People are more concerned about their health and fitness than ever before and when asked about their goals, losing weight is typically at or near the top of the list. Since so many people are concerned with their health and actively trying to lose weight, you would think the percentage of overweight people would be decreasing, but the rate of obesity is still on the rise. There are many reasons for this, but one problem is people generally focus on losing weight, when they should be focused on losing fat.
You may be thinking that losing weight and losing fat are essentially the same thing, but while they are similar, they are definitely not the same. As you probably realize, losing fat means decreasing the amount of stored fat in your body, while losing weight means decreasing the amount of any number of substances in your body (fat, muscle, bone, water, etc.), many of which you don’t want to lose. Even though people primarily use the phrase ”losing weight,” they almost always really mean losing fat.
It makes sense to think in terms of losing weight instead of losing fat, because weight loss is easy to keep track of using only a scale, which most people already own. Monitoring your body fat is significantly more difficult and requires additional equipment and testing. Plus, some body fat tests are not very accurate and the ones that are reliable can be expensive, time consuming, and/or require a trained person to administer them.
Another reason people think primarily about losing weight is because the concept of weight loss is simpler than the concept of fat loss. Weight loss involves an increase or decrease in a single number (weight), while fat loss is usually measured in terms of a percentage (body fat), which is not numerically as meaningful to most people. Of course, society plays a large role as well, with almost every media source mentioning the term weight loss more frequently than fat loss.
Using the term losing weight as opposed to losing fat might sound like just a minor difference in vocabulary, but this apparently small variation can have a major impact on your ability to lose fat. The main problem is people understand that losing weight is different than losing fat, yet they still make the assumption that when they lose weight, all or at least most of the lost weight is from fat. As a result, it creates the mindset that weight loss equals fat loss.
This mindset is very problematic, because it causes weight loss to be used as a direct measurement of fat loss. Since the scale is used to measure weight loss, people consider decreases on the scale to mean decreases in fat loss, yet these are often far from the same thing. By having this mindset, true fat loss becomes less and less important and the person’s actual goal becomes trying to lose weight and just get a lower reading on their scale.
Whenever your primary goal is just to get a lower number on the scale, it usually leads to making decisions that ultimately hurt your fat loss. There are many ways to lose weight and a lot of them result in losing more healthy weight (muscle, bone mass, etc.) than losing actual fat weight, but the scale can’t tell the difference between them. Also, approaches designed to maximize weight loss alone, especially quick weight loss, typically result in losing the highest amounts of the healthy types of weight being lost and have the lowest percentages of fat loss over the long run.
By only being concerned with losing weight, people don’t have to worry about having a well-rounded health and fitness program, which causes them to become overly focused on doing whatever they can to lose weight. This approach has caused many people to follow poorly designed weight loss programs that only result in short-term weight loss or yo-yo dieting, which often actually lead to increases in body fat percentage over time.
Probably the most common example of this problem is when people eat fewer and fewer calories as a way to stimulate weight loss. Everyone knows you have to consume fewer calories than you burn if you want to lose weight, so they assume the fewer calories they eat, the more weight and fat they will lose. If you do not know this already, the previous assumption is completely wrong. (See “Cutting Calories too much Prevents Fat Loss” for more information)
Excessively cutting calories and making other drastic changes to increase weight loss may lead to some significant decreases in weight at first, but much of this weight loss will be from water and it will come back as soon as you start eating more calories. In addition, this type of weight loss causes a decrease in muscle, especially if you do not exercise, which will decrease your metabolism and cause your body to burn fewer calories every day. This will also make it more difficult to lose fat in the future.
If you want to maximize fat loss, your primary goal cannot be just to lose weight. You have to find a balance between cutting calories and maintaining a well-balanced nutritional program including adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats, high-quality carbs, water, and other nutrients. Then you still need to exercise, getting enough rest/sleep, and minimizing your stress level. All of these things are important to keep your body functioning properly and help you maintain good overall health.
Taking this well-balanced approach may not result in as much weight loss as a program designed just to make you lose weight, but this slower approach will result in you losing a higher percentage and probably even a higher total amount of body fat. In addition, since this approach helps you maintain more of your good weight (muscle, etc.), you will be able to maintain your fat loss and continue losing even more fat in the future.
On the other hand, programs that only focus on losing weight generally end up sacrificing elements that are essential to long-term success and general health. Many weight loss programs do not provide enough calories or nutrients to maintain your metabolic rate, daily recovery ability, and immune system function. Eventually your progress will stop and your body will essentially shut down until you switch to healthier eating and exercise habits.
However, once you go off the weight loss program, you will probably gain much or all of the weight back, even if you start eating right and exercising. This is because the previous weight loss was not quality fat loss and these types of weight losses are not able to be maintained under normal circumstances. At the end of the day, the only weight loss that really matters is fat loss and the problem with just trying to lose weight is that it often results in losing the wrong kind of weight, which actually hurts your ability to achieve long-term fat loss.