your body. Sticking to cardio alone will most likely leave you skinny (or skinny-fat), which is far from the ideal – and can even be dangerous. Combine it with strength training and the right dietary choices.
Remember, your goal is not to lose weight – but to lose fat, while keeping your muscles toned and strong.